Immigrants are People, Too: Support Human Rights for Immigrants in Detention

by | Mar 18, 2018 | Actions

According to Amnesty International, the President of the United States is one of the world’s top human rights violators, on par with the dictator leaders of Egypt, Russia, China, the Philippines, and Venezuela.  THIS IS NOT NORMAL.

Now that Trump has been in office for over a year, we see numerous examples of his hate-filled rhetoric in action with the drastic increase in arrests of immigrants without criminal records by ICE.  Even Trump voters have expressed “buyer’s remorse” as they witness no increase in public safety, just the damage wrought to their community by families torn apart, and the detainment and deportation of valued neighbors and friends.  Why is it a top priority to deport a married mother of three to Mexico – a nurse with a clean record, who has lived in the U.S. for over 20 years?  Why separate a 7-year-old girl and her mother, both refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by holding them in two different facilities that are 2,000 miles apart  – when a family detention option exists where they could be housed together? For children, the trauma of being separated from a detained or deported parent – or even just fearing that their parent will be taken away – can cause anxiety and depression, and harm their ability to have trusting relationships with other people into the future.

Many immigrants are detained in jails or prisons, where U. S. citizens who have been convicted of crimes can count down the days of their sentence, but immigrant detainees have no idea how long they will be held – for months or even years as they wait for their day in court.  During the time they are incarcerated, detained immigrants are in danger of sexual assault and experience unsafe and humiliating conditions, like rancid food, lack of access to adequate healthcare, and even lack of access to toilets (being forced to urinate and defecate in plastic bags).  These living conditions have been so intolerable that immigrant detainees have participated in hunger strikes in hopes of improving their situation, while others have given up and even chosen to be deported rather than stay another day.  What can you do to help?

Become informed.

Learn about the big picture.  This video, article, and website summarize what is going on with immigrant detention and deportation in our country.  The unjust detainment of immigrants, like mass incarceration more generally, is driven by for-profit prisons and targets people of color.

Learn about the individual people impacted.  Our immigrant detention system is profoundly dehumanizing.  Re-humanize these lives by reading stories of immigrants who have suffered as a result of our current, broken immigration system.

Support detained immigrants.

People charged with immigration violations do not need to be locked up and subjected to inhumane conditions while they wait to have their case heard.  According to ICE’s own classification system, only 15% of detained immigrants are at risk of violent behavior; the rest either pose no threat, or have minor, nonviolent convictions on their record.  The vast majority, if allowed to live freely, would report to immigration authorities as required.  While indefinitely detained, it’s easy for them to lose all hope, and very difficult logistically to fight for their case.  Just making contact with another human being who cares can make a difference in having the strength to go on. Every human life is valuable, and by volunteering your time, you can make a difference in one or more lives.

Connect with national non-profit CIVIC (Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, which will soon undergo a name change to Freedom for Immigrants) or other organizations also advocating for just treatment of immigrants, or start interfaith collaborations in your area modeled after the local organization, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.  Whether or not you live near a detention center, there are many ways to help!

Visit detained immigrants.  Join a visitation program, or help to start a new one!  There are 43 active visitation programs in 19 states, but no visitation program exists at the majority of locations where immigrants are detained.  When necessary, work to reinstate a visiting program that has been shut down.

Hold a vigil.  Participate in or start holding loud interfaith vigils, which let those inside know they have not been forgotten.  Youth can participate, too!

Adopt an individual or family facing deportation.  You can stand by them in many ways, such as by providing legal referrals, helping them to work with their lawyers, and showing up as an ally in immigration court.  If your group is able to do more, you can start an accompaniment program to provide assistance to multiple families facing deportation.

Help released individuals.  People without family nearby, such as asylum seekers, may need transportation and even somewhere to stay after being released from detention.  If your group is able to do more, you can start a post-release accompaniment program with the ability to help more people in this situation.

Staff a hotline.  If you can make a weekly commitment, CIVIC needs volunteers to answer hotline calls placed from immigrants in detention.

Be a penpal.  If you prefer to write, you can volunteer your time through CIVIC by corresponding with immigrants in detention.

Donate and fundraise to assist detained immigrants.

Individuals who are detained, and their families, are often in desperate need of financial resources because the wage earner can no longer work, or because they are asylum seekers who were apprehended at the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  The chances of winning their case increase exponentially for those with legal representation.

Support individuals and families through CIVIC.  You can contribute to CIVIC’s Direct Support Fund which provides emergency financial relief to people currently in detention or recently released, awarded in small amounts to cover expenses like making phone calls, and transporting loved ones to visit.

Support individuals and families in your area.  You may be able to start campaigns for individuals and families in your community.  For example, see those on the Facebook group Friends of the Undocumented, which is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Start a bond fund.  You can even think larger and start a bond fund like the Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund that will help an immigrant post bond so that they can be freed while their case undergoes review, with the funds recycled for use by other immigrants after the recipient’s case is closed.

Support organizations helping detained immigrants.  You can donate to organizations like CIVIC, Detention Watch Network and partner organizations.

Tina Suzanne, a member of the TWW newsletter team, is a psychology professor and mom of two.  She is new to political activism and believes in democracy and the power of collective action.