Comprehensive immigration reform is the hot topic these days. But I want you to know that until real reform is enacted, there’s still a burning need for you to make humanitarian visits to detained immigrants, and to raise your voice for alternatives to detention.
After all, it can be easy to forget that in the period 1994-1998, the average daily number of persons in immigration detention more than doubled. These days, some 34,000 non-citizens are detained by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and in 2011, almost half a million of these people were deported. What these numbers conceal is a huge burden of human suffering, with lives turned upside down and families torn apart.
It’s a painful issue, but there are steps you can take right now to bring human care into people’s lives, and to promote a saner system. To prepare you, here are some resources.
First, in terms of meeting human needs, you and like-minded people—friends, neighbors, congregation members—can start or join a visitation ministry. Here are some places to start:
- Bring the Sky, the LIRS Detention Visitation Guide, is a five-part series that takes you through everything you need to know about visitation.
- You can also use our Access Toolkit to learn about the procedures that you must go through to make contact with the immigrants trapped behind razor wire and walls.
- If you’re interested in joining an existing group in your area, rather than starting one, you can check out our list of Visitation Ministry Partners.
- The work doesn’t end, of course, when people are released. You can learn about Community Support Partners and their efforts to assist people once they are finally able to walk out of their cells.
Second, for the critically important task of advocating for alternatives to detention, you can check out these resources:
- Unlocking Liberty is an LIRS report detailing the detention system and paths to creating alternatives. This report can be the cornerstone of any advocacy work you do for immigrants in detention.
- Speaking directly to your elected officials about the urgent need for alternatives to detention can be a lot easier when you have tips and contact info at your fingertips. You can find specific alerts and ways of reaching your representatives at the LIRS Action Center. For example, check out “Expose and Close Harmful Detention Facilities.”
- An important part of advocating for alternatives to detention can be speaking out through the media. You can do that through writing a letter to the editor (some useful general guidelines are here in this document that focuses on a more specific letter-writing campaign) or through penning an op-ed. “Stop Jailing So Many Immigrants,” by Rev. Paul Lubold, is a good example of an op-ed. If you’re interested in writing an op-ed for your local paper, Jon Pattee, our assistant director for media relations, can offer advice and resources.
I hope you’ll consider these ideas as just a starting point. Many other organizations are doing wonderful work on immigrant detention, including Detention Watch Network. Please check out their thoughts. And thank you again for standing with immigrants and refugees!