Through this blog, I have the opportunity not only to share my voice, but also to lift up the voices of others standing for welcome at LIRS and throughout the nation. Today I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS. He speaks with Sarah Jackson, founder of Casa de Paz in Denver.
Much has been made of the growth of the immigration detention and deportation systems over the last 20 years. Reporters and politicians freely quote statistics of the over 400,000 immigrants deported last year, over 200,000 parents of U.S. children deported of the last 27 months, and the approximately 122 dollars a day the U.S. government spends detaining each immigrant. While these numbers are important, stories like those from Sarah Jackson remind us that these men, women, and children are human beings, not simply statistics.
Responding to the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters traveling to visit their family members at the Denver detention facility, Sarah Jackson prepared a two-bedroom apartment and founded Casa de Paz, an organization that eases the difficulties of those with loved ones in detention by offering them free food and lodging during their stay in Denver. If you’re inspired by her leadership, once you’re done reading this post, please check out the Casa de Paz site and “Immigration Detention: What Can I Do About It?” to learn how you can make a difference.
I was lucky enough to connect with Sarah Jackson about her organization and the motivations behind her inspiring work. Here’s what she had to say via email:
Luke Telander (LT): What one experience gives you most motivation to continue working on immigration detention?
Sarah Jackson (SJ): If you have ever heard someone wailing, at the top of their lungs, you will never forget it. One night I was standing near the immigrant detention center and I heard a mom, wailing, for her son. He was being held inside the center and there was no way for her to see him since she herself was undocumented. Her voice rose into the dark, cold evening sky. Loud. Piercing. Chilling to the bone. She cried out his name over and over and over and over and over again.
I couldn’t go back to my normal life after witnessing this love being poured out by this beautiful mother. I will continue to work to bring families back together again until this kind of crying, this type of wailing, ceases to exist.
LT: Why did you decide to create Casa de Paz? Were there any other organizations serving this need?
SJ: To show hospitality to out-of-town guests visiting their loved ones inside the immigrant detention center was an act of love after visiting border towns and seeing families being torn apart. I wanted to do something, anything, to bring them back together again.
Denver has many organizations working alongside the immigrant population, but there was no home available for people to stay in. Once I heard this news I knew what my part to play was going to be. I found a two-bedroom apartment and within a few months, our doors were open to welcome guests.
LT: How have you been able to navigate relationships with detention facility and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials? Have they created roadblocks to spreading the word about your program?
SJ: Our visitation programs is not affiliated with ICE in any way. We get the names of people requesting visits by word-of-mouth so we do not rely on ICE’s help to achieve that. The guards have been very receptive of our program, and shown patience with new visitors navigating the system for the first time.
LT: You are based in the Denver area. Has this given you a unique view into America’s changing demographics and the evolution of the immigration debate?
SJ: Every city in this country has undocumented immigrants living in them. Every city. I think moving from Colorado Springs into Denver has just widened my perspective to realize this truth. It’s not something unique to one city or town. In Colorado Springs there are certain parts of the city inhabited with more immigrants than other parts. Denver, a larger city, has this population widespread. So, the make-up of each city may be different, but immigrants are everywhere. They are our neighbors.
LT: How do you think that national organizations can best help increase awareness regarding immigration detention?
SJ: Since national organizations tend to have a larger influence in the public arena, I believe campaigns to bring awareness of what’s truly going on is important. Using key relationships with media can help elevate this issue. I think a short video (1-2 minutes) that we can show in order to tell the story of immigrant detention would be helpful, as well.
There are stories that need to be told. Both from immigrants and those working inside the detention center. One story I would love for more people to hear about is how one of our volunteers witnessed a powerful event. Preston was in the waiting room just moments away from visiting a detainee, and noticed a lady frantically stuffing clothes into a backpack. She kept repeating, “I should’ve bought a bigger bag, I should’ve bought a bigger bag.” She was packing it for her husband to take with him after he would be deported. She crammed everything into the bag except his big coat. He was going to be deported without a coat, and it’s winter.
The guard behind the desk stood up. The lady was getting louder and assumptions were made that the guard was going to tell her to be quiet. He walked over with his big boots making a loud, booming noise on the cold floor. However, as he got closer to her, he reached his hands out and started helping her fold the clothes tighter so she could fit the coat in. This guard showed compassion in a beautiful way.
LT: Volunteers can spend the night with families at Casa de Paz when volunteering. Does this strengthen your mission and your work?
SJ: Honestly… we haven’t had any overnight visitors. But, that’s because lack of space. I originally thought we could host volunteers overnight, as well, because I imagined having an actual home with multiple rooms. But, because we can only afford a two-bedroom apartment, there is one room for the guests and the other for me.
LT: How do you envision Casa de Paz evolving in the future?
SJ: I would love to find a home we can settle into and make our guests feel like they have a little more privacy. We are in a two-bedroom apartment and sometimes I want to give them a little extra space. So, moving into a bigger space would be wonderful.
I want to keep building our base of visitation volunteers because through this experience I see people’s hearts being changed and their minds opening. It’s simply beautiful. The people we visit are extremely thankful. This is another great opportunity for us to share about Casa de Paz, in case their family would like to stay with us. One man we visited recognized the volunteer visiting him because he had seen an interview on Telemundo about the home while he was being detained. He was almost in shock saying, “You’re the lady from Casa de Paz! We all watched the interview here and thought to ourselves how great that is.”
Detainees released from detention are also welcomed to stay at our home if they have nowhere to go. My goal is to build relationships with shelters where we can eventually transition them into. The vision is the shelters can build a reentry program for the released detainees so they can holistically integrate into society after being held in detention.
Image credit: Antonu