What Can I Do? (Part 3)

Demand Political Action to End Child and Family Detention


This is the third of four posts providing in depth suggestions on how to help address the immigration and refugee crisis at the southern border of the United States.

The Family Separation Policy and the current Zero-Tolerance Enforcement Policy are shining a light on an extensive and inhumane system of immigration detention. Family and child detention has been an ongoing strategy to deter refugees from seeking asylum in the US since long before the current separation policy was enacted. And, all indications suggest that the government has every intention of continuing and increasing child and family detentions, including seeking legal authority to detain children and families indefinitely.

The abuse and inhumane conditions of private, for-profit immigration detention centers is well-documented. Alternatives to detention have proven effective and far more cost-effective. Without sustained political action by citizens, this system will only expand.

So, what can you do to put an end to child and family detention? How can ordinary citizens demand political action to end child and family detention? Here’s a list of ideas and organizations that will help you raise your voice.

‍‍What can you do to help families being separated and detained at the border? Support legal defense, provide humanitarian aid, demand political action, and educate yourself and others on the bigger, systemic issues.

Contact Government Officials

Calls, email, and write elected and appointed officials. Apps like ResistBot make it easy, but whatever your choice of media, voice your concerns and demand a commitment to action. Let them know that their response today will determine your vote in November.

And, don’t just limit yourself to members of congress. Contact agency officials, write to the White House, and remember the power of state and local officials to push back on federal immigration detention and inhumane enforcement. Governors, mayors, city council members, government contract managers can use their offices to resist, refuse, and demand action at the federal level.

Tips & Resources: The ACLU provides some great general tips for writing to representatives. The Detention Watch Network has an informative fact sheet and talking points on family detention that can help you figure out what to say. It’s a few years old, so make sure you update your numbers to reflect the current state of affairs. And in 2016 a former congressional staffer wrote an enlightening series of tweets on how to make sure your message gets heard.

But most of all, remember, it’s campaign season! If your elected officials aren’t responding to your demands, find someone who is and volunteer to help get them elected!

Educate and Organize in your Community

Online activism gets its fair share of criticism, but the truth is that you have a lot of influence over your real friends and family whether you’re connecting with them over family dinner or on social media. Share informative articles, voice your concerns, and invite people to take action.

Take your conversations from social media or the kitchen table and transform it into action. Get a group of friends together to have a letter writing party or volunteer with a local immigrant rights or humanitarian aid organization. Engagement lead people to educate themselves on the issues and begin to feel pulled towards taking action themselves.

Follow folks like Torchlight Legal Communications, the Detention Watch Network, and the Immigrant Advocates Network on social media for news and resources you can share and for ideas on how to get involved locally.

Participate in Big and Small Collective Actions

Showing up in person matters. Right now, groups are oranizaing major rallies in the nation’s capital along with hundreds of local events in opposition to family separation and child and family detention. Pull out your poster board and sharpies and show up!

Don’t forget that real change takes sustained, localized action. Marching on the national mall is a powerful symbol, but so is standing outside a detention center a few miles from your hometown and raising your voice alongside a group of incarcerated mothers. Local activists are staging demonstrations at detention centers, outside local government offices, and in front of immigration courts and ICE offices.

Get connected, get trained, and get moving! Here’s a list of organizations organizing and advocating for political change that you can connect with and support.

My Top Five

Detention Watch Network (DWN) (Washington, DC) - The Detention Watch Network (DWN) challenges America's growing immigration detention complex by documenting the human rights violations perpetrated by the US immigration detention and deportation apparatus. DWN champions the cause of human rights for all people regardless of immigration status.

Mijente - Mijente is building with others who are pro-Black, pro-queer, pro-woman, pro-poor to advocate for immigrants’ and refugee rights and other social justice issues affecting the latinx community. Their website hosts petitions and provides tools for local organizing efforts.

National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) - The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is working tirelessly to maintain the human rights of many of domestic workers. Toward this end, the NDWA has contributed workshops, legal advocacy, coalitions at all levels of government, and pushed for a cultural shift that will acknowledge the true worth of one of America's most historically undervalued occupations.

United We Dream (UWD) - United We Dream (UWD) is the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country and empowers people to develop their leadership, their organizing skills, and their own local, state, and national campaigns to fight for justice and dignity for immigrants and all people.

We Belong Together - We Belong Together is a women-led organization for common sense immigration policies. WBT is an initiative of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, and others, to bring attention to the ways in which unjust immigration laws affect women, children and families.

