Imprisoning Families for Profit

For general information about family detention, check out CIVIC’s one-pager.

By Lynnette Arnold

On Friday I went to visit my friend Alta Gracias and her three children at Karnes County Residential Center, where they have been locked up for the past two months. I was accompanied by a volunteer from the Hutto Visitation Program, a community group in Texas that has visited detained immigrants since 2009. We drove about three hours into Southern Texas, past oil derricks, cotton fields, and small, economically depressed towns. The Karnes facility, originally constructed as a model center for the detention of adult migrants, was repurposed this summer and began detaining families last month.

Drawing by Child in Detention

Upon arrival, I turned in my ID and was given a visitors badge. At the direction of the guards, I proceeded through a metal detector and two locked doors into the visitation room, taking nothing with me except quarters for the vending machine. The two older children, 10-year-old Ana and 9-year-old Victor (not their real names) were bouncing with excitement to see me. As soon as the door to the visitation room locked behind me, four small arms wrapped around me and two heads burrowed into my sides. When they finally let go, Alta Gracias’ hug felt no less desperate. As we sat down at a table to visit, Ana snuggled up close to me, my arm around her shoulders, until the visitation guard told me that the little girl needed to sit on her own chair. The desperation of the children’s need for comfort spoke volumes about the depth of their suffering during their dangerous journey north, in the week they spent sleeping on the floor in crowded and freezing holding cells at the border, and during two months of waiting, trapped at the detention center.

Alta Gracias and her children are being held for crossing the border without documentation, fleeing extreme violence in the coastal part of El Salvador they call home. While children who cross the border alone are quickly released to relatives or sponsors while they go through immigration hearings, children who come with their parents are locked up in family detention centers like Karnes, which holds 550 mothers with children as young as two months old.  Read the full and original publication of this article at Alas Migratorias, a blog about migration, cross-border connection, y otro mundo posible.


Stop Strip Searches for Visitors at CA Prisons!

The CA Dept of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) just proposed regulations mandating use of dogs, scanners, and traumatizing strip searches for people coming into a prison for a contact visit with a loved one.

CDCR does not contract with ICE; so, this will not apply to immigration detention facilities. However, CIVIC is concerned about the general trend in increased restrictions on visitors to any place of confinement.

We were told that the last day/time to submit comments was yesterday at 5pm, but advocates only found out about this new policy yesterday or today. You can still send a message that you oppose this policy. Click here for more information:

Corrections officials said the emergency regulations will take effect in mid-October, but they will then be subject to 160 days of public comment before they become permanent. Read more here:

Success in advoacting for the release of a mother from detention

Yanelly, Jovita’s daughter and Fran Montgomery, Detention Dialouges visitor and advoacate.

Last week, Jovita Landa Mota, a mother and grandmother who has lived in the United States for seventeen years was released from immigration detention after three years of imprisonment. Jovita was detained for fourteen months by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, California. Meanwhile her five U.S. citizen children and grandchildren suffered the trauma of losing thier mother. Fran Montgomery, a volunteer with Detention Dialogues and CIVIC, visited Jovita on Friday’s for the past year and suggested that her case would benefit from a public campaign.

Reverand Deborah Lee with the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights took the lead and organized community members to visit the San Francisco Immigration Courthouse at 630 Sansome Street. About 30 community members attended this action, including Jovita’s attorney and requested to speak with the ICE deportation officer in charge of Jovita’s case. The ICE officer promised to review the case and consider Jovita’s community ties and support. After the first action, we never heard any news back from ICE after repeated attempts to contact them. We organized a follow up action to call for Jovita’s release. The press conference/rally was merged with the breaking of a 5 day fast undertaken by 11 students in solidarity with migrant children at the border. The fasters extended their solidarity to call for Jovita’s release. Yanelly, Jovita’s 19 year old dauhter who has been the primary caretaker for her younger siblings, traveled 10 hours to attend the rally along with her younger brother. She spoke of the pain of being separated from her mother. She also spoke of the hope she felt from the support of strangers helping her to advocate for her mother’s release.

Jovita has been released from immigration detention and united with her family. Unlike many others released from detention, Jovita is not required to wear an ankle monitoring bracelet while her application for a U-Visa, a special visa for survivors of domestic violence. proceeds. The decision to release Jovita was made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who have broad powers of discretion and may release individuals from detention, even when immigration law states that a person must be manditorily detained without the ability to request bond and release from an immigration judge.

