SOLACE is a visitation program that comforts and supports persons held in immigration detention, tells their stories, and advocates for humane immigration policy. SOLACE offers a friendly visitor to end the isolation and affirm the dignity and worth of those who request a visit. Many people I've spoken to did not know we were back in as a presence at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. This is our 3rd life as SOLACE. We have to keep reinventing ourselves as we've been suspended three times. Two times because they changed the paperwork and agreements we needed to sign to enter the Detention Center? which would effectively have taken away our First Amendment rights. There were many visits to Congressional offices both times to find a way to get back in, as well as phone calls, and needed visits to pro bono attorneys. UURISE (Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education, Inc.) was one of the organizations we consulted with about this.
The second time this happened, it was much harder to get back in. Angela Fujii worked with Freedom for Immigrants and a team of us to consult and found a loophole in the National Detention Standards to allow us to get back in. We again never signed the revised paperwork that would effectively take away our First Amendment rights.
Despite the ongoing issues SOLACE is making a difference in the lives of immigrants at the detention center. I am, and was, a pen-pal letter writer with SOLACE to a person "F" from an African country, as he pled for help in coming up with his parole bond money. I worked with a woman from Washington State who had met him when she was volunteering in Tijuana. She got to know his particulars and knew he had a sponsor. We both worked to find a pro-bono lawyer and the intermediary was a volunteer from Freedom for Immigrants (https:/ / www.freedomforimmigrants.org/ ) - the national immigration justice detention network that binds all our loose-knit programs together.
We explained we could not come up with "F's" bond money but gave him resource information to connect with a lawyer. The American Bar Association`s Immigration Justice Project (https:/ / www.americanbar.org/ groups/ public_interest/ immigration/ projects_initiatives/ immigration-justice-project/ ) provided the argumentation. The Border Angels (https:/ / www.borderangels.org ) were willing to provide the first bail money of $5,000 to front the first bond. Then the bond got raised and an attorney was needed. I met "F" at the airport to provide him with a cell phone, and met the people with Minority Humanitarian Foundation (https:/ / www.minority humanitarianfoundation.com ), who worked with Miles for Migrants (miles4migrants.org) to get "F" the free miles to be connected with his sponsor.
People just do not have the funds they need to make their case, and lack so much to be able to get free, including the research needed to augment their case. Every day, people provide support, companionship, answer their phones if they give their number out, and provide bridge housing for overnights and research to help connect people like "F" with their loved one.
I worked with another man I'd known for a while as a letter writer and joined with another volunteer who was also writing him. He was helped for almost three years and now has a case before the 9th District Court in San Francisco. I'm grateful I'll be able to attend virtually to hear his case in November. Most of us do not do this volunteering alone, as it's so complicated and many times the person we're writing just disappears, gets released, or deported and we're left wondering what happened.
This is to let people know SOLACE is still alive as an organization, asmost in our congregation do not know that. We have monthly meetings as well as continuing education and community building. To become a pen-pal with a detainee or to learn more about SOLACE, contact Angela Fujii, Social Justice Ministry Team Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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