“It Takes a Village” to Build a Good Visitation Program
The message below went out on Thursday, July 5, 2012 to Standing on the Side of Love supporters. You can sign-up for these emails here.
I have been working with CREER Comunidad y Familia, an immigrant-led group that serves local immigrant families in San Juan Capistrano, for several years now alongside members of my congregation – Tapestry UU of Mission Viejo. We have been providing after-school tutoring and other activities including teaching each other English and Spanish. Additionally, CREER is a member of OCCCO (Orange County Congregation Community Organization), an interfaith community organization affiliated with the PICO Network that Tapestry also belongs to.
Two years ago, five members of Tapestry UU, who were already passionate about reforming our immigration system led a listening campaign at Tapestry to find a specific action our whole congregation could get behind and become more involved with. Thanks to guidance from our community organizer at OCCCO, we eventually chose to visit immigrant detainees in local jails which serve as detention centers here in Orange County.
We had heard about abuses in the centers and at first we planned to bear witness to some of the egregious things happening inside the walls. As we listened to the immigrant community about what they really needed from us, the project evolved though, into a visitation program to help the isolated people inside. Through research meetings with local enforcement officials, ex-detainees, and immigration attorneys we began making plans to visit the closest detention facility, James A. Musick in Irvine.
Last year at the UU General Assembly in Charlotte I met Grassroots Leadership, a national organization working to reduce immigrant detention and provide support to people being held in detention. In January, Grassroots Leadership came to southern California and trained over 20 people from four UU congregations in Orange County. They also travelled to First UU in San Diego for a training there. It was exciting to learn of San Diego’s similar project, and we have developed a great partnership since then. Grassroots taught us about a whole new world of opportunities for providing tangible support. The Detention Watch Network has become our partner to help us monitor what’s happening inside these centers. We also heard from Jose de Jesus Penaflor, an ex-detainee, who talked about his life before, during, and after detention. He was bonded out by a fund created at First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles. Our support made a huge difference to Jose and his family.
Visitation programs connect people in civil immigration detention with community members. We provide them with a link to the outside world, while also preventing human rights abuses by creating a community presence in otherwise invisible detention facilities. We are also there to help families of detainees.
Having witnessed what these programs can do, I want to ask you to join the upcoming webinar on July 25th led by Grassroots Leadership and Detention Watch Network to learn about what you can do. Please RSVP here:
Everyone at Tapestry, although we have varying opinions of how to fix our broken immigration system, can understand that there are human rights abuses going on in these facilities. We want to help the families of those isolated and provide support to those in detention.
Since our training in January, we have held meetings with jail and enforcement officials, attorneys who do legal orientation know your rights programs in Los Angeles, an organizer of an ICE-approved visitation program, and a local law school immigrant rights group. We were appalled to find out that there are no current legal orientation programs (LOP’s) at the Orange County jails where immigrant detainees are housed. Now that a monthly LOP program has been set up here, participating attorneys are our link to find detainees seeking visitors.
Sign up to learn more about how to start a detainee visitation program here:
We plan to start our official visits in the fall. Spanish interpreters include friends we made way back in the beginning when we began our relationship with CREER Comunidad y Familia. Plans include getting clergy more involved and strengthening this growing interfaith movement. Although this ministry is not directly an advocacy effort as we had first imagined, we are building power through our relationships with attorneys and also with jail and ICE officials.
This has become a very personal issue to me. Not only am I working for and with my good friends in San Juan Capistrano, but I feel part of a big movement, a civil rights movement of our time. From service we are building solidarity.
I hope you will join the July 25th webinar on “Breaking the Isolation of Immigration Detention: Starting a Visitation Program.” To learn more before the webinar, please visit www.endisolation.org.
Rooted in Faith and Standing on the Side of Love,
Jan Meslin, Member, Detention Dialogues Orange County