Community Support Network eNews, September 2013 issue
The Access to Justice (ATJ) Unit at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) is excited to announce the publication of a monthly Community Support Network Newsletter. During our 2013 ATJ conference, many of us expressed fear of burnout and craved new strategies for self-care. Whether challenging ICE in the courtroom or seeking housing in the midst of a crisis, the daily challenges of immigrant support and advocacy can feel overwhelming, if not impossible at times. However, in these moments of intense frustration, it’s important to step back and celebrate the amazing work being done by all of us. Every day, in collaboration with colleagues and friends across the nation, our collective passion and commitment is making significant changes in the lives of our clients and the attitudes of our country. Taking time to recognize, share and celebrate these successes is essential for our collective self-care.
One way we hope to promote a network-wide culture of celebration is through a monthly newsletter committed to sharing a few successes of our network partners and volunteers. Every month we will thank and spotlight committed partners and volunteers, highlight new programs and services offered, welcome new staff, share new resources and announce upcoming trainings. We encourage you to set aside a few minutes to read and celebrate the work of your colleagues.
However, the success of the monthly newsletter hinges on your willingness to share. Over the course of each month, please take the time to send written text, quotes, photos or video footage of:
Our new LVC, Julia Coffin, will be producing this newsletter, so please send all information to her at JCoffin@lirs.org.
We hope you enjoy our first edition!
Liz and Julia on behalf of ATJ
The following story was submitted by Sister JoAnn Persch of the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants in Chicago, IL. Leading by example, Sister JoAnn teaches us that persistence and a warm cup of coffee can open doors to honest and meaningful conversations with anyone, including our representatives in Washington, DC.
Thank you Sister JoAnn for contributing the article, and to Kathleen Murtha for the photo!
Our work would not be possible without the support of committed volunteers. This month we would like to thank Joe and Selena Keesecker for their tireless commitment to immigration detention visitation ministry in AZ.
Joe and Selena Keesecker have been strong advocates for the migrant and refugee community since the 1980s. They served as mission workers with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. for four years in Guatemala, and provided temporary housing and support to Central American refugees fleeing violence during the sanctuary movement. Although retired, they are now fulltime volunteers, and are actively involved in promoting and practicing visitation ministry. They visit the Eloy Detention Center in AZ at least two Saturdays a month, attend court hearings, and regularly exchange letters with those isolated in detention. For Joe and Selena, visitation is about, “accompaniment… hearing people’s stories and letting them know somebody cares.”
We are so grateful for their continued dedication and hard work!
Q. How did you first become involved with visitation ministry?
A. Representatives of the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project and the Florence Restoration Project from Tucson, AZ invited folks living in the Phoenix area to an orientation and training session on writing letters to detainees. Joe went to the first orientation, and Selena went to the second. We began writing to detainees in detention centers in Florence and Eloy. Before long, we were asked to visit a young man who had just received an 18th “birthday gift” by being moved from juvenile detention to adult detention in Florence. This was soon followed by other requests to visit people in detention in Florence and then in Eloy. We receive referrals and individual requests through the Florence Project, the Restoration Project (Tucson and Phoenix) and now from the detainees we visit, asking “please visit this person, as she has no one to visit her”. We often visit with detainees in English, sometimes as their first language, as there are people there from many different countries, and people who have grown up or lived in the U.S. for many years.
Q. What motivates or inspires you to pursue this line of work?
A. We find our motivation first in the love, grace and hospitality of God through Jesus Christ; Jesus’ admonition to “visit those in prison” and repeated calls in the Bible for providing hospitality to strangers and foreigners. Our visits have concentrated on individuals who are not receiving visits from other people, because they don’t have family or friends in the area, or because their family and friends are undocumented, so cannot visit.
While we are not in this ministry for the thanks we receive, a large part of our continued motivation comes from the obvious joy and appreciation these folks show for the simple act of reaching out in kindness and letting them know that they are loved and not forgotten. Often we find that we are the first people to visit them, sometimes after several months or years in detention. Joe was the first person to visit one man who had been in detention for over six years (A. almost didn’t come, as he didn’t believe he could have a visitor, but his cell-mate urged him to go). One woman told us “you may not think your visits are important, but we look forward to hearing our names called for a visit and knowing you are there for us”.
Q. Can you please tell us about someone or something that influenced your decision to participate in visitation ministry?
A. We have mentioned the folks from the Florence Project and the Florence Restoration Project in Tucson. We were mission workers with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for four years in Guatemala and saw issues of immigration from the “push” side, as we talked with people who were planning to go “to the other side”, people who had returned, and family members of people who were currently in the U.S.A. We also worked as volunteers with undocumented men in New Jersey for nearly four years with CoFIA (Community of Friends in Action), and learned a great deal more about how they have to live in the shadows, are routinely mistreated by employers and the police, and about how committed they are to providing support for their families back home.
Q. What do you do when you are not volunteering?
A. As we are both retired, we are volunteers in whatever we do now. We are active in the Guadalupe Presbyterian Church (Iglesia Presbiteriana de Guadalupe) in Guadalupe, AZ, where Selena is a member and Joe provides some pastoral support, as he is +a retired Presbyterian minister. The session (governing council) of the Guadalupe Church commissioned Selena as an Elder for “special service as a pastoral visitor with immigrants held in detention in facilities in Arizona”, and is supportive of our ministry. Joe is also involved with Grand Canyon Presbytery of the PC(U.S.A.), serving on a couple of committees and as a part-time volunteer consultant for Hispanic Ministries. We travel a good deal, especially to visit our daughter and her husband, who live nearby in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, México, and our son, his wife and our two grandchildren in Chicago. Joe enjoys having time to ride his mountain bike and his motorcycle, while Selena takes some time for her music and staying in touch with friends in this country, Guatemala, Mexico and other places.
We would like to extend a warm welcome to three new members of the Community Support Network:
Liz joined LIRS on August 1 as director of the Access to Justice Unit. Prior to working at LIRS, Liz served as the Associate Direct of the ABA Commission on Immigration, and spent five years representing detainees as a Children’s Staff Attorney for the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project. Liz holds a JD from Northeastern University School of Law, Boston, and an undergraduate degree in international studies from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont.
Lauren graduated from NYU School of Law in 2012. While in law school, she participated in the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic, where in addition to client work, she worked in cooperation with AFSC on a report exposing the poor conditions in immigration detention centers in New Jersey. After law school, Lauren completed a one-year fellowship with the AFSC Immigrant Rights Program, representing detained individuals and doing Know Your Rights presentations and screenings in the Elizabeth Detention Center, in Elizabeth, NJ. She is excited to have to opportunity to continue serving detained individuals in New Jersey with AFSC.
Julia graduated from St. Olaf College in 2012, with an undergraduate degree in sociology/anthropology and religion. During her time at Olaf, she interned with Lutheran Social Services of New England, working as a case manager in the refugee resettlement department. More recently, she returned from Nepal, when she spent the past year teaching English and leadership classes to students ages 3 through 16. She will serve as the new Lutheran Volunteer Corps Program Fellow in the Access to Justice Unit.
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.