CIVIC’s National Monthly Call: January 2013

CIVIC Leadership Council member Sally Pillay of IRATE & First Friends in New Jersey organized this month’s national visitation call.   We had a special guest speaker, Alexis Mazon from Justice Strategies, who spoke about “Operation Streamline.”  

Our country’s current debate over comprehensive immigration reform completely overlooks the fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement now surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined because of costly programs like Operation Streamline.  

Started in 2005 as a program of the Department of Homeland Security, Operation Streamline criminalizes undocumented immigrants and funnels them into the federal criminal justice system.  According to the Warren Institute at UC Berkeley, Operation Streamline mainly targets migrant workers with no criminal history and has resulted in skyrocketing caseloads in many federal district courts along the border.

Immigrants charged criminally under this program are sentenced to spend years in one of 13 “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons that use taxpayer funds to warehouse immigrants in substandard privately-owned, privately-operated immigrant prisons segregated from the broader Bureau of Prisons population:

Company Facilty
CCA Adams Cty Corr Ctr Ci
GEO Big Spring CI
CCA Cibola County CI
GEO D. Ray James Correctional Facility CI
MTC Glies W. Dalby CI
CEC (Community Education Centers) Limestone DC
GEO Moshannon Valley CI
CCA NE Ohio Corr Ctr CI
GEO Reeves I & II CI
MTC Taft Camp
MTC (Management & Training Corp) Willacy County CI

For more information on each facility, download this document here.

Participating agencies in this operation include U.S. Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention and Removal, Federal Pre-trial Services, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Operation Streamline is part of a broader trend of criminally charging immigrants under one of two federal crimes: 8 USC § 1325, unlawful entry of an immigrant, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in custody, or 8 USC § 1326, unlawful re-entry of a deported immigrant, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.

An undocumented immigrant who is apprehended crossing the border can either be deported, placed into the traditional civil immigration detention system, released into the community for humanitrian reasons, or prosecuted criminally and sentenced for years.  

According to Alexis Mazon, the choice is completely random.  The federal government may choose to funnel say 70 people each day into the criminal justice system, and it is completely random which 70 people are selected.

Federal immigration arrests have doubled since 2005 when Operation Streamline was put into effect, and the number of criminal immigration suspects referred to U.S. attorneys’ offices has jumped from fewer than 40,000 in 2006 to more than 84,000 in 2010, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report released this summer.

To learn more about Operation Streamline and CAR facilities, download Justice Strategies’ report, Privately Operated Federal Prisons for Immigrants: Expensive. Unsafe. Unnecessary.  The report chronicles the May 2012 Adams County Correctional Center uprising in Natchez, Mississippi, a private for-profit facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America, under contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The report details some of the tragic personal consequences for Juan Villanueva, his family, and others caught in the midst of the horrific conditions at the facility, leading to the insurrection. The report weaves into this narrative a look at the rise and fall of the private prison industry, and its resurrection through the benefit of federal contracts to detain and imprison undocumented immigrants, in an atmosphere of moral panic after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Also, check out a new report released by Families for Freedom in collaboration with New York University (NYU) Immigrant Rights Clinic entitled, Uncovering USBP: Bonus Programs for United States Border Patrol Agents and the Arrest of Lawfully Present Individuals, which reveals crucial information about the incentives and consequences of Border Patrol practices. Using detailed new data from the Border Patrol station in Rochester, New York and the Buffalo Sector that were obtained through a Freedom of Information lawsuit, the report reveals the existence of various incentive programs provided to Border Patrol agents in their quest to apprehend individuals of color, many of whom have legal status.  The report also documents the broad array of persons with lawful status who suffer at the hands of the Border Patrol.  The report contains the first data on U.S. Border Patrols’ discretionary bonus programs that include cash bonuses, vacation awards, and distribution of gift cards to border patrol agents.  The report also provides evidence that the vast majority of those wrongfully arrested were from South Asian, East Asian, African, and Caribbean backgrounds. 


Asylum Application Denials Reach Record Low, While Detained Asylum Seekers Go Unrepresented

TRAC reported this week that the odds of an asylum claim being denied reached an historic low in FY 2012, with only 44.5 percent being turned down. Ten years ago, almost two out of three (62.6%) individuals seeking asylum lost their cases in similar actions.

While the odds of winning a case have been improving, CIVIC has found that it has become increasingly difficult for people in immigration detention to find pro bono representation for asylum cases.  This phenomenon may be attributed to the decrease in asylum cases brought before an immigration judge: in 2003, 35,782 asylum cases were heard, but in FY 2012 there were only 21,512 asylum cases decided.  Asylum cases are more time consuming and more labor intensive than most forms of removal relief. 

