ACLU NorCal and About 90 Orgs. Send Letter to ICE & the Contra Costa County Sheriff to Reinstate Visitation Program

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SAN FRANCISCO–Over the past five years, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its contractors have retaliated against volunteers who criticized the agency or participated in protests by illegally barring them from visiting people in detention, a violation of the First Amendment.

Today, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)—a national advocacy group for immigration detention visitors—along with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California (ACLU NorCal) and 89 community groups wrote to ICE and the Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff requesting that they stop retaliating against visitors who publicly criticize the U.S. immigration detention system or face legal action.

The visitation program ban at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) came the day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a suit against California’s sanctuary laws, including AB 103, which CIVIC helped draft and provides the California state Attorney General with the power to monitor ICE detention facilities in the state.  In Sessions’ complaint, he explicitly names the WCDF as a place he does not want the state monitoring.

“In terminating our program, the Sheriff’s Department and ICE are not just trying to punish us, they are trying to send a message to other activists to stay silent.  We will not be silenced,” said Fialho.

Signatories to the ACLU NorCal letter in support of CIVIC include the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of San Francisco, the National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO, among many other.  Jeff Adachi, who is the  Public Defender of the City and County of San Francisco also signed on.

Read the full sign-on letter here.

Read our full press release: http://www.endisolation.org/blog/archives/1361

Organizations that have signed on:

Adjunct Justice
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Alameda Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Amnesty International USA
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Beyt Tikkun Synagogue-without-walls
Block-by-Block Organizing Network
California Sanctuary Campaign
California Coalition for Women Prisoners
California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC)
California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA)
California Nurses Association
Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE)
Communities for a Better Environment
Community Clinic Consortium
Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance (CCIRA)
Contra Costa Progressives
Contra Costa County Racial Justice Coalition
Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Office
Courageous Resistance El Sobrante/Richmond
Creating Freedom Movements: more justice, more joy
Democratic Socialists of America Burlingame Chapter
Detention Watch Network (DWN)
Disability Studies Program, University of California, Berkeley
Dolores Street Community Services
East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE)
East County for Immigrant Rights and Education (ECFIRE)
ECHO
Ecumenical Peace Institute/Clergy and Laity Concerned
El Cerrito Progressives
End Solitary Santa Cruz County
Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy (FAME)
Faith In Action Bay Area, PICO CA
First Congregational Church of Oakland
First Friends of NJ & NY
Fools Mission
Friends of Broward Detainees
Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees
Grassroots Leadership
Iglesia Luterana Santa Maria y Santa Marta
Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)
Indivisible4C (Central Contra Costa County)
Indivisible 4 Immigration
Indivisible East Bay
Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace
Interfaith for Black Lives
Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity
Jeff Adachi, Public Defender of San Francisco
Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay
Jewish Gateways
Jewish Voice for Peace – Bay Area
JeWitch Collective
Kehilla Community Synagogue
Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants (KWESI)
La Raza Centro Legal
Lamorinda Sanctuary
Las Cruces CIVIC
Latino Education Network
Latino Task Force
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
Media Alliance
Migrant Rights Collective
Mill Valley Community Action Network
Mobilize the Immigrant Vote
Monument Impact
Mt. Diablo Peace and Justice Center
Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church Social Justice Council
Multifaith Immigration Coalition for Action (MICA)
National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)
National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Sacramento Chapter
Network of Spiritual Progressives
New Hampshire Immigrant Visitation Program
NorCal Resist
Oakland Community Organizations (OCO)
Oakland Education Association
Oakland Privacy
Organizing For Action (OFA) Contra Costa
Pangea Legal Services
Peace United Church of Christ
Priority Africa Network
Pueblo Sin Fronteras
Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP)
Refugee Transitions
Reuniting Families Contra Costa
Riverside Sojourners Detention Visitation Program
Root & Rebound
Sacramento Area Congregations Together
Saint Columba Catholic Church
San Francisco Peninsula People Power
San Francisco Zen Center
Sanctuary Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz Branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Santa Cruz Community Coalition to Overcome Racism (SCCCCOR)
Santa Cruz Dreamer Project
Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)
Shomeret Shalom Global Congregation
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Marin
Sisters of Mercy Solidarity Committee
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas – Institute Justice Team
Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community
Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church
Society for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (SIRR) at Columbia Law School
Solidarity Action Minyan of Congregation Chochmat HaLev
Street Level Health Project/Proyecto de Salud para Todos
Together We Will Contra Costa Community Action Group
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley’s Social Justice Council
Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto Action Council
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Redwood City (UUFRC) Social Action Committee.
Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento
Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club Coordinating Committee
World Institute on Disability
Your Allied Rapid Response
YVote

 

Advocacy Groups Call on ICE and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office to Reinstate CIVIC’s Community-based Visitation Program and Hotline at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF)

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ICE and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office Terminated CIVIC’s Programs at WCDF in Retaliation for Public Criticism of Detention Conditions

March 8, San Francisco – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) — a nationwide network working to end the isolation and abuse of people in ICE detention through visitation, monitoring, and other types of support — is calling on ICE and the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office to reinstate their community visitation program and free hotline at the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Richmond, CA.

