Community Support Network eNews – 6/14

Community Support Network eNews, May/June 2014 issue
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May and June flew by! We enjoyed speaking with many of you at the CIVIC retreat and DWN conference, and learning from our partners in NY/NJ, MN, and TX during our annual site visits. A big thanks to Jennifer Long for her valuable contribution to the ATDs presentation at the DWN conference, and to our NY/NJ, MN, and TX hubs for organizing such successful site visits.

This month we are especially excited to welcome Matthew Dolamore, ATJ’s new National Network Coordinator. Matt brings with him over 6 years professional experience in community development, including significant work in coalition building and public engagement in immigrant communities. Past experience includes grant program management for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, capacity building and strategic planning with neighborhood organizations in both Maryland and Costa Rica, and work in refugee resettlement at Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. He is both a former Peace Corps and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, and brings with him a deep rooted passion for building more equitable environments in which men, women and children from all walks of life might live and thrive. Matt holds a Master in Community Planning from the University of Maryland College Park and a BA in Modern Languages and Linguistics from the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He hails from New York’s Hudson Valley, enjoys the great outdoors, and is excited to be planning a summer 2014 wedding with his talented and beautiful fiancée Stephanie. Matt will begin reaching out to organize introductory calls with each site in the coming weeks.

As always, thank you for your continued commitment, enthusiasm and partnership in this important work!

Warm regards,

Liz Sweet
Director of ATJ

Building a Movement: CIVIC visitation retreat update

CSN_0614_01At the end of April, over 50 visitation volunteers from across the country joined together in thoughtful reflection and creative brainstorming. The retreat was organized by the Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national visitation network founded by Christina Fialho and Christina Mansfield in 2010. The first national convening of visitation volunteers, the retreat created space for participants to reflect on the challenges and joys of visiting individuals in immigration detention, as well as discuss our collective vision for the future of the visitation movement.

The retreat began with a brief history of the movement, giving pause to acknowledge and celebrate the hard work of the founding visitation initiatives. Emerging in the early 2000s, the first ministries included First Friends in NJ, a visitation program at the Hutto facility in TX, Conversations with Friends in MN, and the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants (ICDI) in Chicago. Sr. JoAnn Persch spoke about the initial challenges ICDI overcame, including advocating for a bill in Illinois called the Access to Religious Ministry Act of 2008 to grant religious workers “reasonable access” to any county jail housing immigration detainees in the state. Leaders from the founding organizations, as well as other concerned advocates (including the Christian Fialho and Christian Mansfield), coalesced at a DWN conference, and initiated a conversation that eventual grew into CIVIC. CIVIC now includes a network of over thirty visitation ministries nationwide.

Day 2 challenged participants to reflect honestly on the difficulties of being a volunteer, and to brainstorm strategies for vicarious resilience. We were guided through a series of activities on uninterrupted sharing and active listening (see below for details). Many acknowledged that visiting can be a difficult and isolating experience, often eliciting feelings of helplessness and frustration. However, the ABC’s of prevention can help fight compassion fatigue and reenergize engagement:

  1. Awareness – Be aware of your own limits. Recognize warning signs or symptoms of physical and/or emotion burnout.
  2. Balance – Strike a healthy balance in your life. Reflect on both the positive and negative aspects of your experience as a visitor. Pursue leisure actives and friendships unrelated to your work as a visitor and/or advocate.
  3. Connection – Find connection and support in the experiences and wisdom your colleagues. Make time to regularly check in via email, over the phone and in person.

We concluded by discussing the balance between being a visitor and an advocate. Some feared that alignment with advocacy initiatives jeopardized the stability of individual visitation programs. Others feared that simply visiting expressed appeasement with the existing system. In the coming months, visitation volunteers and advocates look forward to continuing the conversation, and shaping the direction of the national movement. A national advocacy day is in the works, so stay tuned for more information.

Active Listening Activity:

For those interested, here is the active listening activity we completed during day two. It might be a valuable exercise to complete with volunteers or to adapt and complete with staff:

Count off into pairs, and progress through three rounds of pointed questions. During each round, each individual will have 6 minutes of uninterrupted time to respond to the question posed. They are sharing their reflection only with their partner. Their partner is not allowed speak or ask questions, but must give the speaker their full, undivided attention through listening actively.

  • Round one: How have you been affected by the individuals that you visit?
  • Round two: How has feeling committed and responsible to those you visit affected you?
  • Round three: What are some tangible actions you can take to prevent burnout in the future?


Advocacy Update

csn_0614_02This month we would like to turn to Rosalynd Erney, an LIRS Advocacy Fellow, for a brief update from Capitol Hill:

This May is a particularly exciting time for LIRS’ Advocacy office as we continue to advocate for humane and compassionate immigration reform. With the announcement of President Obama’s review of the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement procedures and several key Republican members of the House of Representatives making comments indicating an openness to consider immigration reform this year, the first half of May is likely to be an influential time period as both Congress and the White House consider how to move forward. As people of faith, we must continue to urge our leaders to enact short- and long-term solutions to our broken immigration system.

