Kinship Across Borders

“The failure of current immigration policies in the United States has resulted in dire consequences: a significant increase in border deaths, a proliferation of smuggling networks, prolonged family separation, inhumane raids, a patchwork of local ordinances criminalizing activities of immigrants and those who harbor them, and the creation of an underclass—none of which are appropriate or just outcomes for those holding Christian commitments,” explains Kristin Heyer in her new book.

The new book by CIVIC member, Kristin Heyer, Kinship Across Borders, analyzes contemporary U.S. immigration in the context of fundamental Christian beliefs about the human person, sin, family life, and global solidarity.  Check it out on Georgetown University Press.  If you are interested in purchasing the book, CIVIC members receive a 50% off discount good through January 20.  Enter this code, TM60, when you purchase it off the Georgetown University Press.

CIVIC is a secular organization and not associated with any one religion. 

Florida Needs a Visitation Program!

Florida has nine immigration detention facilities, according to data provided to CIVIC by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 


In fact, two of the largest detention facilities in the country are in Florida.  The Broward Transitional Center and the Krome Detention Facility have the combined capacity to hold over 1,000 men and women in immigration detention on any given day.  In Florida, ICE has detained students, like Viridiana who is a DREAM Activist with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.  Listen to Viridiana Martinez

If you are in Florida, we hope you will join CIVIC and contribute to the national movement to end the isolation of men, women, and children in immigration detention.  Call us at 385-21-CIVIC to join!!

FCC Takes First Step Toward Granting Wright Petition

Last week, CIVIC showed its support for the Wright Petition in a joint letter of support to the FCC.  CIVIC also hosted a nationwide conference call about how immigration detention visitors can help end the isolation of detained immigrants and lower the phone call rates for men and women in immigration detention.  Yesterday, the FCC took the first step toward granting the Wright Petition!

Washington DC- Yesterday, at a rally for fair prison phone/immigration detention rates, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn announced that Chairman Genachowski has begun circulating a further notice of proposed rulemaking for a vote.  This marked the first step forward in a ten-year effort to make the price of inter-state calls from prison (and immigration detention facilities) affordable.

For more pictures, visit

The midday rally, sponsored by the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, brought together more than 150 people to call on the FCC to end the high cost of calls from prison by establishing a cap.  Holding signs and singing, the crowd was visibly moved by the words of Commissioner Clyburn, “I have been working with Chairman Genachowski, my fellow Commissioners, and our wonderful staff, to grant the Wright Petition, and issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will lead to lower interstate long distance rates from correctional facilities.”

Offering a special thank you to campaign leaders including the Media Action Grassroots Network, Prison Legal News and Working Narratives, Commissioner Clyburn remarked that a notice isn’t the end of the process, but is a critical first step.

“The Campaign for Prison Phone Justice is incredibly excited that the FCC has taken notice of the tremendous bi-partisan support for fair phone rates on calls from prison,“ said Steven Renderos, National Organizer at the Media Action Grassroots Network. “Commissioner Clyburn’s announcement is an incredible beginning.  After 10 years of waiting, we hope the Commission keeps moving forward to finalize these rules.  When families are forced to choose between buying groceries and paying an expensive phone bill, every minute counts.”

Campaign spokespeople were joined by Timothy Robinson, Legislative Director for the Honorable Bobby Rush; Participant Media’s Social Action Campaign representing the film, Middle of Nowhere; Prison Policy Initiative and Sum of Us; faith leaders like Pastor Mark Ehrlichmann who ministers to deaf and hard of hearing inmates, United Church of Christ President Reverend Geoffrey Black, and former prison chaplain Michael Bryant; as well as by the families of prisoners.

The next step is for the FCC Commissioners to vote on the text of a Further Notice of proposed Rulemaking.

Let’s Win Claudia and Ellie’s Release!

CIVIC works to connect immigrants in detention to a community of support on the outside and that is exactly what CIVIC is doing for two women.  But we need your support!

