Souls Offering Loving And Compassionate Ears
Interfaith Detention Center Visitation Project
In early 2011, the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego provided a course on Immigration as a Moral Issue as part of a Unitarian Universalist Association Study Action Issue. Among many things covered in the course, we learned that an increasing number of immigrants and asylum seekers are detained in facilities around the country, often moved away from family and friends, and left in isolation and desolation. Visiting those detained at our local immigrant detention facility appealed to the largest number of us as a follow up project to the course, so we proceeded to research local detention facilities and immigrant rights organizations to find a church or organization with a visitation project we could support.
After over a year of searching, we concluded that we would need to start a visitation project ourselves. In September 2012, First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego volunteers partnered with Episcopalians and other community members to begin visiting immigrants and asylum seekers detained at the Otay Detention Facility.
As part of SOLACE we offer a friendly visitor to end the isolation and affirm the dignity and worth of those we visit, not as lawyers, social workers, bankers, therapists, or missionaries.
We visit anyone who signs up on the SOLACE invitation ICE posts in the different pods housing those detained at Otay. ICE posted our invitation twice since the summer of 2012 resulting in a total of 165 men and women requesting visitors.
Starting with eight visitors in September 29, 2012, the number of SOLACE visitors has increased to 26, with half of them visiting at least twice a month. Most of the volunteers speak only English but find that they usually can communicate with those they visit. Visitors usually carpool to the facility, where they visit two persons each. Most of those we visit have no one who visits them.
Visiting asylum seekers and immigrants detained in an ICE or private prison is challenging and extremely rewarding. First and foremost is knowing that through our simple presence and friendly listening, we can ease the distress of another, someone isolated from loved ones, from family and work, from the shelter they expected when they came to our country seeking asylum from danger and torture in their home country.
It’s a transformative experience—we make contact with people and worlds we would never know. Although our visits are conducted via phone and window, we touch each other’s souls and both grow beyond the telling of it.