Christina Fialho Discusses Discrimination Against Muslims in Immigration Detention

Since 9/11, the federal government has relied heavily on immigration law and policy to prosecute the so-called “War on Terror.” Because the process of arresting someone under immigration law rather than criminal law has fewer checks and balances, the federal government has abused the immigration legal system in a way that discriminates against Muslim immigrants. CIVIC, with its partner organizations such as the Islamic Shura Council, stand beside Muslim immigrants. Learn more about the detention of Muslim immigrants in this 10-minute talk given by CIVIC’s Christina Fialho to the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.

Who Is Watching Whom?

The current model of immigration detention oversight by the government does not effectively address or prevent human and civil rights abuses. Only ICE and its umbrella agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), conduct audits of immigration detention facilities. As there is no independent oversight, there are untold and unrecorded abuses. Those that do get reported, rarely get investigated. The Office of the Inspector General (part of DHS) is not only overworked, it also has failed to investigate, lied about work done, and covered up lies. The Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties (also part of DHS) was established by Section 705 of the Homeland Security Act. There is no other title like this in the federal government. There are no models to follow, and the terms of the statute are quite broad, leaving the Office with virtually little or no power.

For these reasons, CIVIC is committed to doing true monitoring of immigration detention facilities. CIVIC documents, categorizes, and verifies to the extent possible human and civil rights abuses in immigration detention facilities across the country on a daily basis. We are in direct contact with people in immigration detention through visits, tours, and our national hotline. We use the data and stories we gather to engage in advocacy to address rights violations. You can learn more about our unique and innovative form of independent and consistent oversight here.

ICE & GEO Deny Legal & Community Visits to Over 20 Hunger Strikers at Adelanto

On behalf of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU of SoCal) sent a letter to ICE this morning about the unlawful denial of access to hunger strikers.

On November 19, 2015, Jacqueline Dan (an attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice-LA) and her legal assistants were informed by GEO staff that the Adelanto hunger strikers were “on a list” and that ICE approval was required before those individuals would be granted legal or non-legal visits.  No legal ground was offered for the denial.  Later that morning, Ms. Dan and CIVIC’s co-executive director Christina Fialho received a message from ICE, stating that clearance was denied. Again, ICE failed to disclose a purported basis for the denial of attorney access to detainees.

Two days earlier, Ms. Fialho, also an attorney, requested in writing clearance for certain non-attorneys to accompany and assist Ms. Dan with an upcoming legal visit scheduled for November 19, 2015.  The request identified by name each of the non-attorneys and detainees and complied with the standard format and practice for requesting access.  The list of detainees included some of the hunger strikers.

“The denial of access by ICE violates the hunger strikers’ First Amendment and Due Process rights to protest their prolonged detentions and the conditions at the Adelanto Detention Facility, violates their right to confer with prospective counsel, interferes with the practice of law, and improperly burdens public interest organizations,” states the ACLU of SoCal letter. 

The denial of access represents an ongoing and troubling pattern of retaliation, and raises real concerns about mistreatment of people in immigration detention at this infamously abusive for-profit facility. On other occasions, GEO and ICE have arbitrarily and without valid grounds denied access to attorneys and visitor volunteers associated with CIVIC in retaliation for peaceful protest activities and public statements protected by the First Amendment. CIVIC with pro bono representation from the ACLU of SoCal and Sidley Austin LLP raised those concerns in a letter dated August 24, 2015, which to this day neither GEO nor ICE has responded to or in any way denied.

“Both ICE and GEO Group are depriving the hunger strikers of access to counsel and community support in unlawful retaliation for shining a light on their inhumane confinement at the Adelanto Detention Facility,” said Christina Fialho, attorney and co-executive director of CIVIC.

If the organizations do not receive a satisfactory response from ICE by Wednesday, November 25, 2015, the group intends to take prompt legal action in federal court to halt these unlawful practices.



THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 19TH at 3:00 – 4:15 p.m. (Eastern)

Join the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee to hear the highlights of our new mental health report documenting the poor care women and children are receiving while in detention. Learn how you can help these asylum-seekers before and after they are released as they create new lives for themselves here in the United States. The call will cover the latest advocacy updates and hear about service needs from the perspective of experienced local service providers.

Guest speakers include:
Rachel Freed, VP, and Chief Program Officer, UUSC
Amber Moulton, Researcher, UUSC

Jonathon Ryan, Executive Director of Raices (San Antonio, TX)
Email Jan Meslin at for the conference call information.

Nearly 1,000 Women & Men Go on Hunger Strike in Immigration Detention Across the Nation

On November 5, 2015, family members of people in immigration detention and their allies gathered outside of the Adelanto Detention Facility to show their support for the women and men on hunger strike in Adelanto and across the country.  On the morning of Friday, October 30th, at least 20 men began a hunger strike in the West Building at the Adelanto Detention Facility.  Shortly after, 320 men in the West Building joined the hunger strike.  The men are on strike because every person deserves adequate medical care, edible food, and the opportunity to breathe fresh outdoor air each day.  On the morning of Wednesday, November 3rd, 90 other men in the East Building joined, calling for their freedom.

This is the fourth hunger strike to occur in the last three weeks in a U.S. immigration detention facility.  On the morning of October 14th, 54 South Asian asylum seekers from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan refused food and water at the El Paso detention center (Texas).  CIVIC’s Jan Meslin joined a group of community leaders outside the gates of the detention facility in solidarity.

Five days later, another 14 Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants began a solidarity hunger strike at the Lasalle Detention Center in Louisiana. CIVIC had planned to take a tour of the LaSalle Detention Center that week, but ICE’s Field Office emailed a day after the hunger strike began.  They told us that the tour had been postponed due to “a major operation at the facility.”  Although ICE threw the hunger strikers into solitary confinement, ICE denied the existence of the hunger strike entirely.  After meeting with one of the men on hunger strike at LaSalle, Meslin told Think Progess that the treatment of the people in detention “made me ashamed of my country.”

On October 28th, 27 women at the T. Don Hutto Facility, a facility in Taylor, Texas, ran by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), began a hunger strike.  By the following week, 400 women were refusing food. According to Grassroots Leadership, the women were unanimous about their one and only demand: release.

The over 400 brave men at Adelanto followed.  Despite these nearly 1,000 people who have gone on hunger strike, U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement continues to deny that their detention facilities have a problem.  ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told the Los Angeles Times that she would not confirm a hunger strike was taking place.  CIVIC’s Christina Fialho responded, “ICE has adopted a head in the sand approach to hunger strikes, saying they just don’t exist.”

The Obama Administration’s immigration incarceration system has failed, despite attempts at reform. Detention facilities across the country are not safe and consistently fail to meet basic minimum standards.  These brave men and women on hunger strike are not only protesting shameful conditions inside detention, but also fighting for one another.  They are inspired by one another.  CIVIC calls on President Obama to listen to the pleas from these women and men and take immediate steps to end the arbitrary and abusive process of detaining immigrants.

CIVIC stands behind the over 400 men on hunger strike at Adelanto and the approximately 500 other brave women and men who have gone on hunger strikes over the last three weeks in immigration detention facilities across the country. We are here to support them, and we want to remind ICE that we are watching for retaliation. 

“We will be back,” chanted the participants in Thursday’s vigil outside the Adelanto Detention Facility, as they walked away from the facility.


By Soledad Vidal

This past Sunday, September 27, 2015, Pope Francis took time out of his 6-day, super-packed trip to meet with inmates at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility in Philadelphia. His gentle disposition and touching message inspired me profoundly. Pope Francis told the inmates that he was visiting them “as a brother, to share with them, and to make their cases his own.” When it comes to the human experience, he told them, “all of us have something we need to be cleansed of, or purified from. May the knowledge of that fact inspire us to live in solidarity.”

