Community Support Network eNews – 12/13

Community Support Network eNews, December 2013 issue
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From Network Hubs to Capitol Hill

CSNCapitol300This December Liz Sweet, the Director of the Access to Justice at LIRS, and Yohannes Birhane, with RAICES in San Antonio, TX, traveled to Capitol Hill to educate a packed room of bipartisan staffers and colleagues on U.S. asylum policies and practices, and to advocate for alternatives to immigration detention. The briefing was co-sponsored by the Bipartisan Congressional Women’s Working Group on Immigration Reform, and moderated by Royce Murray of the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Katharina Obser with Human Rights First began the briefing, offering an introduction to U.S. asylum policies and practices, including an overview of the expedited removal, credible fear and parole processes. She highlighted concerns about the growth in detention capacity, more specifically the bed mandate. Human Rights First recommends increased access to legal counsel, and she spoke about the benefits of alternatives to immigration detention.

Speaking from personal and professional experience, Yohannes Birhane discussed the conditions asylum seekers face at the border and in U.S. Immigration Detention centers. Like many, he was shocked by the treatment he received upon entering the United States, describing it as “re-traumatizing.” He expected safety and protection, but instead spent time in an “ice box,” or freezing holding cell. He was refused extra clothing and blankets, served bad food, and slept in unsanitary quarters. He described that the border officers yelled, and refused to help unless you show tangible signs of illness. Eventually he was moved to an ICE detention facility, transported in handcuffs, with chains fastened around his waist and feet.

Life in immigration detention presented a whole new set of challenges. Yohannes spoke about the emotional turmoil of indefinite detainment and the anxiety that comes with not understanding the legal process. He feels fortunate that he could speak and understand English, as most Know Your Rights presentations are conducted in English or Spanish, and all of the necessary asylum paperwork needs to be completed in English. Yohannes called for greater education on how to appropriately support survivors of torture.

Annie Sovcik, the Director of the Washington Office of the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), shared the results of their most recent report, Tortured and Detained: Survivor Stories of U.S. Immigration Detention, which CVT co-authored with the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC). She echoed much of what Yohannes said, sharing that many of the survivors they interviewed were shocked by their treatment in detention. Many described being refused extra blankets and warmer clothing, and spoke about the lack of privacy and sanitation in the detention facilities. Additionally, many expressed that they experienced intense confusion and fear due to a lack of understanding of the legal process. CVT recommends expanding the legal services offered to immigration detainees, so individuals have a better understanding of the process. Additionally, she called for increased funding of immigration court, as more asylum officers and immigration judges would greatly reduce the backlog, curbing the anxiety and potential trauma that results from extended detainment.

Liz Sweet concluded the briefing by presenting community based alternatives as a cost-effective and socially responsible model. Liz shared the amazing work you are all doing through detailing the efforts and successes of the Community Support Initiative. Liz called for greater support for community based alternatives through recommending a broader definition of custody. In the case of unaccompanied minors, children can be placed in foster care programs while still technically remaining in custody. Liz called for the same logic to apply to detained adults. She recommended broadening the definition of custody so it includes community based alternatives.

This month’s Capitol Hill briefing reinforced the value of our network model. As a case worker, legal service provider, mental health specialist, volunteer, administrator or advocate, our daily work is part of a larger movement to protect survivors from immigration detention. LIRS is excited to deepen our partnerships in 2014, and return to Capitol Hill to share your successes, and advocate for reform.

Thank you for all of your hard work this year!

Samuel’s Story

CSNSamual300The following story was submitted by Br. Michael Gosch, of the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants (ICDI) in Chicago, IL. Br. Gosch shares Samuel’s journey to the United States and reflects on how their relationship has grown deeper than simply one of guest and host. Congratulations to the ICDI for all of your hard work, and thank you for sharing your story!

In early August of 2011, Samuel left his home in East Africa to begin a new life in America. His trip was financed by a Muslim charitable organization for orphans.  He had been accepted into a Midwest university and was happy to leave behind the harassing phone calls, threats and intimidations by police officials due to his involvement in a political group that was in opposition to the current government.

Upon his arrival at O’Hare International Airport, he was detained while going through Immigration Control.  He was informed that his visa had been revoked due to “inconsistencies” in his visa application.  He was asked why he received funding for orphans if, according to his application, his mother was going to support him while he studied in the U.S.  Samuel explained that both of his parents died while he was a child and that his auntie, to whom he refers as his mother since she raised him, was the person who was going to support him.  His story was not believed.

Since he refused to return to his country out of fear, he was sent to immigration detention at McHenry County Jail.  At the jail, he participated in ICDI’s pastoral care program where he met Sr. Pat Murphy and Sr. JoAnn Persch and learned about our accompaniment program.  Working with the lawyers from the National Immigrant Justice Center, Samuel was released from detention in late August of 2011 and told to report for his asylum hearing in January of 2013.  He was welcomed into the St. Francis Catholic Worker Community and was provided a bed and meals.  He lived there for 16 months before moving into the Victorian residence where he currently lives.

During his two plus years with ICDI, Samuel has taken classes at a local junior college to improve his language skills, volunteered at Muslim and Catholic agencies, and won his asylum case. He refers to ICDI as his family, has learned a few practical jokes, and touched the lives of those who have been accompanying him.  Samuel is now working at O’Hare International Airport checking passengers’ identification with their airline tickets.  We laugh at the irony of his place of employment.

Although ICDI has supported Samuel with emotional support, a monthly stipend and public transportation funds, and although Samuel continues to live in one of my religious congregation’s residences, for me, the lines of host and guest have blurred.  He and I move between these roles often and in many ways.  And that is just one of the many wonders and blessings of ICDI’s ministry.


Warm Welcome

The Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants is excited to welcome Becky Sinclair to their team. Becky will be working as a case worker. Welcome to the network Becky!


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