According to TRAC, asylum applicants in 2012 made up more than a quarter (29.4%) of all cases closed under the prosecutorial discretion (PD) initiative during FY 2012. When those who won their cases are combined with PD closures as well as other administrative closures, a record high 63.7 percent of asylum applicants were allowed to remain in the United States in cases concluded in FY 2012.

Accompanying this TRAC report are 272 separate reports covering each Immigration Judge. A free webinar to discuss these findings is scheduled for Thursday, January 24 at 2:00 PM (Eastern US). For more information, use the following links:

FY 2012 Asylum Report 
Individual Judge Reports

Register for this free TRAC Webinar!

Join CIVIC on Facebook!

If you are an attorney able to provide pro bono representation to someone in immigration detention, please contact CIVIC today at 385-212-4842 or at

New Visitation Program: Northwest Detention Center

By NWDC Roundtable 

The Roundtable is happy to announce that its visitation program at the NW Detention Center is starting off with lots of good news!

On January 23rd, there will be two training sessions–one in Tacoma and the other in Seattle. The training will be conducted by Christina Fialho who is co-founder of Detention Dialogues and recipient of an Echoing Green Fellowship to expand visitation programs across the U.S. under a network called CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement). 

With a very heartfelt thank you to Pat Gunn and Barbara Peterman of the University Unitarian Church who organized this training. Please RSVP name and number of people attending to

Overview of the NWDC Roundtable Visitation Program

Hundreds of thousands of men and women must wait behind bars while an Immigration Judge decides whether they can continue to live in the United State or whether they will be removed from the United States.  While they wait, they endure the basic frustration and indignity of being locked up and the social isolation of separation from family, community and jobs. Many worry because their families have been left without their support. For these men and women, the need for emotional support is acute.

Even when high standards are maintained in a detention center, a jail or private prison is not home. Constant uncertainty, separation anxiety, social isolation and the accumulating irritations of confinement all add up to a dehumanizing experience. Trapped, frustrated and waiting in colored uniforms, identified by their “Alien registration number” more than their name, they need human ties just to affirm their basic identity and humanity. They need hope, and volunteer visitors provide this hope. Visitors let the men and women in detention know they are not forgotten. Someone is concerned with their welfare and wanting to hear their stories.

When visitation occurs over several months, volunteer visitors may form close personal relationships with detained immigrants and may wish to continue to provide support after detention has ended. When the immigrant is deported, the opportunity to provide support is often limited to letter writing. However, if the immigrant is released to the greater Northwest community, pending the outcome of their case or upon winning their case, the volunteer visitor has an opportunity to provide additional support via the Roundtable’s Post-Release Programs.  If they are released to other parts of the country, CIVIC’s network of visitor volunteers can provide additional support.

Most indigent immigrants released while their cases are still pending are enrolled in the Roundtable’s Alternatives To Detention (ATD) Program. Under this Program, the Roundtable’s Case Manager coordinates their access to direct services such as food, clothing, housing, transportation, educational and vocational training and/or mental or physical health care. Volunteers in the ATD Program help to provide spiritual support and/or social engagement services that facilitate the immigrant’s integration into the community.

For immigrants who have won their case and are no longer in removal proceedings, the Roundtable may provide these types of direct services on a short-term basis, generally until the immigrant has received their employment authorization document (EAD) and has found a job that provides sufficient income to support their basic living needs. Volunteer Visitors may continue their relationship for years after the case is closed.

Alameda County Public Protection Committee Hearing on “ICE Detainers”


“Our Families Belong Together” poster by Jesus Barraza, September 2012

Yesterday, Thursday January 10th, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors held a County Public Protection hearing on “ICE Detainers,” organized by ACUDIR (Alameda County United in Defense of Immigrant Rights), a coalition of over 30 member organizations and individuals in Alameda County who believe in the right of families to stay together and live with dignity and justice.  Community members, advocates, and organizers offered testimony on the devastating impacts of detention and deportation, urging Alameda County to adopt a new policy that ends the enforcement of ICE holds. 


Unfortunately, only 2 of the 5 Alameda County Board of Supervisor members were present, Scott Haggerty (District 1) and Richard Valle (District 2).  To begin the meeting, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern gave a presentation on Alameda County’s participation in Secure Communities, a file-sharing program that automatically alerts Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when a non-citizen is arrested at the point of fingerprinting.  ICE then requests that the local county holding such an individual put a “detainer” on them so that ICE may take them into custody within 48 hours. 

