Bridging Borders: Community-Engaged Cookbook Project

By: Katie Dingeman-Cerda

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.59.30 PMFood bears significance beyond nourishing our bodies. It connects people across generations, cultures, and history. Faculty and students from the University of Denver recently partnered with the CIVIC-affiliated nonprofit Casa de Paz to pilot a bilingual English-Spanish cookbook featuring the stories of local migrants. Casa de Paz, directed by Sarah Jackson, offers solidarity with migrants detained in the private detention facility in Aurora by facilitating visitations and pen pals, as well as free housing and support for families torn apart by detention.

Students from the university course I teach, Crimmigration: The Criminalization of Immigration, spent a day with a formerly detained migrant serviced by Casa de Paz. The students went grocery shopping and prepared a meal that held special meaning to their designated migrant “chef.” The meals included John’s “Favorite Fufu” which brings him back to Ghana, José’s “Costillitas de Puerco” which reminds him of a lost love, and Erik’s “Family Style Citrus Chicken & Vegetables” which he ate as a child as a second-generation Chinese migrant in Mexico. In sharing food and stories, the project humanized migrants whose identities are lost amidst often hostile political rhetoric.

The students also learned about the power of borders, citizenship, and criminalization. They heard that Lupe’s “Spicy Chicken & Rice” was made in memory of her mother who died from cancer but whose funeral she could not attend in Mexico due to her undocumented status. Jose was paralyzed in detention after digesting a piece of metal in food described as “trash” and receiving inadequate medical care (they only provided him ibuprofen). “Costillitas de Puerco” was a meal for which José longed as he languished in detention for three years for crimes fraudulently committed in his name. After meeting Erik, the students learned he was to be deported and separated from his U.S. citizen wife and three children. The students have been raising awareness in their networks and they plan to attend Eriks’ removal hearing.

With guidance from James Beard Award-winning soul food author Adrian Miller, the students produced cookbook pages featuring migrants’ stories and recipes, and presented their findings in a potluck celebration at the University of Denver. Students from the university’s Spanish program are translating the pages under the guidance of Professor Zulema Lopez. Sarah Jackson is continuing the cookbook project with community and student groups in Denver. Once the book published, all proceeds will fund programming at Casa de Paz.

For more information on Casa de Paz:

To join Katie and CIVIC in creating the second community-engaged cookbook in this series, email


Stewart Detention Center in Georgia: One of the Most Isolated Facilities Nationwide

Georgia has 6 immigration detention facilities, and the immigration detention population is the fourth largest in the country. Georgia also is home to the largest immigration detention facility in the country, the Stewart Detention Center, run by the publically-traded Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) holding over 2,000 people each day.

Immigration detention is a civil form of confinement, and thus, detained migrants lack many of the safeguards of the criminal justice system. They have no right to a court-appointed attorney, a free phone call, or a speedy trial. While 46% of migrants are transferred away from family and friends, 84% lack attorneys. But in Georgia, this isolation is far worse; for example, only 6 percent of people detained at Stewart are represented by counsel  because there is not a single immigration attorney in the town of Lumpkin and the facility is 150 miles from Atlanta.  Many languish without visits from their family or the outside community because of the remote location of the facility and limited visitation booths.  In many of the visitation booths, including ones reserved for legal visits, the phones used to communicate through the Plexiglas are faulty. 

In March, CIVIC signed a letter written by the Southern Poverty Law Center to ICE, calling for CCA to 1) install and make available video teleconferencing (VTC) machines for detained immigrants to communicate with counsel; 2) designate duty officials to allow counsel to schedule calls with detained immigrants; 3) efficiently schedule meetings for immigrants in solitary confinement or administrative segregation; and 4) promptly replace faulty telephones. 

CIVIC is working toward building a country without immigration detention, especially for-profit detention facilities such as the Stewart Detention Center.  Until we achieve our goal, we will continue to visit and monitor detention facilities in Georgia and beyond.  To join us, sign up for our mailing list, become a volunteer with our hotline in Georgia, and check out our affiliated visitation and hospitality program in Georgia.

CIVIC’s ‘Dignity Not Detention Act’ Clears Senate


CIVIC’s ‘Dignity Not Detention Act’ Clears Senate 

SACRAMENTO, CA — The California State Senate approved this week a measure authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and co-sponsored by CIVIC and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center to help close a gap in the mistreatment of immigrants by taking a stand against the mass incarceration and inhumane immigration detention conditions.

Senate Bill 1289, the #DignityNotDetention Act, will prohibit local city and county actors from being complicit in allowing private, for-profit companies from operating immigration detention facilities in California and require all other detention facilities to uphold national humane treatment standards.

“We are taking a stand against the mass incarceration of immigrants in detention facilities and against inhumane immigration detention conditions,” said Senator Lara. “Our state and local governments should not be complicit in this awful practice of profiting off of human suffering. Immigrants matter and should not be treated like caged animals while corporations profit.”

ICE contracts with private companies to run detention facilities to hold immigrants, including undocumented people, asylum-seekers, long-time green card holders, and others who are awaiting their immigration hearings. In California there are four privately run detention facilities that hold upwards of approximately 85 percent of detainees statewide which amounts to roughly 3,700 people. The rest are held in county jail facilities that contract with ICE.

There have been consistent reports of human right’s abuses in detention facilities, including physical and sexual abuse, poor access to healthcare, little access to legal counsel, and overuse of solitary confinement, and even death. LGBT detainees have reported facing discrimination, harassment, and abuse due to their sexual orientation. In many of these instances, even the Department of Homeland Security has found these deaths were preventable. Tragically, the incidents often go unaddressed and victims have no recourse. Private, for-profit immigration detention facilities present a host of problems. The facilities are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and operate with little to no oversight. Many also operate under a perverse incentive, where they are guaranteed a minimum number of detainees in their facility at all times, ensuring their profits. For example in Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, CA, ICE is guaranteed 975detainees at all times with a per diem rate of $111 per bed per day. 

“We applaud Senator Ricardo Lara for his leadership and the California Senate for voting for dignity,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). “While masquerading as ‘civil custody,’ the U.S. detention system takes our treasured ideals of due process, access to counsel and protection of civil rights, and throws them under the bus.  As ICE is unwilling or unable to protect immigrants in its custody, it is time for California to abolish private immigration detention and ensure that all people within the state are treated humanely.  We are calling for dignity not detention, and this week, we made it one step closer to our goal.”

The Dignity Note Detention Act is co-sponsored by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). The bill now heads to the state Assembly.