Community Support Network eNews, October 2014 issue
|Dear Community Support Partners and Friends,
First, I would like to thank our Community Support hubs for all of your hard work in putting together 2015 grant proposals. The progress we have made as a network in 2014 is as inspiring as our collective goals for the coming year and beyond.
A special thanks goes to the Boston hub for graciously hosting Matt during the site visit this past month. I would like as well to take this final opportunity to recognize Casie-Lee Miller for her work at Ascentria Care Alliance. Ascentria has made the difficult decision to leave the network, but we remain grateful for Casie’s two years of contributions to our clients and the broader social services network.
LIRS continues a significant focus on the expanded family detention facilities and will be releasing a report on the Artesia and Karnes facilities. The report is a joint effort with the Women’s Refugee Commission and will be released by the end of October. We look forward to circulating it to all of you and further raising awareness of this troubling expansion.
Lastly, I want to announce an exciting new ATJ campaign. In an act of welcome and an expression of concern for the approximately 1,700 women and children detained in family detention centers, LIRS is organizing a Hope for the Holidays card-writing campaign. We are asking church congregations and individuals to write an encouraging message of hope on a seasonal greeting card to bring light and joy to families in detention this holiday season. Together, we can make this holiday season a little brighter for hundreds of families. For more information about participating in this campaign, please email SHarrs@lirs.org.
For the past 16 years, First Friends has planned and sponsored a Columbus Day Vigil in front of the Elizabeth Detention Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Along with coalition groups, family members of detainees, prior detainees, and advocates, First Friends staff and board members gather to protest the injustices being committed by for-profit prison companies and ICE. The yearly event serves to educate and raise awareness around immigration issues, particularly the grave violations of detained immigrants’ human rights.
This year’s Columbus Day Vigil was titled, “Open Your Hearts to the Children…”, appropriately themed around the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have been arriving in the United States searching for safety and stability. 70-80 vigil attendees were entertained by performances by the Catholic Worker Band, Don Bosco High School’s Speak Out Club, Mother Seton High School’s Seton Ensemble, and performers from the Marinera Dancing School. The program also included representatives from different religious denominations presenting opening prayers, litany for the detained, and closing prayers. A former client of First Friends, who came to the United States as an accompanied minor, also spoke about his inspiring journey seeking refuge in the United States, and Monica, First Friends intern, shared that “his speech was moving, and reminded us all why we’re at the vigil, to stand in solidarity with those detained.”
During the planning stages of the event, First Friends utilized its strong connections in the surrounding area, reaching out to pastors, schools, and advocates from other organizations to help mobilize people for the vigil. This strategy seems to have been successful, as Monica at First Friends shared, “the crowd was filled with representatives from various groups we work closely with, and we are extremely thankful for everybody’s support.”
Such an event would not have been as possible if First Friends did not maintain such a good working relationship with ICE and staff at the Elizabeth Detention Center, however. They have run a visitation program at the Elizabeth Detention Center for thirteen years, and from this established trust were able to expand visitation programs to all New Jersey facilities. As a result of this extensive history, ICE and detention center officials are very familiar with the work of First Friends and its advocacy activities, so officials allow for such advocacy events to occur as long as they don’t interfere with facility operations. The strong partnership between First Friends and detention center officials has aided them in other projects, such as distributing books to detainees, and their Stamp Out Despair campaign.
At the event, First Friends collected stationery materials for its semi-annual Stamp Out Despair campaign, which allows detainees to keep in touch with family and friends by giving them letter writing supplies. First Friends collects paper, pens, stamps, and envelopes and sends them along with a personal note of encouragement written by volunteers. After the detainees receive the stationery packets, many of them send letters to First Friends, saying how grateful they are for the supplies.
ATJ partners’ extensive advocacy actions continue to be an inspiration to all. Thank you, First Friends, for allowing us to highlight your annual vigil!
ATJ is thrilled to announce that First Steps: The LIRS Guide for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Released from Detention is finally available in print and will be available online in early November! For those of you who have yet to hear of this book, it is an updated version of LIRS’s “Pocket Knowledge” guide, geared towards refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants who have been released from detention and the lawyers, case managers, churches, and others who work with these populations. It guides readers through the complex system of laws, agencies, and public and private systems, and helps them understand the legal rights, responsibilities, and eligibility for services and benefits according to immigration status.
First Steps includes information important to immigrants of all statuses. Topics include immigrants’ rights when arrested, eligibility for healthcare and cash benefits, instructions on family reunification, how to find a lawyer and avoid immigration scams, and much more. It also includes important information regarding recent changes in U.S. law and practice, such new procedures for asylum seekers to obtain work permits. The last section contains lists of immigration legal services providers and torture treatment programs by state, as well as a directory of resettlement agencies.
Also recently released are two shorter, status-specific supplements designed specifically for client use: one for asylum seekers, and one for legal permanent residents. Supplements for migrants who have or seek the following forms of protection will be released over the coming year: U-Visa (for immigrant victims of crimes), T-Visa (for human trafficking victims), VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), and SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. The supplements include checklists of important steps to take to maintain or adjust immigration status, to gain access to benefits, and to comply with U.S. law; as well as warnings relevant to specific populations. All publications will be available in both English and Spanish, with the possibility of additional languages.
The content of First Steps is intended to be holistic, so as to be a resource for everyone who works with immigrants. Every LIRS partner organization will receive a hard copy of both the main First Steps guide and each of the supplements as they become available. They will also be accessible online at www.lirs.org/firststeps in early November, and we hope that our partners will share this valuable resource with anyone who may need it.
The Detained Torture Survivors Legal Support Network’s next project is a community asset mapping resource specific to each DTS hub that will accompany First Steps to provide clients and service providers with specific information on programs and services available to immigrants in your communities. Categories in this resource will include how to apply for a state identification document, local free/low-cost dental and health services, local public transportation options, and local ESL classes.
LIRS is very excited about this new publication, and we hope that our partners find it to be a valuable resource in their work. To accompany the guide, LIRS is hosting a training webinar on December 11th, from 2:00-3:30pm – please mark it in your calendars! If you have any questions about First Steps or any of the supplements, please contact Staff Attorney Angela Edman at AEdman@lirs.org.
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Who is the Community Support Network?
In 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.