Since 2011, CIVIC has operated a visitation program and free hotline for people in ICE detention at WCDF.  Last November, CIVIC published a letter from 27 women detained at WCDF that recorded abuses at the facility, including being frequently locked up for hours and being forced to use bags in their cells when they needed to use the toilet.
 
“I am very grateful to CIVIC because they were of great help and support to my immigration case. It was hell where I was detained. They kept us in a precarious situation,” expressed Nancy Mayer Mejia, who was detained for five months at WCDF and penned the letter that 26 other women then signed onto. “Thanks to the people of CIVIC, I believed in myself again. They brought hope into my life during every visit.”
 
Since November, CIVIC has continued to speak out in newspapers, on the radio, in community meetings, and at peaceful protests outside the facility.  The letter from the women in detention led to calls for investigations from local representatives, including U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, who called for a federal probe into the matter.
 
“CIVIC volunteers play an essential role in supporting people in ICE detention and their families.  When we are informed about human rights abuses at the hands of the government, it is our moral and civic responsibility to speak up and share the demands of those on the inside with the public,” said Rebecca Merton, CIVIC’s National Visitation Network Coordinator and Independent Monitor and the local coordinator of the WCDF visitation program.
 
On February 15, ICE terminated CIVIC’s free hotline with no advance warning or subsequent explanation.  CIVIC has been operating this hotline since 2011, and uses it to facilitate visits and legal representation.  Shortly thereafter, on February 20, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office suspended CIVIC visitation program coordinator Rebecca Merton’s visitation clearance with no clear explanation.  After pressing the Sheriff’s Office for a reason, CIVIC leadership received an email on Monday from Captain Kristi Butterfield of WCDF, explaining that the Sheriff’s Office was revoking access for all CIVIC volunteers and terminating the visitation program at WCDF.  The email explained that they had conducted a “thorough investigation” into CIVIC’s “emails, phone calls, radio and newspaper interviews” and found that “the organization poses a safety and security risk to the WCDF.”
 
“ICE and the county are trying to make us choose between our First Amendment rights and visiting our friends in ICE detention. This is not a choice that our government can legally ask us to make,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.  “The constitution isn’t optional.  It can’t be disregarded in an attempt to silence critics of the immigration detention system.”
 
After various local, state, and federal legislators sent inquiries to the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office and ICE about CIVIC’s program termination, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department released a statement on March 8 on Facebook, stating that CIVIC volunteers had violated certain policies and procedures.  
 
Since 2011 with the full knowledge of ICE and WCDF staff, CIVIC has been providing up to $20 of commissary money to people in detention so that they can buy food to supplement their meager meals at the facility.  This is money CIVIC has raised from donations from churches and synagogues around the Bay Area. Since 2011 with the full knowledge of ICE and WCDF staff, CIVIC has been fielding phone calls and mail from people in ICE detention through the hotline extension ICE provided CIVIC and through other phone calls initiated by people in ICE detention.  All regular phone calls and mail are monitored by the facility. CIVIC has never sent contraband to people in ICE detention. We have only sent religious and literary texts requested by people in ICE detention such as Catholic prayer books directly from book publishers. Since 2011 with the full knowledge of ICE and WCDF staff, CIVIC has provided people in ICE detention at WCDF and their ICE officer and immigration judge with the home addresses of the volunteers so that our volunteers can serve as sponsors to the people in ICE detention eligible for release.  This is often the only way an asylum seeker can get released on parole.
 
Lesbia Karina Pérez Vásquez, a 21-year-old woman who fled Guatemala and was detained at WCDF, was one individual who benefited from this type of support: “When I was first picked up by ICE I was frightened and felt so alone.  At WCDF I was told by other women that CIVIC came in every Friday to visit.  We would all get excited that a friendly face was coming to see us,” she explained. Carmen Jimenez-Smith, a CIVIC volunteer began to visit Ms. Pérez Vásquez and worked with other CIVIC volunteers to fundraise for Ms. Pérez Vásquez’s immigration bond.  She was released on February 1. Ms. Pérez Vásquez continued: “Señora Carmen placed me in her home and is continuing to host me and help me gain legal status. I’m so grateful for CIVIC.”
 