In addition to taking part in Detention Watch Network’s campaign to end the bed quota that requires DHS to needlessly maintain 34,000 detention beds every day, LIRS has been actively involved in urging the Obama Administration to exercise its authority to end the excessive detention of vulnerable migrants. In the absence of legislation, there are a number of steps the Administration can take to help end the suffering of countless immigrants needlessly caught up in our immigration detention system. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Expand access to community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs). The Administration can expand ATDs beyond those already used by ICE, like ISAP II that relies on the use of electronic ankle bracelets to monitor individuals, to include less-restrictive, community-based programs that have been proven effective in ensuring compliance with immigration court proceedings.
  • End arbitrary detention through the use of individualized assessments. These assessments consider an individual’s ties to the community, compliance with previous immigration court proceedings, and flight and security risk and can help to greatly reduce the number of persons detained.
  • Ensure bond hearings and meaningful custody review to all individuals held longer than 6 months. Often, individuals languish in detention for months or even years without an explanation from ICE or DHS as to why they continue to be detained. A bond hearing in which the government must justify further detention can help to ensure that many vulnerable individuals are not needlessly detained.
  • Ensure all ICE and CBP facilities operate under the most recent detention standards and close those facilities that have been found in consistent violation of these standards.
  • Improve oversight, accountability and transparency by making data publicly available—particularly on the use of the Risk Classification Assessment tool (RC) and the evaluation of problem facilities.

While this list is by no means exhaustive, these reforms can go a long way in improving the lives of countless members of our families, communities and congregations. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Nora Skelly, LIRS Assistant Director for Advocacy at We thank you for your work to stand for welcome and we look forward to our continued work together.


ATJ Partners and LIRS Mobilize to Strengthen Migrant and Refugee Leadership

RefugeeAcademy300The LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Working Group, along with the Volunteer Working Group and Church Engagement Working Group, is one of three groups created by LIRS to support the organization’s strategic plan of network learning and migrant and refugee empowerment. It is composed of diverse individuals, including refugee rights activists, mental health practitioners, and faith leaders from across the country. Most members of the Working Group, which also includes two ATJ partners, are themselves former migrants or refugees who engage on a daily basis with newcomers in their communities. Each group member provides unique insight into discussions exploring the barriers to migrant and refugee leadership and possible initiatives to empower such individuals to develop leadership capacity and network with others across communities. The group is focused on developing ideas about pathways to engaging migrant and refugee leaders as well as potential value-added for partner organizations who might participate in new leadership initiatives. Plans for creative new initiatives to build a network of migrant and refugee leaders will be developed through a series of conference calls and presented at the LIRS L4 Convening in September.

The discussions that emerge from this working group are directly aligned with the work of LIRS’s Grassroots Mobilization Team. One of the team’s main priorities is to develop and strengthen a network of migrant and refugee leaders across the country who can advance the mission of LIRS and form bridges between diverse communities. These leaders possess unique potential as activists for pro-refugee and migrant policies in their local communities, and the Grassroots Mobilization team is focused on connecting the working group efforts with our World Refugee Day Academy. During the 3-day Academy, 48 former refugees from across the country selected for their community involvement will be provided with in-depth training on advocacy, leadership, and community organizing, and will also have opportunities to meet with elected officials and advocate for pro-refugee legislation. It is envisaged that the migrant and refugee leadership working group will play an essential role in guiding the projects that will be undertaken by the Academy participants and contribute to the development of similar activities in the future.


Valuable Resources

Upcoming Events:

Building Active Listening Skills Webinar
Thursday, July 10th 8:30-9:30pm EDT
Join Pat Gunn from AID NW and Liz Sweet from LIRS for an interactive webinar on active listening, particularly geared at visitation volunteers. Register HERE.

Database Training (registration information will be emailed out shortly)

ATJNet Database Training: Program Management (for both CS and DTS partners)
Thursday, July 10th 2:00-3:00pm EDT
ATJNet Database Training: DTS Client Management
Thursday, July 17th 2:00-3:00pm EDT
ATJNet Database Training: CS Client Management (Legal Service Providers)
Thursday, July 24th 2:00-3:00pm EDT
ATJNet Database Training: CS Client Management (Social Service Providers)
Thursday, July 31st 2:00-3:00pm EDT

L4: Learning, Leveraging, Leading, and Launching

We may be 75 years old this year, but for our annual training workshop, it’s a brand new day. New name – we’re calling it L4 for learning, leveraging, leading, and launching. For the first time we are bringing together partners from all three of our service networks: Refugee Resettlement, Access to Justice for migrants impacted by detention, and Children’s Services. And because communities of faith are integral to service and integration outcomes, people from various local and national faith organizations will join as well. Networks will have opportunities to meet separately as well as together, ensuring time for specific issues to be addressed. So bring your best practices and questions. You’ll take home practical ideas, tools, and connections that make all the difference in your work.

Date: Tuesday, September 2, 2014 – Friday, September 5, 2014
6:00 PM – 10:00 AM

Location: Westin La Paloma
3800 E. Sunrise Dr.
Tucson, AZ 85718

Who is the Community Support Network?

CSNteamIn partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) LIRS launched the Community Support Network in 2012, a national service model to examine the efficiency of community-based services as an alternative to immigration detention. This initiative inspires volunteers and funds non-profit service agencies to offer a continuum of care that facilitates immigrants’ release from detention, immediate support and stabilization services, torture and trauma rehabilitation, and eventually long term integration. In 2012, the Community Support Network served approximately 85 people post-release and brought together over 80 practitioners for a conference about alternatives to current enforcement practices.