Following his speech, he shook the hands of every inmate in attendance. A number of them hugged him. As he made his rounds, he paused to listen to those who held his hand for a little longer. He ended his visit by blessing their rosaries, and thanking them for the special chair the inmates had made. A big fan of Pope Francis (I’m Argentinean, and one of those “progressive,” Catholics), I watched every hour of “el Papa’s” historic visit to the U.S. None moved me more than his time with the inmates in Philadelphia.

The topic of jail visitations is close to my heart. I am a volunteer with a heroic group, Friends of Orange County Detainees. The mission of the group is to help end the isolation of immigrants in detention; the purpose of the visits is to show detainees that someone on the outside cares. Although most of the people we visit end up being deported, the visits help them to cope as they wait to find out their fate.

Immigrants in detention get extremely bored. They are unable to take classes, or work, and some get no visitors at all, especially if their family members live far, have no transportation, or have to work multiple jobs. This is also true, if they have no local families, or have young children who cannot travel to see them.

I joined the group two years ago, and the experience has been life-changing. Visiting people in detention has allowed me to see the world through another’s eyes. It has also placed a face with a myriad of social problems ranging from drug addiction, poverty, inequality and lack of opportunity. It has grown my heart and empathy, and has developed a deeper appreciation for all the blessings in my life. It has moved me to care, to advocate, and to want to do more.

Over the last years, I visited three women consistently until their release. I also met two others who had regular visitors, and I recently started visiting a new detainee. The weekly conversations have taught me invaluable life lessons. Among them, to give–within boundaries–and to know the difference between what I can and cannot change.

Below are some of the many lessons I have learned.

You are Stronger Than You Think:

I stumbled upon this volunteering opportunity, as I walked through a student fair at Soka University, where I was teaching at the time. As I walked around leisurely, a special table caught my eye; a friendly student awaited visitors to ask him questions. He was surrounded by books on immigration, and flyers from Friends of OC Detainees were spread over the table. I was so intrigued. I pulled up a chair, sat down and had so many questions…..How did a young man get involved in such a cause? Was it difficult? Intimidating? Was it worthwhile? I grabbed the flyer, took it with me, and thought about it for a few weeks before deciding to act.

As I contemplated doing jail visitations, a number of fears kept creeping up– How will this affect me? My feelings? My mood? My safety? My personal time? I was afraid of feeling sadness and taking home other people’s hopeless stories. I did at first, but got better with time.

I remember the first day I went to the jail. Sitting in the parking lot with the engine running, I wondered if I should walk through the metal detector and commit, or turn around and find an easier cause to support. After thinking about it, I turned off the engine, grabbed my keys and ID, and headed to the barbed wire fence. I was in.

A Visit and a Smile Can Go a Long Way:

A 30-minute visit with a detainee will not speed immigration reform, or solve their legal or life challenges. But what a conversation will do is make them feel cared for. Someone has taken the time to visit with them and to listen. Your conversation may be what gets them through the next week, and you will have definitely made their day.

Listen More, Talk Less:

You don’t have to give advice, or talk about yourself (unless they ask and you feel like sharing). Sometimes listening is enough. Last week, I met a new detainee for the first time. After I briefly introduced myself, she started smiling and crying all at once while excusing herself for the outburst. Gracias por venir!, Thank you for coming, she told me. For the next 30 minutes, she shared her story. She told me she was from a little village in Peru. We were happy to learn that we were “neighbors,” South American neighbors. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

Judge Less, Love More

It’s not about what people have done, or whether or not what they tell you is true. It’s about giving a human being a chance for catharsis, for sharing whatever is on their heart. This lesson wasn’t the easiest to learn. I remember visiting my first detainee, and later walking toward my car, thinking deeply about her hardships. On consecutive visits, sometimes her stories of what had happened to her changed. I remember feeling confused and even hurt. What really did happen? As I continued to visit her and others, I made the realization that the veracity of hardships and omission of events were not the point. Who was I to judge? Would I trust a complete stranger with all of my truths? The point, I told myself, is to offer unconditional love without judgment. Whether they made mistakes, or mistakes happened to them, my role as a visitor is to bring a smile and a friendly ear, not to check facts or wonder why people have made the choices they have. This was a freeing realization. All I had to do was be there.