None of these actions are in violation of the facility’s policies, which all CIVIC volunteers are forced to sign if they want to visit someone in ICE detention.  It’s essentially a contract of adhesion. The policy specifically says that volunteers should not “contact or correspond with inmate or with any member of the inmate’s family except as required by the employee’s assigned duties.”  CIVIC volunteers are not employees of the facility, but even if they were, their assigned duties are to visit people and provide them with the support they need to address complaints and obtain their freedom through the immigration legal system.
 
“The money we provide people in ICE detention so they can buy food serves as a major source of revenue for the facility along with the phone calls.  Both commissary items and phone calls are exorbitantly priced. The money the facility obtains from the commissary and the phone calls are deposited in something called the ‘Inmate Welfare Fund.’  However, there is little accountability or transparency on how this money is spent. Up until now, the money we have been sending to people in ICE detention has served the facility just fine. But now, that we are speaking out against the system, the facility has decided that we no longer are serving them and we must be silenced,” said Christina Mansfield, the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.

The visitation program ban came the day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a suit against California’s sanctuary laws, including AB 103, which CIVIC helped draft and provides the California state Attorney General with the power to monitor ICE detention facilities in the state.  In Sessions’ complaint, he explicitly names the WCDF as a place he does not want the state monitoring.

“In terminating our program, the Sheriff’s Department and ICE are not just trying to punish us, they are trying to send a message to other activists to stay silent.  We will not be silenced,” said Fialho.
 
Please join us in telling ICE and the Sheriff’s Department that we will not be silent.  It’s time we #BreaktheICE.
 
Protest organized by “Let Our People Go” to Support CIVIC and Shed Light on Inhumane Conditions at WCDF:
Time: Sunday, March 11, 2018 from 11am-12pm
Location: Outside the West County Detention Facility, 5555 Giant Hwy, Richmond, CA 94806
 
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To request an interview with CIVIC or with people in ICE detention at WCDF, contact Rebecca Merton at RMerton@endisolation.org

Or contact Liz Martinez, CIVIC’s Communications Director, at LMartinez@endisolation.org

Trump Administration Sues California Over Our Bill. We Will Defend It.

The Trump administration’s latest attack on California is an attack on all of us. Late Tuesday, the Justice Department sued the state of California over three immigration laws, calling them “unconstitutional.”

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) consulted on one of the targeted laws, state budget amendment AB 103.  

The budget amendment gives the state attorney general independent oversight powers over immigration detention facilities. It also put a moratorium on all new contracts between state municipalities and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

The Trump administration is only attacking the oversight mechanism in the law, saying that Government Code 12532 is unlawful because it violates the Supremacy Clause. But there is a reason we need state-mandated reviews over our state’s county jails and private prisons that contract with ICE.

There is widespread unchecked abuse, such as unlawful strip searches and physical and medical abuse. And two California immigration detention facilities, the Adelanto Detention Facility and the Otay Detention Facility, rank in the top 5 worst immigration detention facilities for sexual assault, based on the level of complaints to the Department of Homeland Security.

This measure is essential in keeping the government in check and ensuring that people in detention are not subjected to civil and human rights abuses, such as sexual assault. As taxpayers, we have a right to know what is happening behind these prison walls and in our name.

“By targeting the budget amendment, the Trump Administration is declaring war on government accountability, transparency, and basic norms of decency,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.

We will stop at nothing to protect our immigrant communities from an administration that is hell-bent on operating with impunity and terrorizing immigrants to carry out its racially-motivated agenda.

Supreme Court Ruling On Jennings v. Rodriguez Is Disastrous For People In Detention

Los Angeles, CA — Today, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Jennings v. Rodriguez that people held in U.S. immigration detention, including asylum seekers and legal permanent residents, are not entitled to a bond hearing and are subject to indefinite detention.

“We are appalled by our nation’s highest court,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). “Rather than uphold the Declaration of Independence, the Supreme Court has decided to look the other way and uphold a ‘legal fiction,’ as Justice Breyer called it.”

“We thank Justice Breyer for his passionate dissent, and we stand with those who will continue to be locked away in prisons and jails indefinitely,” Fialho said.  “This is a dark moment in our nation’s history.”

“We are devastated by this decision,” said Jessica Rofé, an Immigrant Defense Fellow at the NYU School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. “This decision has far-reaching consequences for our immigrant community members, many of whom will languish in immigration jails, separated from their loved ones and communities.”

To learn more about Jennings v. Rodriguez and its impact, visit Prolonged Detention Stories, a joint project between the NYU School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic and CIVIC.

New Report Released on Repurposing Clinton-era Jails

A new report on one of the country’s most notorious immigration detention facilities paints a picture for how an immigration detention facility can be closed and repurposed as a community-based, alternative to detention reentry center

Santa Ana, CA – Today, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) in partnership with Torti Gallas + Partners, the ACLU of Southern California, and Advancement Project California is releasing a 72-page report on how the City of Santa Ana can repurpose its jail.  

The report, Rebuilding Trust: A Case Study for Closing and Repurposing Immigration Detention Facilities, investigates human and civil rights abuses at the facility and provides a basic plan for jail reuse.  It also is designed to assist any community looking to repurpose a Clinton administration-era jail.

“The City is at a critical turning point. It can listen to its residents who are clamoring for the closure of the city jail or it can continue to operate the facility at a fiscal deficit at the expense of the community,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of CIVIC and the primary author of the report. “We hope this privately-funded report will help City leaders make an informed decision.”

The City originally borrowed $107.4 million in bonds in 1994 to assist with the cost of constructing the combined jail/police headquarters facility, with a 30-year repayment term. The Santa Ana City Jail is currently operating at a significant deficit, and in each year since at least FY15, jail-specific revenues have failed to cover the operating costs of the facility.  
The City of Santa Ana also is at risk to lose millions defending and settling claims against its jail.  

The living conditions that individuals incarcerated at the Santa Ana City Jail are forced to endure are at best deficient.  The report investigates inadequate medical care, prolonged solitary confinement, inappropriate classifications of inmates, excessive or inappropriate disciplinary actions, among other things, such as unhygienic food service that can result in the transmission of bacteria or disease.

“Many of the situations we have documented at the Santa Ana City Jail raise state and federal legal concerns,” said Fialho, who also is a California attorney.  

But there is hope!

Since 2011, at least 22 states have closed or announced closures for 94 state prisons and juvenile facilities.  Counties and cities that have closed their correctional facilities have eventually repurposed them in exciting new ways.  For example, facilities have been converted into museums and special events venues, a movie studio, a distillery, a reentry center, and live-work space with condominiums, office buildings, shops, and restaurants.

“In addition to helping the City pull itself out of its current deficit, repurposing the facility to a non-correctional space can provide a public benefit to the community at large and prevent more harm from occurring within the City jail,” said Daisy Ramirez, the Jails Project Coordinator in Orange County for the ACLU of Southern California.  

The report advocates first and foremost for closure of the Santa Ana City Jail.  In its place, the report explains how the City could implement a community-based reentry center.  As Santa Ana also is a sanctuary city that previously operated one of the most notorious immigration detention facilities in the country, the report also encourages the City to create a Revolving Immigration Detention Bond Fund so that any resident picked up and detained by ICE will have access to financial support to pay their immigration bond and be reunited with their family. The Bond Fund would complement the work the City has already done to fund Universal Representation.  


“Our report makes it clear that that jail-specific revenues fail to cover the operating costs of the Santa Ana City Jail.  The City of Santa Ana has been operating its jail at a multi-million dollar deficit each year, even before the cancellation of the city’s contract with ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement).  This moment presents an opportunity for the City to put itself on a more stable fiscal footing by replacing the jail with a community-based reentry center,” said Michael Russo, Associate Director of Equity in Public Funds at the Advancement Project.

The City will be hearing public comment on the jail reuse issue at the next City Council meeting on February 20, 2018.  Resilience Orange County and community leaders will hold a press conference in front of city hall at 5:00pm on February 20th.

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CIVIC
CIVIC is a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization incorporated in the state of California. CIVIC has extensive experience in assessing immigration detention conditions, working with the LGBTQI community, and developing and implementing alternative to detention programs. CIVIC has affiliated visitation programs at over 40 immigration detention facilities nationwide. These programs allow volunteers to build one-on-one relationships with people in immigration detention to provide a connection to the outside world and assess immigration detention conditions on a weekly basis.  CIVIC has been visiting and assessing conditions at the Santa Ana City Jail since 2012.  You can learn more at www.endisolation.org.