Last week, CIVIC reported on the confinement of Sergio Vazquez Gutierrez, a young man who was dying in the Santa Ana City Jail.  Because of the support of advocates across the country, Sergio was released last Friday night.  A big shout out to Mariana Huerta of ROC-United, Munmeeth Soni of the Public Law Center, CIVIC visitor volunteers, and the many advocates who worked to gain Sergio’s release from detention.

However, over 32,000 men and women, like Ellie and Claudia, continue to be confined in U.S. immigration detention today.

Ellie’s Story: Ellie is a 37-year old, transgender woman from South America who has been in detention for over 15 months. Ellie has been in the United States for only a few years.  She fled her country after she was gang raped and nearly murdered. She was forced to hide her sexual orientation and gender identity in her country of origin. As a result, Ellie has suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time, and her conditions worsened after the most recent episode of violence that she suffered in her home country. When she came to the United States seeking refuge, she isolated herself socially because she lived in constant fear that she may get deported. Unfortunately, Ellie engaged in self-destructive behavior and began to use drugs to cope with her feelings of trauma, depression, anxiety, and social isolation. She was arrested and convicted for possession of a controlled substance. She completed her sentence in jail and afterwards was placed in immigration custody. CIVIC visitor volunteers are uniting to help Ellie, and the Public Law Center is representing her.  

Ellie was recently given a $5000 bond, and CIVIC hopes to raise money through the support of the First Unitarian Church Bond Fund to gain her release.  Ellie has a sister in the United States who also is trying to collect some funds to help pay the bond, but her sister is undocumented and is struggling to survive and support her own family. If Ellie is not released on bond, it is likely that she will remain in detention for a very long time because she is appealing the immigration judge’s decision denying her relief. While in detention, Ellie was diagnosed with severe depression and post traumatic stress disorder, and she requires appropriate mental health care, which the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles has agreed to provide if Ellie is released from immigration custody. 

Claudia’s Story: Claudia is a 40-year old, HIV-positive, transgender woman from Central America. She was brought to the United States at a very young age and was abandoned by her family soon after she came here. Claudia had a stable life before she received her HIV diagnosis after which point she began to engage in self-destructive behavior: She was twice arrested for being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Claudia has received a $2,500 bond, and CIVIC hopes to raise money through the support of the First Unitarian Church Bond Fund to gain her release.  Claudia has been in immigration custody for over nine months, and she requires better medical and mental health care.  If she is able to bond out, she is likely to have a better chance to win her case and obtain immigration relief that will allow her to remain in the United States. Claudia is still awaiting a hearing before the immigration judge, and she is supported by CIVIC volunteers and the pro bono counsel of the Public Law Center.  Claudia does not have any family members or friends who can assist her with paying the bond.

Let’s Win Claudia and Ellie’s Release!

immigration bund fund, Unitarian, immigration detention visitation,CIVIC has teamed up with the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles to raise money for Sergio’s bond.  To give a tax-deductible donation, please DONATE HERE TO CONTRIBUTE TO CLAUDIA’S AND ELLIE’S BOND FUND.  

  • Follow these instructions to donate: Under the “Programs” section, please click “Other” and write “Immigration Detention Bond Fund.”
  • The Bond Fund has a little over $1000.  100% of your donation will go toward paying Ellie’s and Claudia bonds or toward helping other human beings gain their freedom from immigration detention by paying their bond.
  • History of the Bond Fund: Since 2007, First Unitarian Church’s Immigration Bond Fund has been run by Rochelle McAdam and has been used to post bond for eligible candidates in immigration detention.  Each bond has cost between $1,500 and $3,000, and the Bond Fund had been successful in gaining the release of eight individuals, most of whom were detained in the Mira Loma Detention Facility in Lancaster, California (a detention facility now closing).Immigration detention and LGBT, visitation

A Support System for Deported Veterans

The Deported Veterans Support House is a group of deported United States veterans who understand that when a veteran is deported that person faces immense fear and numerous obstacles.  While the House is based in Mexico, they also hope to expand to other countries such as El Salvador and Panama.

The House will fill an immediate need for safe shelter and food and assist the deported veteran in obtaining local identification. Through established community contacts, the U.S. vet also will have the opportunity to address his or her spiritual needs. The House understands the urgent need to maintain contact with family in the United State, so this new group will help deported veterans establish solid methods of communication.

