On Monday, ministers, professors, and convention participants toured a local detention facility for undocumented immigrants and visited a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to detainees.
The Florence Detention Center holds 1500 undocumented immigrants. Detainees range from those recently captured while crossing the Mexico-U.S. border to those who have lived in the U.S. for decades. The facility is part of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and is one of nine prisons in Florence.
Tina Schlabach, a community minister in Tucson, Arizona, planned the tour with the hope that participants would be made aware of how immigrant detention centers impact the lives of undocumented immigrants. “I think the detention centers are very invisible,” she said.
The group toured sections of the facility, including the recreation area and the cafeteria, and walked past detainees before leaving the prison. Matthew Yoder, a minister at Menno Mennonite Church in Washington, attended the tour to deepen his understanding of the immigration controversy. “This is really important to think about as Christians,” he said.
The group then visited the Florence Project, an organization which assists detainees facing deportation or separation from their families. The nonprofit organization educates detainees about the deportation process with weekly seminars held at the detention center. Eighty percent of detainees do not have attorneys and must defend themselves, according to Dorien Ediger-Seto, development and outreach coordinator for the Florence Project. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough resources to defend everybody,” she said.
Many detainees are not sentenced for a specific period of incarceration and the length of their detainment is uncertain. “In detention, there’s no end…you might be there for two weeks, you might be there for two years,” EdigerSeto said. She also stated that outside contact can help alleviate severe loneliness. “It’s very isolating to be in detention,” she said and noted that letters to detainees help lift their moods.
According to Mennonite Central Committee, eleven million undocumented immigrants currently reside in the United States. Of those, over half of them have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade.
More information about the Florence Project is accessible online at www.firrp.org. –Chay Reigle