Torti Gallas + Partners

Torti Gallas + Partners was established in 1953 and maintains a global practice of planning, architecture and urban design with offices in Los Angeles, California, Silver Spring, Maryland, Washington, DC, Tampa, Florida and Istanbul, Turkey.  The firm is one of the largest planning and architectural firms in the United States dedicated to advancing the principles of the New Urbanism and Smart Growth to meet the challenges of our time.  Torti Gallas has extensive experience with all scales of master planning and building projects in the residential, mixed-use, transit-oriented, and commercial markets, applying jurisdictional needs and code requirements in local, national and international markets. With extensive experience in the public and private sectors, Torti Gallas takes pride in balancing the diverse needs of communities with the realities of the marketplace to arrive at buildable solutions that bring value to our clients and to the communities in which we work. In applying this successful, market-focused balance, Torti Gallas has designed over 475,000 residential units and planned over 1,500 residential and mixed-use communities.  Learn more at http://www.tortigallas.com/home.


Advancement Project California
Advancement Project is a next generation, multiracial civil rights organization. In California, the organization champions the struggle for greater equity and opportunity for all, fostering upward mobility in communities most impacted by economic and racial injustice. Advancement Project California builds alliances and trust, uses data-driven policy solutions, creates innovative tools, and works alongside communities to ignite social transformation. For more information, visit www.advancementprojectca.org.

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend the principles of liberty and equality embodied in the Constitution and our nation’s civil rights laws.  Learn more at www.aclusocal.org.


The California Endowment provided funding for this report.

How to File Public Records Act with Private Immigration Detention Facilities

LOS ANGELES— Starting January 1, private prisons that detain immigrants are subject to the California Public Records Act. California will become the first state in the country to apply open records laws to private prisons. 

The provision is part of the Dignity Not Detention Act, which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown into law in October 2017. As Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) co-sponsored the legislation, we’d like to provide journalists with a template for how they can file public records requests. Please download our template here.

Statement In Response To Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office’s ‘Investigation’

“We are very disappointed by the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office’s statement regarding their “investigation” into complaints of mistreatment by dozens of women detained at the West County Detention Facility.

It should be obvious that there is an inevitable conflict of interest when an office investigates itself. There can be no justice when allegations of abuse are declared to be unfounded by the very perpetrators.

The lack of transparency regarding the investigation is telling. A report, if one exists, has not been released. Even the most basic information, such as the identity or credentials of the investigators, or their methodology, has not been made public.

It is especially disturbing that fears of retaliation were clearly never addressed or even considered. Numerous women have told CIVIC volunteers that they were too afraid to share their concerns with the officials during the interviews. This is understandable, given the incidents of retaliation that they have experienced or witnessed already. For example, of the four named complainants in the first news article about the conditions, two women have since been deported and one has been transferred to another county jail away from her community support. Furthermore, women have told us that they are still experiencing devastating 23-hour periods of being locked in their cells, and are now facing increased verbal abuse from the deputies.

We continue to stand beside these brave women who have risked retaliation to bring these abuses to light, and we reiterate the demand for a fully independent and transparent investigation followed by ongoing public oversight.”

-Rebecca Merton, National Visitation Network Program Coordinator, CIVIC

 

CIVIC Presents Annual Rev. John Guttermann Legacy Award to New Jersey Visitation Programs

Contacts:
Liz Martinez, Director of Advocacy & Strategic Communications, CIVIC, lmartinez@endisolation.org
Sally Pillay, Program Director, First Friends of NJ & NY, spillay@firstfriendsnjny.org
Frances Connell, Coordinator, Sojourners, frances.connell@gmail.com
Jamila Hammami, Executive Director, Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, jamila@qdep.org

NEW YORK – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) presented the 2018 Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award to three visitation programs for their longstanding contributions to the detention visitation and abolition movements: Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, Sojourners, and First Friends of New Jersey and New York.


CIVIC is the national visitation network working to abolish the U.S. immigration detention system. CIVIC established this award in honor of Reverend John Guttermann, who passed away in December 2016 after a valiant fight with brain cancer.  Rev. Guttermann was the founder of Conversations with Friends, a visitation program in Minnesota that was one of the first in the country, and a member of CIVIC’s founding Leadership Council.  

Each year, CIVIC awards the Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award to one or more outstanding visitation programs.  The first Reverend John Guttermann Legacy Award was presented to Conversations with Friends in 2017.

First Friends of New Jersey and New York, Sojourners, and Queer Detainee Empowerment Project all offer visitation, post-release accompaniment, and other crucial forms of support to people held in ICE detention centers in the New Jersey area.  Over the years, their direct service as well as their activism have made powerful impacts on the experiences and lives of countless asylum seeking and immigrant individuals, as well as the policies of these facilities and localities.

“It has been such an immense pleasure to partner with these organizations over the years and witness how we have grown and learned from one another,” said Christina Fialho, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of CIVIC. “We are truly inspired by their work and leadership in the nationwide movement to support people in immigration detention and end the detention system. It is beautiful to see Rev. Guttermann’s legacy live on in the love, hope, and compassion that these visitation programs bring into some of the darkest systems of oppression in our country.”