California Attorney General Kamala Harris recently advised all law enforcement agencies in the state that ICE detainers are a request from the federal government, clarifying that counties are not legally obligated to honor ICE detainers.  However, despite this guidance, there is still confusion over who has the legal authority to decide whether complying with ICE detainers is mandatory for counties and also whether the policy is constitutional.  Sheriff Ahern himself expressed this lack of clarity, stating that despite the opinion of Attorney General Kamala Harris, he still believes Alameda County is required by the federal government to participate in Secure Communities.  Moreover, he expressed his department’s support of the policy and desire to continue to hold individuals at the Santa Rita jail who are flagged through Secure Communities as potential non-citizens until ICE can take them into custody.  He reiterated several times that the goal of the program is to make the county of Alameda safer.  

The problem with this program, as many advocates argued on Thursday, is that it operates pre-trial, pre-conviction, and without due process, taking individuals into ICE custody that may not have any criminal background.  As Attorney General Harris stated, ICE may issue detainers “without the review of a judicial officer and without meeting traditional evidentiary standards.” 

Alameda County Public Protection Committee Hearing on “ICE Detainers,” January 10, 2013

Several local non-profit organizations offered presentations in support of the opinion of Attorney General Harris that ICE detainers are not mandatory, urging Alameda county to follow the example of other California counties that have refused to honor ICE detainers, including San Francisco and Santa Clara county.  Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus and Angie Junck of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center gave presentations that countered and refuted much of Sheriff Ahern’s presentation.  Their presentations demonstrated that Secure Communities does not in practice make communities any safer, contrary to Sheriff Ahern’s rationale for supporting the program. 

Local community members who testified backed the assertion that S-COMM is in fact damaging to communities, repeatedly calling Secure Communities by its nickname “Insecure Communities.”  They testified to the effects on the local community when people are afraid to report crimes and abuse to the police.  When local police act as enforcers of civil federal immigration laws, community members are afraid of the police whose job has traditionally been to protect all community members, regardless of immigration status.  Several community members offered powerful testimony about terrible crimes that went unreported for fear that they, the victims, would be turned over by the police to immigration authorities, resulting in possible detention and/or deportation.  This testimony draws attention to the fact that crimes my continue to go unreported in immigrant communities and as a result, criminals who commit such crimes will remain at large.  Thus, the purported goal of Secure Communities, which is to make communities safer, is deeply flawed.

A large group of young community members who are part of the group 67 Sueños testified to the effects of living in fear that they or their family members are constantly in danger of separation, detention, and/or deportation.  These directly affected individuals told heart wrenching stories about the incredible suffering Secure Communities and the honoring of ICE detainers creates in Alameda County.  Several young women testified about their family members who were detained and deported.  One young man of 17 testified about how he had to take on a fatherhood role when members of his family were detained and deported.  He said, “I am just a young boy.  I am only 17 years old.  I am just trying to finish high school,” explaining that he was not ready for the role of responsibility that was thrust upon him.   Another young member of 67 Sueños shared a spoken-word poem in honor of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who was struck and tased to death by border patrol officers in June of 2010.  When the young man used an ‘obscenity’ to describe this act of horrific violence, Supervisor Valle intervened and chastised the young man, stating that he liked the poem up until the use of the ‘obscenity.’  Later, another woman clarified that the real obscenity was not the use of a bad word, but the systematic violence and death on the border that the word described. 

I took my turn and testified to the conditions inside of detention facilities, particularly at the nearest local county jail that contracts with ICE to detain immigrants (long-term), the West County Detention Facility, where Christina Fialho and I co-founded Detention Dialogues.  I urged the Board of Supervisors to consider not just the cost of participating in Secure Communities for counties (Alameda County claims it is not adequately reimbursed for the cost of honoring the 48 hour ICE detainers), but also the profit that is made from immigration detention (over $100/day, per person imprisoned for ICE in long-term contract facilities like West County, excluding the profits made from exhorbitant phone charges).  I stated that I do not believe the incentive for immigration enforcement is purely the promotion of public safety, but is also the gross profit that is made by local counties and corporations across the country that contract with ICE to detain immigrants.  Lastly, I attested to how it is easy for privileged people like myself to turn off the reality of what is happening to immigrant communities.  Privileged citizens have a choice about whether to pay attention to the suffering immigration policies are causing.   However, I shared that I lie awake every night haunted by the suffering I bear witness to through this work and that I hope the hearing will induce a similar level of reflection for Board of Supervisor members and the Sheriff’s office.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Alameda Board of Supervisor member Valle, the only remaining member present of the initial two, assured the community present at the hearing that the Board would continue dialog on this issue.  He stated that he too, loses sleep over these issues, and hopes that the Board, the Sheriff’s office, ICE, and the Alameda Community can come to a reasonable resolution.

