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Sanctuary Or Shalom - Friends Afuera

The Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity coordinates two programs to walk alongside people targeted by the immigration system.  Several Or Shalom individuals or groups have started participating in one of them, Friends Afuera ("Friends Outside"), writing letters and providing commissary funds on a monthly basis to someone incarcerated in a detention center.

 

Everyone who has participated in this program has made a connection to the person they have corresponded with and has been moved, stretched, touched, and sometimes altered by the experience. If you would like to participate in Friends Afuera as an individual or as part of an Or Shalom group, or if you are interested in learning more about Interfaith Movement’s other accompaniment program, Nueva Esperanza, accompanying newly arrived immigrants, contact sanctuary@orshalom.org.

 

From Or Shalom Friends Afuera Correspondent Gloria Saltzman:

This is a strange time. We are sheltering at home, our social lives have been reduced to either virtual connections or outdoor small group gatherings with everyone wearing face masks. To me, it has felt that the federal government has come close to fascism for the first time in my adult life. 

With all this as the backdrop to life I am aware of how lucky I am to have shelter and food with some loved ones living close by. Also, I am aware of others who are not living with the comforts and care that I have. This awareness has led me to volunteer to begin a relationship with an ICE detainee. 

Once a month I put money into Ivan’s account. With this money he is able to buy stamps, food items, warm clothing, toiletries and some other items at the commissary of the detention center he is living in.  From the letters we exchange, I learn about his daily routines, his depression and his health. There have been several COVID outbreaks in the dormitory where he is being held. He has had the virus himself and the only treatment available to him was Tylenol. With each letter he opens up more and I begin to know him better. He is creative and figuring out how to make tiny replicas of motorcycles, trucks and shoes from the material some of the food he buys comes wrapped in. 

Although we may never meet each other, with each letter I receive, I feel more connected to him . My letters and my monthly donation will not help his requests for asylum, or improve his current living environment. But perhaps, our connection is a reminder of a shared humanity and a small dose of hope that can we can offer each other.

jose's story

Friends Afuera: Jose's Story

In February 2020, the Safety Net Action Committee SNAC) received our first letter from Jose, who had fled Guatemala in fear for his life, and had been at the Adelanto Detainment Center since November 2019.  In his first letter, he appealed to us for legal help to find sponsorship and to help him raise the $25,000 bond set by the court.

It was hard to tell Jose that our small group did not have the resources for this level of help, but we'd continue to deposit funds every month in his commissary account. We let him know that Friends Afuera was developing legal resources and making connections with bond-raising organizations. It wasn’t much to offer, but it was something. In his next letter, Jose thanked us for our support. He shared that the commissary deposits paid not only for personal items, but also for phone calls to family, friends, and to advocates.

That was in early March. Within several weeks, the COVID pandemic had a serious impact on detainment facilities, threatening safety and disrupting legal proceedings. Jose told us that safety precautions at Adelanto were almost non-existent. They did not improve until May, after fear about their health led detainees to stage a hunger strike.

Hearings were delayed or sometimes happened in absentia. Jose knew his hearing had occurred when he was informed by mail of his removal order. Despite this demoralizing news, he sought help from legal volunteers to file an appeal with the Board of Immigrant Affairs, and to notify the Guatemalan Consulate to stop deportation proceedings. He bought himself time until the next hearing, but he still needed a sponsor. 

In early September, we were elated to hear that Jose found a sponsor, an old friend from Guatemala who was now a U.S. resident in Arizona. Even with a sponsor, Jose needed to present evidence that he would not be a flight risk at his bond hearing.  He asked us for letters of support, saying he had no one else. It is a tall order to write letters for someone in continuous detention whose community ties were developed “long-distance” through correspondence. Nevertheless, we had to try.

SNAC went into action to become flight risk letter experts. It helped that Jose had an amazing ability to create relationships in letters.  He told us his story and then he asked for ours, “each and every one of you”. When the pandemic took hold and during weeks of civil unrest, he wrote to ask about our safety. We knew him as a caring and deeply moral person who deserved our strongest support. We sent letters to the court, addressed to Jose, in triplicate.

Against the odds, we hoped that our letters might have some impact. They did! On September 2, 2020, Jose had his bond hearing, supported by a pro bono attorney sent by his sponsor. Jose was not considered a flight risk – he wrote that our letters were ‘crucial” – and he received a reduced bond of $8,500.00.  His attorney found a phone number on the Or Shalom website for Corey Weinstein, and called him to ask for help with fundraising efforts. Under Corey’s coordination, our congregation donated a substantial amount; the Freedom for Immigrants National Bond Fund and the Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund made up the difference. Jose left Adelanto on October 6, joining his sponsor in Arizona where he can prepare his case and await his hearing.

We were overjoyed at Jose’s release from custody. All SNAC members played a part: writing and editing letters, contributing to commissary deposits, writing flight risk letters, and raising bond funds. It “took a village”, but ultimately, it was Jose who had the endurance and determination to move his case forward by finding legal volunteers, filing an appeal, locating a sponsor and finally, finding a pro bono attorney. We hope Jose's courage and resourcefulness will lead to success in his appeal for asylum.

Sat, October 23 2021 17 Cheshvan 5782