First Friends of NJ and NY has been supporting immigrants detained in New Jersey since 1997 through visitation, pen-pals, advocacy, and post-release services.  They began visiting individuals at the Elizabeth Detention Center, and eventually expanded to meet the support and visitation needs of all the detention centers in New Jersey.  They hold events on Ash Wednesday, Columbus Day, and World Refugee Day to bring awareness to the isolation and trauma of detention.  In 2016, First Friends worked with CIVIC to file a civil rights complaint regarding substandard medical care on behalf of 61 individuals detained at the Hudson County Correctional Facility.  As a result, the County of Hudson appointed a committee of attorneys and doctors to investigate and created by local resolution the first medical oversight committee in the immigration detention system comprised of advocates.  In addition to continuing to put pressure on the County of Hudson, First Friends opened this year the Lighthouse, a safe haven for resettling asylees in partnership with the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Jersey City.


Sojourners was founded in 1999 as a social justice ministry project of the Riverside Church community.  Reverend David Fraccaro, a leader in the history of the detention visitation movement, was one of the first program coordinators, and Tom McCarthy, a Sojourners volunteer, directed the inspirational 2007 film The Visitor based on his experience.  Sojourners continues to recruit, train, and mentor volunteers to visit and befriend people at the Elizabeth Detention Center through meaningful one-on-one sustained relationships.  They arrange carpools, providing round-trip transportation from both uptown and midtown Manhattan.  Sojourners also assists in providing post-release orientation and services, such as finding housing in New York.

Queer Detainee Empowerment Project (QDEP), founded in 2014 by Jamila Hammami, assists people coming out of immigration detention in securing structural, health and wellness, educational, legal, and emotional support and services.  QDEP works to organize around the structural barriers and state violence that LGBTQIA TS & GNC detained and undocumented people face related to their immigration status, race, sexuality, and gender expression and identity.  They visit people at Elizabeth Detention Center and provide phone and pen pal support and connection to legal services at multiple facilities in New Jersey as well as New York, Louisiana, Arizona, and California.  QDEP raises money for transwomen in segregated housing units and solitary confinement to make commissary purchases to alleviate their isolation, and post bond so that they can be freed from these oppressive facilities.

Reps. Grijalva and Chu Call for Investigation on Sexual Assaults in ICE Facilities

Washington, D.C. – Rep. Grijalva released the following statement after he and Rep. Judy Chu led 71 Members of Congress in sending a letter to top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials demanding increased accountability and transparency over claims of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment within immigrant detention facilities. The letter comes in response to a complaint filed by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) which highlights the prevalence of sexual misconduct and the lack of recourse for victims within immigrant detention facilities.  

In the letter, the lawmakers highlight the fact that, “The Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security received a total of 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse against DHS component agencies between January 2010 and July 2016, according to CIVIC’s complaint. Of the 33,126 complaints of sexual and/or physical abuse, the DHS-OIG opened investigations into only 225 of them, or 0.07%.”

Full statements are below:

“DHS and its partner agencies must be held accountable for rampant complaints of sexual assault, abuse and harassment within their immigrant detention facilities,” Rep Grijalva said. “Many of those being held have fled violence, have been victims of rape, or were otherwise subject to traumatic events. For DHS to carelessly dismiss, ignore, or even try to erase such serious claims is not only unconscionable but also unlawful under existing PREA protections. We have both a moral and legal obligation to prevent sexual misconduct from happening in detention centers, and further must ensure that victims have a path to legal recourse when incidents do occur.”

“Even more alarming are efforts undertaken to destroy records related to sexual assault in immigrant detention centers. If this were any other federal agency, there would be an outpouring of public demands for greater transparency and accountability. However, because we are dealing with victims who are always in the shadows, far away from their families and outside of the public eye, we are seeing a coordinated attempt to eliminate any evidence of wrongdoing. I strongly urge DHS and DOJ leadership to act swiftly to conduct comprehensive investigations of sexual assault in immigrant detention facilities, and for ICE to withdraw its petition to permanently destroy all records pertaining to sexual assault claims.” 

“Immigrants are among the most vulnerable people – many of whom are children away from their families,” said Rep. Chu. “And being detained puts them completely at the mercy of others, who sometimes abuse that power in unscrupulous ways as we have too often seen over the years. That anybody should experience sexual assault, but especially anybody in these terrible conditions, is absolutely unacceptable. There are already myriad problems with immigrant detention facilities and the entire policy of treating immigrants as prisoners, but the threat of sexual assault should not be among it. We need an investigation, more oversight, and reform to ensure that we are protecting those in our care.”