-Christina Mansfield, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)


Music Beyond the Cement Detention Cell

Brian is a CIVIC visitor volunteer working in Arkansas with the Interfaith Conference.  He shares about why he was initially apprehensive about visiting and why he now understands the importance of this work… 

I was somewhat apprehensive about joining the immigrant visitation program for a number of reasons. My Spanish isn’t too good; I have a particularly hard time understanding people with accents; and mainly, I’m just not much of a talker. My very first visit proved that the group’s reassurances – don’t worry if you’re having a hard time understanding because the people in immigration detention appreciate just having someone to talk to.  These reassurances weren’t simply to trick me into bolstering their numbers. I had a genuine, intimate conversation with someone who minutes before was a complete stranger, despite the intermittent “Sorry, say that again.”  But my presence alone, the instance of a caring person taking time out of their life on the other side to bear witness to a strikingly different iteration of the human condition, seemed to be enough and certainly said more than my words could that day.

Music in prison, community initiatives for visiting immigrants in confinement, immigration detention visitation, prison justiceFuture visits proved that simple chats about the weather or local restaurants could be uplifting as well, but I would say my first visit to one detainee left a truly indelible impression.  His words were marked by a slowness and timidity obviously aroused by a severe sadness that belied an otherwise outgoing personality. We talked back and forth for awhile and when the conversation shifted to music he grew happier. Not given a chair, he sat on the cement table, leaned closer to the thick glass, and asked if I would like to hear a song. Closing his eyes, he sang a slow love song that he had memorized from lyrics mailed to him by a friend. He stopped between stanzas to open his eyes and offer an honest smile.

Visiting any incarcerated person is a unique experience, especially when you know little about them in the first place. All of the regular cultural contexts we use for getting a bearing on just who this is we’re talking to — clothing, social groups, frequented locales — are stripped away; even mannerisms and personality are often tinted by the surroundings. At the detention facility I visit, a three-by-four foot piece of glass is the only window you’re given into a person’s entire life. I often find people in immigration detention talking of where we would meet up in the outside world, because it’s obvious that my glimpse into their essence is insufficient, just a bland taste of who they are.

The flip side of the story is more painful: this window, maybe my visit alone, is the only direct personal contact that they may have with the world beyond the cement box they currently inhabit. And, no matter how appreciated the visit may be, the feeling that I am able to bring that world nowhere near close enough permeates every meeting. However, Julio’s songs seem to bring us both out of that sterile facility, the salient reverb of the bare concrete walls outmatching any auditorium.


National Visitation Month: A Success!

With coordinated actions in over 20 cities in 15 states during December 2012, CIVIC advocates rose up during the National Visitation Month to address the serious effects the U.S. immigration detention system has on human life.  Read more about the Invisible Problem of Immigration Detention in this article written by CIVIC’s Christina Fialho.

CIVIC helped start two new visitation programs at the Santa Ana City Jail in California and the Aurora Detention Facility in Colorado.

Sara Mullally and the Arkansas Interfaith Conference continued to lead a team of volunteers who regularly visit people in immigration detention.  Learn more about immigration detention visitation from Sara in her article published here by CIVIC, The Dirty Path of Detention.  Also, congratulations to Sara who had another article published by the Arkansas Times

CIVIC’s Christina Fialho was sworn in as an attorney in the State of California.  The Christina Fialho is an attorney in California.ceremony took place at the Ventura County Jail, which also happens to be an immigration detention facility.  Christina looks forward to using her legal background to fight for a right to visitation, while continuing to advocate for men and women in U.S. immigration detention.

In Massachusetts, RIM continued to visit people detained at Suffolk County Jail, and CIVIC’s Christina Mansfield conducted a training for community members hoping to start a visitation program at the Plymouth County Jail.

In Illinois, in addition to weekly visits, 14 people volunteered to visit with men and women immigration detention visitation month of action.detained at the McHenry County Jail on Christmas Day and 17 volunteered for New Year’s Day.  They visited with approximately 70 men and women on each day from noon until 4pm.  


CIVIC’s Christina Fialho and Jan Meslin, coordinator of Friends of Orange County Detainees, organized a group of community members in California hoping to start a visitation program at the Adelanto Detention Facility.

In New York and New Jersey, visitor volunteers with IRATE & First Friends conducted their annual stamp out despair campaign this month to get each person in detention at Elizabeth a supply of stamped envelopes, greeting cards, writing paper and funds for phone service!

In Washington state, the Northwest Detention Center Roundtable hosted a showing of the film, The Visitor, to recruit volunteers for its emerging visitation program.  The group is looking forward to conducting its first volunteer training with Christina Fialho in late January and touring the Tacoma Northwest Detention Facility.