Boundaries- They keep you sane, and allow you to keep giving without losing yourself.

This was probably the hardest lesson for me to learn. When I first started visiting I wanted to “save” everyone, including their extended families and those who assumed childcare duties when the detainees were sent to jail. Soon after I went into superwoman mode, I realized that more, did not mean better. When I was trying to juggle multiple visits and keep up with all of their families, I felt overwhelmed. My intentions were good, but my abilities were limited. I wanted to help everyone, especially the teenage youth who lost their mothers to detention. I made phone calls and checked on kids, called comadres, drove to LA and back, called lawyers, and wrote to judges. None of this is expected of a volunteer, but I found myself unable to draw the line. The result was burnout, and pulling back. The realization here for me was that visiting one person at a time was probably best. Drawing the line in terms of what I could and could not give would be very important to the longevity of this mission. If I wanted to volunteer for years to come, I would have to grow some boundaries as I continued to give.

Detention Hurts Children Deeply:

One of the hardest things about visiting detainees, is learning about the hardships experienced by their children. Immigrants who are detained do not get an opportunity to put their affairs in order, and that includes the most important one: Who will take care of the children, make sure they go to school, eat, shower, and comfort them from the emotionally-wrenching experience of having their mother taken, often times, in front of their eyes? All the detainees I visited are mothers. One of them, had 8 children by the age of 35. The little ones ranged from the age of 4, all the way to their teens. Due to her detention, dad was left to care for all 8 of them overnight. Struggling to survive, he relied on neighbors to help. Shortly after she was detained, her children started “acting up” and missing school. They needed so many things, food, clothing, love. It is difficult to hear stories such as this. It makes one want to box everything you have and send it to the children. I was keeping up with this family for a while by calling different cell phones. But one by one, each was disconnected. I do not know what happened to this family, and this is hard to deal with.

Undocumented immigrants are perceived as a charge to society. But, what happens when you suddenly remove 8 American children’s mother-their main provider-and incarcerate her due to her immigration status? Someone, (Uncle Sam) will have to support them. They will have material needs, but also, costly emotional and educational ones that will affect, not only them, but society as a whole.

Poor, emotionally traumatized children, don’t dream of going to school and becoming somebody. They are likely to drop out and turn to crime.

People Surprise You–Creative Giving and Making Gifts out of Nothing

After visiting detainees I always feel a blend of melancholy and happiness. I feel needed and happy, because I helped someone. I feel melancholic because I wish I could do more. Some of the sweetest moments have involved gifts I have received from detainees. These come in the form of drawings, sweet prayers, stories, profound expressions of gratitude, drafts of flowers and faces. I cannot explain the joy of opening the mail and finding such sweet and thoughtful treasures. The biggest gift of all is their smile when they see you come in. That is priceless.

My heart has also been moved by the way women in detention build community and celebrate special events, like birthdays. One of the detainees I visited told me that on her birthday the girls had “thrown her a party.” Knowing that their access to items is limited, I asked, how? She told me that some of them had money in their accounts usually used to buy small food items since many get hungry by 8pm. That day, they used the few dollars they had to purchase ramen soups, combined the packages by mixing them inside a trash bag they had rescued from yard duty, (and thoroughly washed), and made “Chinese dinner.” This was followed by “birthday cake,” which was made out of peanut butter/jelly sandwiches saved from lunch, and decorated with Oreo cookie crumbles and coffee grains. The girls brought out the birthday girl’s family photos, and placed them around the cake. They also decorated her bed with birthday strings made out of old magazine pages. As a gift, the “stylist,” a detainee who is good at braiding hair, fixed her hair in a special way.

The story of this birthday celebration was incredible to me. I found it so creative, thoughtful and sweet; a reminder that individual lives matter, and people can make community and show support under the direst of circumstances.

To read more about Soledad, check out her blog: