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

Amendment to Eliminate Bed Quota Offered!

CIVIC commends U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05)  for Fighting Immigrant Detention Abuse, Unconstitutional ICE Detainers and a Wasteful Detention Bed Mandate 

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) offered amendments to the FY2015 Homeland Security Appropriations bill to protect undocumented immigrants from abuse in detention centers, reject unconstitutional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers and end a mandated detention bed quota that wastes millions of dollars annually. 

Rep. Quigley’s first amendment would increase funding levels by $5.2 million for the implementation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) in immigration detention facilities. PREA sets a zero-tolerance standard for prison rape and sexual abuse and created guidelines to hold correctional facilities across the country accountable for protecting their inmates. The amendment diverts funding from ICE detainers, which federal courts have consistently held to be unconstitutional.

“The government has a moral responsibility to ensure the safety of any person under its charge. For too long we have allowed the pervasive and systematic abuse of detainees held in immigration detention facilities. This is especially true with regards to LGBT detainees. Increased funding for PREA implementation is a vital step towards ending this unconscionable miscarriage of justice,” said Rep. Quigley.

Rep. Quigley led the push for a GAO investigation that identified problems at detention facilities around the country and questioned the adequacy of investigations into allegations of sexual assault and abuse. Following the report’s release, Rep. Quigley organized a bipartisan group of Members of Congress that called on the Obama Administration to put strong regulations in place to better prevent abuse and assault of detainees.

Rep. Quigley’s second amendment, which received bipartisan support, would remove a requirement from the appropriations bill that mandates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to maintain a 34,000 bed quota in detention facilities.

“Immigration custody decisions should be made on an individualized basis following a calculus of flight risk, risk to public safety and relevant humanitarian considerations – not an arbitrary bed quota that wastes millions of dollars each year. Removing this mandate will provide DHS the flexibility to fund smarter and more efficient alternatives to detention that reduce the unnecessary separation of families and save American taxpayers money,” said Rep. Quigley.

The U.S. spends more than $5 million a day to detain immigrants, an estimated 45 percent of which have no criminal record according the Human Rights Watch. That equates to roughly $164 per day per detainee and roughly $2 billion per year. Utilizing more cost-effective and secure alternatives could cost as little as 30 cents to $14 per day.

Rep. Quigley has been a staunch advocate of comprehensive immigration reform and humane detention policies throughout his time in Congress. He has pushed Congress to pass a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants and fix America’s broken immigration system that unnecessarily tears families apart, disrupts the workforce and drains economic resources.


What is the Criminal Alien Requirement?

Report Shows Federal Bureau of Prisons Incentivizes Mistreatment, Shields Immigrant Prisons from Scrutiny

Today the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas released the report Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison Industry, a devastating look into the secretive “Criminal Alien Requirement” or “CAR” prisons for immigrants. In a four-year investigation of five CAR prisons in Texas, our researchers found pervasive and disturbing patterns of neglect and abuse of the prisoners–all non-citizens, most of whom have been convicted only of immigration offenses (such as unlawfully reentering the country).

“At the CAR prisons we investigated, the prisoners lived day to day not knowing if their basic human needs would be met, whether they would get medical attention if they were hurt or ill,” said Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The Bureau of Prisons creates perverse incentives for the for-profit prison companies to endanger human health and lives.”

In total, the 13 CAR prisons across the country hold more than 25,000 immigrants. Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, noted, “Every year we lock away tens of thousands of immigrants simply for unlawfully crossing the border. Why waste hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars on inhumane prisons when we could use civil proceedings to process these cases? The CAR prisons come with a moral and economic price tag we can’t afford.”

The report details the relationship between each of the three companies that run them–CCA, GEO Group, and MTC–and the federal Bureau of Prisons, including the ways that the Bureau and the companies work together to cover up the prisons’ conditions.

“Ten percent of the bed space in CAR prisons is contractually reserved for extreme isolation–nearly double the rate of isolation in normal federal prisons. I spoke to prisoners who spent weeks in isolation cells after being sent there upon intake–simply arriving at prison was the reason why they were locked in a cell and fed through a slot for 23 hours a day,” said Takei. “The shameful conditions inside CAR prisons are a direct result of the government’s decision to allow suffering inside these for-profit prisons.”

In Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison Industry, the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas tell the stories of prisoners who have been torn from their families by the extreme distances (often 1,000 miles or more) between a CAR prison and a prisoner’s hometown and by the high phone rates the private prison companies charge for phone calls.

Among its recommendations to the federal government, the report calls on the Bureau of Prisons to strengthen oversight of CAR prisons, end the use of contractually binding occupancy quotas for CAR prisons, and stop spending taxpayer money to shield basic information about private prisons from public disclosure. It also urges the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to return immigration enforcement to civil immigration authorities.

The report is available here:

Published on American Civil Liberties Union (

Source URL:

AB 1876 Passes California State Assembly!

The group photo is with California State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan and a delegation that includes several CIVIC volunteers.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered in Sacramento, California, on May 19th to lobby for AB 1876.  The following Friday, May 23rd, AB 1876 passed the California State Assembly! Now on to the Senate.  

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the bill, it will reduce the cost of phone calls for people detained and imprisoned across California by eliminating the abililty of phone companies and sheriff’s departments to profit from charging families exorbitant rates. 
This recent article in the nation provides a great background on the issue AB 1876 seeks to address:
Congratulations everyone and thank you for all of your support!

One Step Closer to More Affordable Phone Rates!

CIVIC has some very exciting news to share! AB 1876, the bill CIVIC is co-sponsoring to reduce the cost of phone calls for people imprisoned across California, passed through the Local Government Committee of the California Assembly today.

Among those who testified were Assemblymember Bill Quirk (the author of the bill), CIVIC’s Christina Mansfield, Gabriel Castanona (the directly affected husband of a woman who was detained) and Jennifer Kim (with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights). The California Immigrant Policy Center and the Friends Committee on Legislation of California were also present and voiced their support as co-sponsors, along with several other organizations including CURB (Californians United for a Responsible Budget), the California Catholic Conference, and many others.

In terms of votes, we received 7 votes in support of the bill and we only needed 5 to pass it out of the Committee. In terms of the makeup of those votes, we received the support of 4 Democrat members and 3 Republican members!

We want to thank everyone who has supported this initiative so far. The next step is a vote on the Assembly floor that will likely take place during the week of May 19th. For more information, email Christina at