People fleeing persecution in their home countries who request asylum at a U.S. port of entry are arrested, handcuffed and confined to immigration detention — a traumatic experience that adds to their suffering. In New York, for 21 years Sojourners volunteers have been reaching out in friendship with regular visits to the most isolated of immigration detainees — those who have no friends or family in the area who can visit them.
Asylum seekers can spend months, even years, in windowless detention centers before they win asylum or are deported. In the current xenophobic and inhumane political environment, these waits remain indefinite, and in the interim individuals are kept in unsafe, Covid-19- infected facilities– in virtual solitary confinement—with limited or no access to phones, fresh air or medical assistance.
In non-Covid-19 years, Sojourners sent a team of volunteers two Saturdays each month to visit detainees, providing hope, solidarity, and a link to the outside world. Since the pandemic shutdown, volunteers have continued to support immigrant detainees in Elizabeth Detention Center, as well as at Hudson County and Essex County Correctional Institute. Volunteers write letters as pen pals, send commissary funds so these friends can purchase soap and bare necessities or call family, raise money for bail bond release and provide letters of support for such applications, coordinate with attorneys working on detainee cases, and work with national groups such as Freedom for Immigrants to advocate for the end of immigrant detention. For those who have achieved asylum status, but who have lost their jobs or are ineligible for unemployment insurance, Sojourners provides rent assistance and connects them with food pantries/soup kitchens and other services and social support, helps with fees for training and professional licensing, and collects funds for their struggling families back in their home countries.
For more information or to get involved, please email Francis Connell.