The Deported Veterans Support House is a new venture and hopes to become a place of security and a place of new beginnings, where vets who understand the brotherhood help other vets to find the short and long term assistance they need.  The group has an open door policy and encourages anyone at anytime to visit, stay at the house, and learn from them.  

Contact Information:

Hector Barajas, Founder/Director: 626-569-5491, 

Ernie Aguilar, 562-209-8223 (Long Beach, CA)

Cruz Rebolledo, 626-596-3100 (Baldwin Park, CA)

Bertha Gutierrez, 619-646-4611 (San Diego, CA) 
Craig Klein, 619-581-7121 (San Diego, CA)

Margarita or Natividad Barajas, 310-638-1924 (Compton, CA)

Learn more about the detention and deportation of U.S. veterans by reading what CIVIC member, Rev. Linda Orsen Theophilus, has to say: Deportations are Not the Way to Show Respect for Veterans

Deportations are Not the Way to Show Respect for Veterans

Rev. Linda Orsen Theophilus is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church of Eastmont (on the edge of Penn Hills, Wilkins Township and Monroeville).  She is a member of CIVIC and chairs the Immigration Taskforce for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  She discusses the detention and deportation of our nation’s veterans.  Originally published by Sojourners.

When I go out with my Dad, he often wears a cap identifying him as a Korean War veteran.  Over and over again, people tell him, “Thank you for serving.” Over and over again.

I’m always struck by the contrast between that appreciation and the sad, hidden truth about our country’s treatment of some other veterans. I’m speaking of the government’s detention and deportation of many immigrants who served in our armed forces but who are not yet citizens. 

The first time I heard about this was 1998. My friend’s husband, a Canadian who grew up in Texas and chose to serve in Vietnam had recently gotten a deportation order based on some old drug charges, the kind of thing many vets experienced.  What horrified me then, and still does today, is that immigration judges could not grant an exception. Nothing could stop the deportation except a change in U.S. immigration laws.

When these vets’ stories are fully told, the underlying reason for their deportation is often revealed to be the hidden wounds they received while serving the country they loved enough to fight for — even without citizenship. These veterans served everywhere from Kosovo to Iraq, Afghanistan to Vietnam. Their stories point to the need for a new way of thinking about how America treats immigrant veterans, one that takes into account their service to all of us.

Today, any veteran who has never naturalized could be deported if he or she has a conviction for almost anything at any time in their life. This is in stark contrast with the past, when such deportations were rare. How did we get to this point?

The story goes back to 1996, when Congress changed the grounds for deportation of legal permanent residents (green card holders). Before that, a conviction with a five-year sentence triggered deportation for legal permanent residents. Since the 1996 legislation, it’s taken just a one-year maximum sentence to get deported. Also in 1996, legal definitions were shuffled so that misdemeanors, simple assault, and minor drug charges became deportable offenses. Even worse, the new legislation included retroactivity, so that convictions prior to 1997 can also bring about deportation. 

How many vets’ lives are jeopardized by these changes? The best estimates are that “green card vets” could number from 250,000 to as many as one million. The average percentage of legal permanent residents who enlist has typically been 10 percent over the last 50 years. About half of them do not become citizens before completing their military service. 

There is no government count of veterans who are banished from the United States.   It is hard to tell the number of veterans with convictions. Veterans and the general population have similar rates of committing violent and “serious” crimes, but citizen and non-citizen vets who have served in combat are vulnerable to the hidden injuries of PTSD, addictions, and depression. Misdemeanors related to these problems are common. 

Is it any surprise, then, that the founders of a support house for deported vets in Baja California claim to be in touch with more than 100 vets deported to every continent? 

There’s a familiar litany of heartbreak to these veterans’ stories: Families scattered. Homelessness. Poverty. Disorientation in the land to which they’ve been deported, which may be only a childhood memory. All if this, mixed with pride in having served America. Faced with such a human tragedy, how are we to respond?

A good place to start is by looking at alternatives to detention, which is where these veterans end up prior to deportation. On any given day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) imprisons 34,000 undocumented migrants – not only vets, but also refugees, asylum seekers, and survivors of torture or human trafficking. The ICE “default” setting drops these people – many picked up for as little as a traffic violation – into a network of 260 federal, private, state, and local jails, costing U.S. taxpayers more than $2 billion per year.

A different approach – one that could help vets – is outlined in Unlocking Liberty: A Way Forward for U.S. Immigration Detention Policy. This report by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service maps out how the federal government can lessen its reliance on detention by partnering with nonprofit groups. These partnerships could create cost-effective alternatives to detention while providing legal and social services that would benefit veterans.

But alternatives to detention do not solve the underlying problems. The laws that mandate deportation without exceptions need to be changed. And veterans who have been deported deserve the opportunity to return to the United States while still alive. So this Veterans Day, please take a moment to think about the many veterans who have been deported, and how you could sway your community leaders and elected officials to push for a different approach.

Thanking veterans is a great thing to do, on Veterans Day and every day. Fixing our immigration laws would be the true gift from a grateful nation.


CIVIC Supports the Wright Petition



CIVIC is hosting a nationwide conference call on Tuesday November 13th at 3pm PST/ 5pm CST/ 6pm EST about how you can help end the isolation of detained immigrants and lower the phone call rates for men and women in immigration detention.  If you are not already on CIVIC’s mailing list, please email to join this call!

November 8 – Today, CIVIC along with 109 other immigrant rights groups as well as academic and legal professionals called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to act promptly on the Martha Wright Petition by establishing reasonable benchmark rates for interstate phone calls made from correctional facilities, including those that hold immigrants in detention.

Martha Wright, Wright Petition and immigration detention, immigrant rights advocates, CIVIC, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, CIVIC

Since 2003, the FCC has deferred taking action on the Wright Petition, despite the efforts of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, spearheaded by the Human Rights Defense Center, the Center for Media Justice, and Working Narratives.  The Campaign seeks to end the monopoly phone system and kickbacks paid to prisons and jails in order to significantly reduce phone rates.  Today, CIVIC joins forces with prisoners’ rights advocates to support the Wright Petition.

The struggle for the Wright Petition began in 2000 when plaintiffs brought a class action lawsuit against Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and several prison phone companies over the high cost of phone calls for individuals in prison and their families.  Wright v. CCA.  The suit alleged that prison phone contracts violate federal anti-trust law as well as the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to speech and association, their rights to foster and maintain family relations under the First and Fourteenth Amendments; their rights to due process and equal protection of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments; and their right to unimpaired freedom of contract under Article 1.  The federal district court referred the case to the FCC.  

After years of inaction by the FCC, the plaintiffs of the original lawsuit and the authors of the current petition for rulemaking with the FCC have shifted their strategy for ensuring affordable phone rates for prisoners and their families.  They now call on the FCC to impose price caps or benchmark rates of $0.20 – $0.25 per minute for interstate calls, according to Drew Kukorowski of the Prison Policy Initiative. 

The Wright Petition, named after original plaintiff Martha Wright, has invited the support of immigrant rights organizations that are concerned about the prohibitive cost of phone calls for immigrants in detention.  Prisoners in the criminal justice system and immigrants detained in civil immigration detention are subject to similar unregulated and predatory calling rates.  The exorbitant cost of phone calls is the result of lucrative and monopolistic contracts between prison phone companies and the prisons, detention centers, and county jails with which they contract. 

According to an exhaustive analysis of state prison phone contracts across the United States by Prison Legal News, telephone service providers offer lucrative kickbacks (politely termed “commissions”) to state contracting agencies in order to obtain exclusive, monopolistic contracts for their services.  These kickbacks are paid to the state prison system by charging an exorbitant rate to prisoners and their families–42% of gross revenues from prisoners’ phone calls are “kicked back.”  It is estimated that the phone market in state prison systems is worth more than $362 million annually in gross revenue. 