In Minnesota, two days before Christmas, volunteers gathered in the lobby of the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center in St. Paul to visit immigrants detained by ICE. After check in, obtaining their official passes, leaving cell phones, jackets, wallets and purses in lobby lockers, they entered the jail for one hour of in-person conversation.  For men and women in immigration detention at this facility, celebrating religious holidays, this is an especially difficult time: family visits are restricted to the lobby video phone or letters or expensive telephone calls.  These volunteer visitors associated with Rev. John Guttermann’s Conversations with Friends Visitor Program are the immigrants only non-official in-person visit until they are released or deported.  Read more in One Voice Minnesota.

In Texas, volunteers continued to visit people detained at the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas.  Rocío Villalobos who coordinates this program shares more about how CIVIC visitor volunteers can prevent human rights abuses throughout 2013:

On December 2nd, the Restoration Project in Arizona gathered community volunteers to write letters to people in immigration detention.  Volunteers wrote nearly 250 cards with messages of hope, solidarity, and community to immigrants detained in Arizona.

In San Diego, California, 99 immigrants in detention signed up to be visited by SOLACE, showing the real need that visitors are meeting during the holiday season and every week of the year.

CIVIC released a manual on how to start visitation programs by requesting a tour of an immigration detention facility using ICE’s 2011 Visitation Directive.  Watch CIVIC’s on how to tour immigration detention facilities.

CIVIC was asked to present at the 2012 Statewide Immigrant Advocacy & Organizing Conference, hosted by the California Immigrant Policy Center.  CIVIC sent its Leadership Councilmember, Monica Hernandez.  Monica served on a panel, “Lost in Detention,” with Maria Hinojosa (Author and Journalist), Ahilan Arulanantham (Deputy Legal Director, ACLU of Southern California), and Sean Riordan (Staff Attorney, ACLU of San Diego).  Monica, who was Detention Dialogues’ first visitor volunteer, highlighted the immigration laws that allow for broad categories of non-citizens to be subject to mandatory detention, abuses within the detention system, and community responses to the growth in immigration detention.

Christina Mansfield spoke at Walking the Walk:  UU Legislative Ministry Leadership Summit.  Christina spoke about how to start a visitation program, resulting in interest from folks across California.

Christina Fialho spoke at World Relief’s conference, Life, Liberty, and the Law: Local Ministry Connection.  Christina spoke about how Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) representatives and other community members can engage and serve men and women in immigration detention.

In Georgia, Alterna continued to be a voice for justice at the United States’ largest National Visitation Month of Actiondetention center located in Lumpkin, GA. Through their hospitality house, El Refugio, and visitation program, volunteers spoke out this December against the injustices that happen within the confines of this detention center. 

Volunteers in DC, Maryland, and Virginia with The Washington-Area Detention Visitation Network remained concerned with trends towards more intensive, more local, and more punitive enforcement of immigration laws.  Throughout the National Visitation Month, they provided friendship and support by visiting people detained by ICE in Virginia.  They hope to expand to Maryland and southern Pennsylvania.


CIVIC’s first individual donor hosted CIVIC’s first fundraising house party in Brooklyn, New York, to raise awareness about immigration detention and the opportunity to visit.


CIVIC has big plans for 2013, and with you, there is nothing this movement cannot accomplish!  Happy New Year!

The Dirty Path of Detention

By Sara Mullally

Visiting people in detention has been an immense joy and also a big stress for me. I don’t have children, but I could assume that people with kids have similar feelings.  Now that I have visited, I don’t want to stop because I think it is my duty as a human being to be present with others in their time of need. It is difficult to see the dirty path of detention take its course. We want to stand up and do something.  But our job is to listen and to be a friendly face. Our job is to be consistent whenever possible and try to ease the emotional burden on the visitee simply by being present and having someone to talk with.  Our job is to find the beauty in the situation even if it seems ugly.  Our job is to be human beings in a system that relegates someone to an inmate number.  

I have probably visited about a dozen people in the past year and brought another dozen or so volunteers into visiting for the first time.  I have also met some of the families and loved ones of people in immigration detention.  I have been able to take appropriate action in some instances to help the families connect with food, resources, and legal help.  And I have gotten the chance to tell others about the reality of detention by organizing a vigil, showing a documentary, and speaking at churches. 

These experiences here in Arkansas have profoundly shaped my 25th and 26th year of life.  I don’t know of many people my age and with my privilege that are exposed to these situations.  It is extremely important work and I love it.  Visiting has taught me a lot about life and what is really important- health, love, family, and community.

Join Sara and watch this video: