Every week, volunteers from Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD) take the long ride out west to the Krome Service Processing Center (better known as the Krome Detention Center) to spend time with some of the hundreds of immigrants confined there. The visitors, coming from diverse backgrounds and communities throughout South Florida, are hoping to expand the program this year by increasing visits and phone communication.
While some faith groups perform services at Krome, FOMDD is the only organization whose members simply go listen to the men detained there. They have made over 800 visits since the program’s inception in 2014. The visitations are sponsored by the Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Miami and affiliated with Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants In Confinement (CIVIC), a national detainee advocacy organization.
“The idea of these programs is to end the isolation . . . of people in immigration detention through community visitation,” states Christina Fialho, co-founder and Executive Director of CIVIC. “Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees is offering a much-needed connection to the outside world for people detained at Krome.”
FOMDD is trying to bring humane relief to a vulnerable population that is experiencing the consequences of a broader problem. The United States maintains the largest immigration detention infrastructure in the world: its detention system holds hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year, some of them for long periods of time. Without a right to a free attorney or phone calls home, people have little connection to the outside to share their experience, connect with their families or report possible abuses.
The FOMDD program offers two types of volunteering opportunities: people can become hotline advocates or visitor volunteers at the Krome Detention Center. Answering the hotline is a very flexible way to help; it can be done from home according to your schedule.
Members of FOMDD volunteer for many reasons. According to Bud Conlin of Key Largo, coordinator of the group, “We visit to let the men in confinement know they are not alone, that people outside know and care about them. We work to end their isolation and inform the community of their situation.” Linda Guerrera of Port St. Lucie is thankful for the opportunity “to show people kindness, humanity and love in a time during their lives when they find themselves in a veritable emotional desert.”
Lidia Moore of Miami, one of the earliest visitors, has seen that “locking people up because they are immigrants is destroying lives and families.” “Some of the detainees have no relatives near here,” says Barbara Woshinsky of Miami, “or else they don’t want their mothers, wives or children to see them from behind a glass wall, where they can’t touch them. Listening to their stories can be draining, but the men are so grateful. It is very humbling.”
For Bill Turner of Miami, it is a question of justice. “People are being criminalized and incarcerated, losing their civil and human rights.” He wants the detainees to know that he is sympathetic to their situation and supports our immigration policies being changed.
Every week, the visitors hear gripping stories (names and identifying details have been changed to preserve privacy). Carlos, an electrician from Colombia, wound up in Krome after a wrongful arrest. Released on bail, he was brought back there two years later. He has lived in this country for 20 years and has a wife and two children who are citizens. He is appealing his deportation decree.
Occasionally there is a happy outcome. Hamid, a Middle Eastern asylum seeker, was released recently from Krome detention. He had seen nothing of America outside its detention centers since he was arrested at the border 15 months ago. He has a daughter back home who was born after he fled his country.
The FOMDD program has come a long way in a few short years. “It was a challenge getting permission to visit,” says Conlin. “With the help of (the national visitation program) CIVIC, in 2013 we were able to file a formal application to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”
In a letter supporting its application to ICE, former Florida Congressman Joe Garcia wrote: “This group of dedicated individuals desires to end the isolation of those being held in immigration confinement. It is my hope that this initiative will bring aid and comfort to those in detention while work continues on immigration reform.”
The FOMDD proposal was formally accepted in August 2013, but volunteers did not receive permission to visit until February 2014. Two months later, with the support of Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Church of Texas, FOMDD started a telephone hotline that has reached thousands of detainees, some of whom cannot afford the 12 cents per minute it costs for a local call.
To receive more information about FOMDD or to join their Visitor or Hotline Advocate programs, please visit their website at http://www.endisolation.org/
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