However, this is only the tip of the profit iceberg.  This calculation does not include the 250 county jails and private detention centers across the country that contract to hold immigrants who are detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  County jails and private detention centers (including ones owned by CCA) profit in the same way as state prisons, by entering into exclusive phone service contracts with phone corporations, like Global Tell Link, that charge the families of immigrants who are detained exorbitant phone rates to cover the cost of kickbacks that enrich the very institution that imprisons their loved one. 

Wright Petition and immigration detention, FCC, CIVIC,, prison reform, Christina Mansfield, visiting immigrants in detentionCIVIC believes this system of forced isolation is extremely oppressive and unethical.  CIVIC and its affiliated community visitation programs receive calls everyday from families who are unable to receive phone calls from their loved ones in immigration detention due to the exorbitant phone rates.  As immigrants are often detained miles away from their loved ones, visitor volunteers are often the only link between those in detention and their families on the outside.  CIVIC firmly supports the Wright Petition, which will make it easier for immigrants in detention to call their loved ones located miles away in another state. 

CIVIC also recognizes that the Wright Petition will not lower phone rates for immigrants in detention who are making calls within state.  Currently, only eight states and the District of Columbus have outlawed state prison phone kickbacks: California, New Mexico, Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan, Rhode Island, New York, and South Carolina.  However, these states still permit county jails and private prison to accept kickbacks.  As immigrants are detained in county jails and private prisons, CIVIC also urges states to prevent telephone service providers from offering lucrative kickbacks to any county jail or private prison.

As explained thoroughly in the joint letter of support for the Wright Petition submitted today to the FCC, the predatory phone rates charged to immigrants in detention are a violation of ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), which state, “Detainees shall have reasonable and equitable access to reasonably priced telephone services” and “Contracts for such services shall comply with all applicable state and federal regulations and be based on rates and surcharges comparable to those charged to the general public.”  Unfortunately, ICE’s 2001 PBNDS lack the teeth necessary to ensure compliance, as they are not legally binding or enforceable.  This leaves it up to the FCC and state governments to regulate the predatory phone systems in immigration detention centers and county jails that enforce isolation and tear families apart.

To learn more about how you can help end the isolation of detained immigrants and lower the phone call rates for men and women in immigration detention, please join CIVIC on Tuesday November 13th at 3pm PST/ 5pm CST/ 6pm EST for a conference call addressing the Martha Wright Petition.  Drew Kukorowski of the Prison Policy Initiative will join us.  Drew recently wrote a report entitled, The Price to Call Home: State Sanctioned Monopolization in the Prison Phone Industry.  Email to receive the call-in information.

 To learn more now about who is affected when someone goes to prison:immigration detention visitation, Wright Petition, phone justice, kickbacks, Prison Legal News, national conference call on phone calls, CIVIC, immigration detention splits up families,


Help Save Sergio’s Life



Sergio Vazquez Gutierrez and immigration detention, gay, AIDS, LGBT and detention, Santa Ana City Jail, detention visitation, CIVIC,, visitation programs, prisons justice, jail justiceCIVIC and its nationwide network of affiliated visitation programs is the first point of contact to the outside world for many immigrants in detention. CIVIC works to connect immigrants in detention to a community of support on the outside and that is exactly what CIVIC is doing for a young man named Sergio Vazquez Gutierrez.  But we need your support now!
Sergio–originally from Santa Ana del Valle Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico–has been in immigration detention at the Santa Ana City Jail in California since May 2012.  He is a gay man living with AIDS, and he was recently diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his brain. Sergio was told he needs chemotherapy as soon as possible, but he is not getting the treatment he needs in detention. His health is deteriorating rapidly, and without the proper treatment, we believe Sergio could die soon.  
Today, CIVIC connected Sergio to an immigration attorney with the Public Law Center, and we are hoping to reduce his bond and win his release from immigration detention.  Once he is released, the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Taskforce (APAIT) has offered to provide Sergio with medical services, an AIDS Specialist, a Spanish-speaking Case Manager, and possibly temporary shelter for 60-90 days.
1) Help us raise money to pay Sergio’s bond.
Sergio’s bond is set at $2,500.  CIVIC has teamed up with the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles to raise money for Sergio’s bond.  To give a tax-deductible donation, please DONATE HERE TO SAVE SERGIO’S LIFE.  
  • Follow these instructions to donate: Under the “Programs” section, please click “Other” and write “Immigration Detention Bond Fund.”
  • The Bond Fund has a little under $900.  100% of your donation will go toward paying Sergio’s bond or toward helping other human beings gain their freedom from immigration detention by paying their bond.
  • History of the Bond Fund: Since 2007, First Unitarian Church’s Immigration Bond Fund has been run by Rochelle McAdam and has been used to post bond for eligible candidates in immigration detention.  Each bond has cost between $1,500 and $3,000, and the Bond Fund had been successful in gaining the release of eight individuals, most of whom were detained in the Mira Loma Detention Facility in Lancaster, California (a detention facility now closing).
2) Help CIVIC find Sergio Shelter.
If you know anyone or any organization that might be able to provide Sergio with temporary or long-term housing.  Please contact CIVIC at 385-21-CIVIC.
3) Please take a minute to Sign Sergio’s Petition, share it with others, and make a call to ICE’s John Morton @ 202-732-3000.