Please be in touch with Christina Mansfield of CIVIC ( if any readers are interested in how to initiate similar advocacy efforts in your community. ICE will not use their power of prosecutiorial discretion without sustained community pressure. Also, I want to extend a special thanks to Fran Montgomery, Suzanne Llewellyn, Rev. Deborah Lee, and all of the community members who tirelessly advocated for Jovita’s release, including collecting 300 signiatures on a petition.

CIVIC Presents Congressional Testimony

Today, we will be presenting testimony on the immigration detention system at a Congressional Hearing hosted by Congressman Joe Garcia and Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida. The testimony will be introduced as part of the Congressional Record at a Sub-Committee on Immigration.

The main complaints CIVIC and visitor volunteers receive from people in immigration detention across the country concern one of the following: prolonged detention, physical abuse, sexual harassment, medical abuse/neglect, arbitrary or overuse of solitary confinement, lack of access to legal representation or to the law library, visitation problems, exorbitant phone call prices, frequent transfers, religious freedom violations, food/nutrition issues, hygiene/detention cleanliness, and unsafe releases. Our testimony provides an overview of each of these complaints.

For media inquiries, please email

Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church Helped Make It Happen

By Rev. Hannah Petrie

Back in early May, church member Joe Pardee set up a lobbying visit to speak to US Congresswoman Judy Chu, about the egregious conditions at Adelanto Detention Center near San Bernardino.  Along with myself, another church member Guy Tower, and our friend Carlos Hidalgo, a former detainee at Adelanto, we laid out our case to Rep. Chu that something needed to be done about the lack of medical care, food available, and legal help.  We pointed out that in order to keep up with the 34,000 bed-filled quota passed by congress in 2006, ICE was actually returning immigrants who were self-deporting from the border, taking them back to facilities such as Adelanto, and holding them for up to an additional six months, just so companies like GEO can count on their revenues, and cities like Adelanto can benefit from job creation.

That fact (at the time, covered in a recent story by NPR) disgusted Rep. Chu.  But what really moved her was Carlos’ story.   I suggested her aides visit the facility, but she said she thought she better visit the facility herself.   And she did!  

This past Monday, on her birthday, she flew from Washington D.C. and visited the facility with her aide.  A vigil/protest kicking off the Defund Detention in Adelanto Campaign (led by CIVIC, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement) was outside the facility, including members of our church.

Of course, GEO cleaned up their act for her visit, but we’re urging the congresswoman to not be fooled.  She is requesting abuse records and copies of inspections carried out by the Office for Detention Oversight.  It was covered by three news outlets: the LA Times, NBC news, and Spanish language newspaper, Unidos.

The coverage certainly highlights the so-called economic benefits to creating jobs for depressed economies like Adelanto.  I wonder how long it will take before we as a nation see the deeply morally flawed thinking in creating jobs by creating a criminal underclass, be they immigrants, the mentally and addictively ill, the poor.  This job creation (that you the taxpayer funds, by the way) destroys families, destroys lives, and destroys the moral integrity of our country.

Reforms are afoot, though, and organizations like CIVIC and faith groups such as ourselves are leading the way.  Neighborhood UU Church helped get this ball rolling, and the fight is far from over.  It’s times like these I remind myself of my favorite UU quotation from 19th century Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, “The moral arc of the
universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Become a Visitor Volunteer in Florida!

The Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD) will be hosting an Immigration Detention Awareness and Visitor Orientation Program. This two hour session, hosted by our visitor volunteers will give attendees an overview of immigration detention in the United States as well as the knowledge and skills necessary to become a visitor volunteer at the Krome Service Processing Center.

Date: Sunday, June 29th
Time: 1-3 PM
Place: Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami
7701 SW 76th Ave
Miami, FL 33143

Reservations are not required, but an RSVP by filling out this form would be appreciated:

Adelanto Slated to be Largest U.S. Immigration Detention Facility

The Adelanto Detention Center in California is expanding.  The facility is operated by GEO Group and currently detains on any given day 1300 men for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The expansion will include an extra 640 beds for people in the custody of ICE, including for women. By the end of the project, there will be 1940 beds in Adelanto, making it the largest immigration detention facility in the country.  ICE and GEO plan to have the expansion complete by next summer.  To learn more about this expansion and what it means for the community, email Christina at