ONE PERSON, ONE FAMILY.

Our mission is simple, to help one family currently detained and awaiting an immigration court hearing.

#onefamily at a time.

Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) has partnered with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southwest Immigration Freedom Initiative (SIFI) to send legal support to the Folkston Ice Processing Center in Georgia. LSF’s attorneys will leave on Sunday February 3 for a week-long stay with the goal to provide pro bono legal representation and support to immigrants currently detained.  

As licensed attorneys, the team will be able to provide hands on representation to individuals facing bond hearing, deportation proceedings and credible fear interviews.   

“As an organization with a long history of helping immigrants and refugees, we believe families and children in dire situations need protection and opportunity,” said Matt Rosen, Vice President and General Counsel of LSF. “If we can help one family become stronger through our work with SIFI, then we have helped fulfill the mission our organization was founded on.”  

Want to get involved?

My Experience Working In An ICE Detention Center

By Robert Haley, LSF Associate General Counsel.

On the surface, it is not controversial to state that there is a crisis plaguing our immigration system. What is controversial is attempting to define the crisis itself.  For some, the crisis is a lack of compassion and a call to recognize humanitarian concerns in the face of global unrest. For others, the crisis is a threat to American sovereignty and security. These interpretations elicit so much passion and debate that our government was forced to shut down for the longest period in American history and a national emergency has been declared.

Historically, this is not the first time we have faced this divide. My organization, Lutheran Services Florida (LSF) is an organization that developed from immigration crises of the past, and refugee services is sewn into the fabric of our organization’s mission, vision, and values. These services were provided despite the political winds of the past.

In the spirit of LSF’s mission, I consciously made the decision to enter this week as a helping hand and independent observer. The idea was to be of service and bear witness without injecting political biases into the experience. As difficult as this was, it allowed me to focus on the humanity of the participants in this process. From the immigrants, attorneys, ICE officers, and prison guards, this experience opened my eyes to the human aspect of this system, which tends to be disregarded.

Our goal was to help at least one person, one family. This goal was simple, admirable, and seemed attainable. The truth is the goal was also a little naive. This experience has shown that the intersect between U.S. Immigration Laws and the quasi-judicial system created to administer these laws is excessively complicated, overwhelmed, and far removed from the typical American’s idea of judicial process.

Throughout the week I wrote down my observations in order to preserve impressions and thoughts about what we encountered. Some days were intensely emotional, others were frustrating and long. EACH DAY was meaningful.

The Arrival

February 4, 2019

<h3> The Arrival </h3>

Today is our first day working with the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI). I am filled with nervous energy but fully committed to immersing myself into this experience, whatever it may be.

The SIFI group we are assisting operates out of Folkston, Georgia, a charming small town just a few miles from the Florida/Georgia state line.  A converted house just outside the town’s hub serves as the center of operations for this SIFI section.

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The Process

February 5, 2019

<h3> The Process</h3>

Yesterday was emotional but affirmed the reason Matt and I decided to take this opportunity.  Today we have been assigned two potential clients to screen and provide a legal analysis of the case. Tuesday’s at the prison are ‘Master Calendar’ days, which are essentially a mix of status hearings, and some removal proceedings.

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The Frustrations

February 6, 2019

<h3> The Frustrations </h3>

I’ve been thinking a lot about how frustrating the process is for everyone involved including, the attorneys, immigrants, and ICE staff.  The system seems very foreign to me. The detention of immigrants is overseen and managed by ICE. Additionally, ICE serves as the ‘prosecutor’ for detainee immigration proceedings. But that’s not all, they are even the adjudicator in some situations, like Parole. Whew…that’s a lot of power and many roles to play for one agency.

 

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The Stories

February 7, 2019

<h3> The Stories </h3>

Matt (another LSF attorney) and I returned to the prison this evening to visit the detainee who had been in quarantine. We were instructed by the Captain to return at this time to see the client alone due to his quarantine status. When we arrived, the night shift workers did not have a record of us being told to come. After some discussion, they were accommodating and processed us through security to meet with the potential client.

This is his story.

 

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The Reflection

February 8, 2019

<h3> The Reflection </h3>

I had trouble sleeping last night and have been replaying the stories in my head. I am frustrated by the process and upset that we couldn’t do more for these people. I keep asking myself whether we have even come close to our goal of helping one person, one family. If we have, it wasn’t a very satisfying achievement because it’s just not enough. I really do believe that our work this week will lead to help for some of these individuals in one form or another, but they have a long, difficult, and uncertain road ahead.

 

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Our work

LSF REFUGEE & IMMIGRATION SERVICES

Through our refugee resettlement and immigration services, Lutheran Services Florida is privileged to be on the front lines of assisting refugees to their new homes and creating a welcoming environment to the immigrant communities that arrive at our doorstep seeking a brighter future.

our partnership

SOUTHEAST IMMIGRANT FREEDOM INITIATIVE (SIFI)

SIFI provides pro bono legal representation to detained immigrants at five immigrant detention centers in the Deep South and supports six others.

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