Sample Script: “Hi, I am calling to urge ICE to release Sergio Vazquez Gutierrez (A# 200-243-222) from the Santa Ana City Jail in California. Sergio was recently diagnosed with cancer and a tumor in his head. He needs immediate surgery to remove the tumor before it’s too late. Sergio must be released from detention to get the treatment he urgently needs. Let him go!”

4) Become a Visitor Volunteer at the Santa Ana City Jail.

CIVIC is working with community members to start an immigration detention visitation program at the Santa Ana City Jail.  If you are interested in joining the larger movement to end the isolation and abuse of detained immigrants like Sergio, please email us at  CIVIC will be taking a small group to tour the detention facility and visit with immigrants detained at the Santa Ana City Jail on November 19th.

Sandy Aftermath for NY Detained Immigrants and Families in Monmouth County NJ

Co-founder of Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights and a member of CIVIC, Karina Wilkinson, writes about the impact of Hurricane Sandy on immigrants detained throughout New Jersey and New York.

To contact Karina, email her at

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy detention facilities need to improve communication.

Hurricane Sandy and immigration detention, Monmouth County Jail and immigration detention visitation, Karina Wilkinson, CIVIC and immigration detention visitation, visitation and New Jersey, visitation and New York, ayuda y inmigrantesNovember 4 – A week after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey Coast, it is unclear when visiting hours will resume for the approximately 250 immigrants detained in Monmouth County jail. All four regularly scheduled visiting days last week were cancelled.  The difficulty for New York families reaching their loved ones in New Jersey has only been aggravated by the flooding of tunnels, blocked roads, power outages, the suspension of train and bus service and the fuel shortage throughout the region.  If visiting doesn’t resume on Wednesday or Thursday, then detained immigrants will be almost two weeks without any visiting at a difficult time for New Yorkers.
The County needs to do a better job of getting information to visitors and the public about cancellations and the resumption of visiting hours. The County and Sheriff’s office could update their websites to provide the most current information just like other localities’ websites have done regarding necessary public information. It would also be a good time to consider lower phone rates for detained immigrants, rates that can be as high as $10 for 10 minutes to New York.
 Hurricane Sandy and immigration detention, Christina Fialho and immigration detention, visitation, Christina Mansfield
The disruption of visiting as we start a renewed visiting program in Monmouth County means that detained immigrants who haven’t been visited at all before the program started are now again without visits.  Men and women in immigration detention rely on visitors for moral support, as well as help communicating with loved ones and accessing necessary information and services.
Finally, Sandy’s impact highlights the injustice of detaining people far from their communities.  To begin with, New Yorkers who are held in immigration detention facilities in New Jersey are isolated from their relatives, friends, and attorneys.  This isolation has only been intensified in the aftermath of the storm.  Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights renews its call to end the unnecessary detention of immigrant men and women. 
For more information or to become a visitor volunteer in Monmouth County, New Jersey, email Karina at