“Homeland Security has established a zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, but this policy is not properly enforced,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). “In fact, to our knowledge, nothing has been done to curb sexual abuse at ICE facilities since we filed our civil rights complaint in April. Instead, ICE has petitioned the National Archives to trash its records of sexual assault. Through its attempt to destroy evidence of wrongdoing, ICE is sending a message that perpetrators of sexual abuse of immigrants will be protected. We cannot allow ICE to operate with impunity behind closed doors.”

Full text of the letter can be found here.

New Government Report Finds Widespread Abuse At Immigrant Detention Centers Across The Country

Washington, DC — A new report released today by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), Concerns about ICE Detainee Treatment and Care at Detention Facilities, supports longstanding concerns and documentation from immigrant rights advocates about egregious conditions, abusive treatment and abysmal mismanagement at immigrant detention centers across the country. The report comes as Trump calls for a massive cut in the OIG budget in an attempt to further embolden Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to act with impunity, erase measures of accountability and obscure any existing transparency.

The report inspected and found serious deficiencies at the following facilities: Santa Ana City Jail in California, Hudson Detention Center in New Jersey, Stewart Detention Center in Georgia and Otero Detention Center in New Mexico.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Medical staff not using available interpretation services during medical exams at multiple facilities (not specified) jeopardizing the health of detained individuals who aren’t not able to provide their medical history or fully explain their symptoms or concerns without interpretation. Inspectors also uncovered concerning delays in medical care at Stewart, Santa Ana and Hudson.
  • Serious problems with the grievance procedure. At multiple facilities (not specified), detained individuals reported that “staff obstructed or delayed their grievances or intimidated them, through fear of retaliation, into not complaining.” At Stewart, review of a sample of grievances found that “[m]any serious complaints from the sample at this facility included only cursory and uninformative explanations of the resolution.”
  • Lack phone access as required. At Otero, inspectors found broken phones. At Stewart, the OIG complaint hotline was improperly restricted.  
  • Abusive and disrespectful treatment. Detained people at all four facilities reported improper and disrespectful treatment. At Santa Ana, video corroborated allegations that a guard yelled at and inappropriately threatened detained people.
  • Abusive use of solitary confinement was documented at Stewart, Santa Ana and Otero.
  • Improper strip searches at the Santa Ana Jail.

“The realities documented by the OIG inspectors, and many more, are endemic to the entire detention system,” said Mary Small, policy director at Detention Watch Network. “The findings of the report support our ongoing call to immediately release people from detention, as ICE has proven time and time again to be incapable of meeting basic standards for humane treatment. Furthermore, the report is particularly timely as Congress continues to stall budget decisions for fiscal year 2018,” Small added. “Our elected officials must stand with immigrant communities. It’s time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on the abusive and deadly immigration enforcement system; the lives of our loved ones and our collective future are at stake.”

Immigrant rights advocates working on the inspected facilities offered the following statements:

Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South: “As our year-long documentation showed, Stewart is rife with abuse and should have shut down long ago. Some examples of human rights violations include: exploitation of immigrant labor for operation of the facility, reports of maggots being found in the food, and responding to hunger strikes with threats of force-feeding. The May 2017 death of 27-year-old Jean-Carlos Jimenez-Joseph who was held in solitary for 19 days should have served as a final wake-up call and resulted in the immediate closure of the facility. We hope that the Georgia Congressional delegation will take action on the letter signed by 70 Georgia and national organizations and investigate this facility.”

Christina Fialho, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC): “Although the Santa Ana City Jail is no longer a contracted immigrant jail, it still holds hundreds of human beings inside deplorable conditions where people are subjected to strip searches that often occur under unsanitary conditions and sometimes in full view of other people. The City of Santa Ana has an obligation to its residents to close this jail and begin to heal its community,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC, which filed a federal civil rights complaint against the Santa Ana City Jail about unlawful strip searches nearly two years ago. Fialho added, “We have filed countless complaints against ICE over the years regarding inadequate medical care at Hudson, a pattern or practice of sexual violence throughout the system, physical abuse at various immigration prisons, and more. But rather than addressing our concerns, ICE has adopted a head-in-the-sand approach, denying that any problems exist. The OIG report is only the tip of the iceberg; imagine the widespread abuse we would find if all 210 immigrant prisons were reviewed. A starting point in tackling this culture of impunity is greater transparency from our government institutions.

Marcela Hernandez, Organizer, Immigrant Youth Coalition: “In our weekly visits to Santa Ana Jail’s trans pod, we documented multiple abuses such as the women being kept in their cells for more than 20 hours a day and violent verbal, emotional and physical abuse. There was also a huge lack of adequate medical attention to the point that one of the women collapsed, was taken to the local hospital and was in a coma for weeks. She wasn’t allowed to finish her rehabilitation and was taken back to Santa Ana Jail where her health continue to deteriorate instead of getting better. For these reasons we continue to support the fight against trans detention and all immigrant detentions.”

Lourdes Ortiz, Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC): “Through testimonies and group activities, DMSC knows that the conditions at the Otero Processing Center interfere with people’s access to justice and break their spirit. This year, the Otero Processing Center was sending detained women to the County jail part of the facility. Ironically, women reported better conditions at the jail than at the immigration detention center. Attorneys struggle to have access to their clients; there are no contact visits, and attorneys have had to wait for up to three hours before being allowed to see their client. This report is just the tip of the iceberg. We hope that other organizations, public officials, and the community will join us in demanding an investigation and holding ICE accountable.”

Sally Pillay, First Friends of New Jersey and New York: “The OIG’s report clearly highlights the neglect and abuse that immigrants face on a constant  basis. Hudson County Jail and Rehabilitation Center (Hudson) is known for its substandard  medical care — This year alone there have been two deaths at the facility, one of which was Rolando Meza Espinoza who was in need of medical attention. The unacceptable and avoidable death of Espinoza is representative of the substandard medical care and oversight provided to individuals detained in Hudson.  It is not acceptable that taxpayers dollars are used to incarcerate our immigrant brothers and sisters, while these facilities are plagued by abuse, mistreatment and a lack of accountability. We are calling on Hudson County to adopt the most recent Performance Based National Detention Standards and to work with local advocates to form a truly Independent Medical Oversight Board that to monitor the facility.”  

Serges Demefack, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program in New Jersey: “The AFSC Immigrant Rights Program in New Jersey commends the OIG for its report which points out to some of the conditions immigrant rights advocates in New Jersey have consistently asked for improvement. Recently the circumstances leading to two deaths in June and July 2017 at HCCF tell a story of the system designed to fail immigrants. A system where medical care is withheld and sick calls go unanswered for weeks at a time. Detainees at HCCF are consistently mistreated, and in many cases accused of faking their illness even though there are evidences backed by testimonies from other detainees demonstrating that they are chronically ill.  The financial incentive tied to the detention quota is one of the root causes of the broken immigration detention system in Hudson County and elsewhere. We need to hold the failing medical and mental health systems at HCCF accountable.  This includes the administrator and those elected officials who repeatedly support inefficient and often unjust jail management. We must begin eliminating a system that is completely lacking accountability.”

Dylan Corbett, Hope Border Institute: “While we welcome this step towards holding ICE accountable by the Office of the Inspector General, the abuses identified at the Otero Detention Center immigration are not an anomaly. We know that immigration agencies and officials in border communities routinely fail to respect basic human rights and human dignity. The detention of migrants and asylum seekers who pose no threat to our communities is fundamentally immoral and together we must work to end it.”

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Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.

Project South is a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation. We build relationships with organizations and networks across the US and global South to inform our local work and to engage in bottom-up movement building for social and economic justice.

Detained Migrant Solidarity Committee (DMSC) is a community group in El Paso, TX that opposes migrant detention. They fight for cross-border communities free from militarization, criminalization, and mass incarceration through organizing, education, and action. They aim to expose the injustices of migrant detention and deportation and to provide support for migrants in detention and their families. Follow @DMSCelpaso (Twitter) and @DetainedMigrantSolidarityCommitteeEPTX (Facebook).

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) is a national nonprofit devoted to abolishing U.S. immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. We visit and monitor 43 facilities and run the largest national hotline for detained immigrants. Through these windows into the system, we gather data and stories to combat injustice at the individual level and push systemic change. Visit www.endisolation.org. Follow @endisolation and join us at facebook.com/endisolation.

Hope Border Institute (HOPE) is an independent grassroots community organization working in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez-Las Cruces region, that seeks to bring the perspective of Catholic social teaching to bear on the social realities unique to our region. Through a robust program of research, reflection, leadership development, advocacy and action, HOPE develops and aligns the border’s community leaders engaged in the work of justice from across the Mexico-US border to deepen solidarity across borders and transform our region.  Visit us at hopeborder.org or follow Hope on Twitter and Facebook, @hopeborder, or @hopeborderinstitute on Instagram.