The Big List

ALDEA - The People's Justice Center (Reading, PA) - ALDEA - The People's Justice Center serves families detained in Berks Detention Center in PA. This organization is completely run by volunteer attorneys who have other full time jobs. The mission of Aldea is to provide a holistic approach to meeting the multi-faceted needs of our immigrant community members, including through legal, social, educational, and medical services.

Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) (New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Oakland, CA; Atlanta, GA; Miami, FL) - The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI) educates and engages African American and black immigrant communities to organize and advocate for racial, social and economic justice.

Border Action Network (Tucson, AZ) - Border Action Network is a human rights community organization based in Arizona. They strive to build capacity on-the-ground and develop leadership within immigrant and border communities. They carry local lessons from the border directly to policymakers at a state and national level.

Border Angels (San Diego, CA) - Border Angels advocates for human rights, humane immigration reform, and social justice with a special focus on issues related to issues related to the US-Mexican border, provides immigration legal services in San Diego, and offers community education and awareness programs.

Border Community Alliance (Tubac, AZ) - The Border Community Alliance offers access to the rich heritage and great potential synergy to be found in the Arizona and Sonoran borderlands. Activities include education, research, cultural exchange, leadership development and advocacy for social welfare in partnership with FESAC (Fundacion del Empresario Sonorense, A.C.), a Sonoran non-governmental organization.

Central Ohio Worker Center (COWC) (Columbus, Ohio) - The goal of the Central Ohio Worker Center (COWC) is to create a coalition with immigrants and workers in Central Ohio to advance the rights of both groups as well as foster a culture of interdependence in support of more effective be able to bargaining for better wages, benefits, workplace protections, respect, and dignity.

Centro Legal de la Raza (Oakland, CA; Hayward, CA; San Francisco, CA) - Centro Legal de la Raza is a robust legal services agency defending the rights of immigrant, low income, and Latino communities using a three-pronged approach that combines education, advocacy, and legal services.

Define American (New York, NY; San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles, CA) - Define American seeks to use media to challenge outdated conceptions of US citizenship and provides a more inclusive and humane model of US identity by joining forces with Hollywood influencers and flexing the muscles of its powerful communications team.

Derechos Humanos (Tucson, AZ) - Derechos Humanos is a grassroots organization promoting the human and civil rights of all migrants regardless of their immigration status. They fight the militarization of the southern border and combat the discrimination and human rights abuses of citizens and non-citizens alike.

Fuerza Del Valle (Alamo, TX) Fuerza Del Valle organizing workers & immigrant communities in the Rio Grande Valley

FWD.US (San Francisco, CA; Washington D.C.) - FWD.US is dedicated to fixing America's broken immigration system through a grassroots movement dedicated to legislative reform. FWD has local chapters in cities across America, helps match you with your legislatures, and provides scripts to make your phone calls less daunting.

Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) (Chicago, IL) - Heartland Alliance's National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) provides policy advocacy, litigation, and public education in service of protecting the human rights of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers and coordinates pro bono legal representation.

Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) - The Immigration Advocates Network (IAN) hopes to streamline the efforts of those who defend the human rights of immigrants. This is done by facilitating discourse, collaboration, and services across different organizations that help immigrants in the US using free tools and resources that are found on the IAN website. IAN's website is a resource-rich destination for anyone interested in immigration policy reform.

Immigration for All (Austin, TX) - Immigration for All is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. exclusively dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants.

Kino Border Initiative (Nogales, AZ) The Kino Border Initiative provides aid such as meals, clothing and traveler assistance, educates the larger community, assists with political action, and gathers data about migration on both sides of the border.

La Union del Pueblo Entero (San Juan, Alton, Mercedes, San Benito, TX) - La Union del Pueblo Entero, founded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, is a community union that works in the Rio Grande Valley from the grassroots up.

Make the Road NY (MTR) (Brooklyn, NY) - Make the Road NY (MTR) provides legal and survival services, educates to empower community members, leads community organizing to tackle the systemic nature of discrimination, and issues policy prescriptions that provide the restorative justice necessary for lasting change.

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) (Boston, MA) - Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) has over 130 organization partners fighting for immigrant rights and integration in New England and  advocates fiercely for progressive policies at all levels of government.

Mi Familia Vota (Phoenix, AZ) - Mi Familia Vota Education Fund (MFVEF) is a national non-profit organization working in six states to unite the Latino community and its allies to promote social and economic justice through increased civic participation.

Mijente - Mijente is building with others who are pro-Black, pro-queer, pro-woman, pro-poor to advocate for immigrants’ and refugee rights and other social justice issues affecting the latinx community. Their website hosts petitions and provides tools for local organizing efforts.

Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) (Minneapolis, MN) - The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) is dedicated to organizing the immigrant population and its allies to defend the human rights of all. MIRAC provides "Know Your Rights" training and is campaigning to make Minneapolis into a Sanctuary City, ensuring free legal representation for all immigrants detained by ICE, providing municipal IDs, and surveying Minneapolis data collection practices so that ICE has access to little information as possible.

National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities (CNLD) - National Coalition for Latinxs with Disabilities (CNLD) was formed in 2016 to provide a space where the intersection of LatinX and Disabled can physically meet just as they do when embodied in the lives of Disabled Latinxs. The organization provides scholarship, community, resources, and advocacy for Latinxs with disabilities.

National Immigration Law Center (NILC) (Los Angeles, CA; Berkley, CA; Washington, DC) - The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) champions the rights of low-income immigrants to flourish and succeed in the United States through a combination of litigation, pushing for policy changes, and messaging.

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) - The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) has been working with diverse immigrant and refugee communities since 1986 to secure human rights for all people. Advocating, building coalitions with other organizations that help immigrants, providing safe spaces and education, and organizing in defense of immigrants are just some of the actions NNIRR has taken in pursuit of protecting the human rights of all immigrants, regardless of their immigration status.

New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) (New Jersey) - The New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ) is a coalition of organizations that help immigrants (both documented and those seeking status) achieve economic, political, and social security in New Jersey and advocates for immigrant-friendly policies. The NJAIJ website is an information portal designed to connect immigrants to the services they need.

New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) (New York, NY) - The New Sanctuary Coalition (NSC) is an immigrant-led alliance seeking to dismantle the inhumane immigrant deportation and detention apparatus in America. The NSC has built a large accompaniment program that entails attending ICE check-ins and court hearings with immigrants which provides witnesses, emotional support, and demonstrates communities ties.They provide a immigration defense clinic, pro bono legal services, and a bond fund.

No More Deaths (Tucson, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Flagstaff, AZ; Ajo, AZ; Arivaca, AZ; Denver, CO) - No More Deaths is a humanitarian organization based in southern Arizona dedicated to stepping up efforts to stop the deaths of migrants in the desert and to achieving the enactment of a set of faith-based principles of immigration reform.

North Texas Dream Team (NTDT) (Dallas, TX) - The North Texas Dream Team (NTDT) works with congressional and lawyer contacts to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have done nothing to merit deportation. Through social media, press conferences, and other media outlets, awareness is cultivated of particular cases so that communities can come together in opposition to an individual's deportation and connect individuals with qualified lawyers.

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (Seattle, WA) The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is defending the rights of immigrants through legal services, policy advocacy, and community education.

Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) (Chicago, IL) Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) is an undocumented-led group that organizes against deportations, detention, criminalization, and incarceration, of Black, brown, and immigrant communities in Chicago and surrounding areas.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras (San Diego, CA) - Pueblo Sin Fronteras is a collective of friends who decided to be in permanent solidarity with displaced peoples and provides humanitarian aid to migrants and refugees.

Puente Arizona (Phoenix, AZ) - Puente Movement is a grassroots movement dedicated to protecting the human rights of migrants. This is accomplished by strengthening migrant communities through development and education.

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (Westminster, CO) The Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) provides legal representation to immigrant children and their families who have been victims of abuse, neglect, abandonment, trafficking, and violence. They work with those detained in Aurora, Colorado, promote knowledge of legal rights, provide effective representation to ensure due process, work to improve detention conditions, and promote a more humane immigration system, including alternatives to detention.

Santa Fe Dreamers Project (Santa Fe, NM) - The Santa Fe Dreamers Project provides pro bono representation to detainees including trans women detainees who are all sent to a single detention center in New Mexico. The Dreamers Project primarily services immigrant youth and families, focusing on economic and community development and is committed to representing every qualified immigrant.

Services Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) (San Jose, CA) Services Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN) provides community education and organizing, leadership training, policy advocacy, and legal services to low-income immigrants and refugees.

Sierra Club Borderlands (Oakland, CA; Washington, DC) - Part of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Borderlands group takes a strong stance against border policies that cause environmental degradation and advocates for real solutions, such as comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, that address the root causes of complex border problems.

Southern Border Communities Coalition - The Southern Border Communities Coalition (SBCC) brings together 60 organizations from San Diego, CA to Brownsville, TX, to ensure that border enforcement policies and practices are accountable and fair, respect human dignity and human rights, and prevent the loss of life in the region.

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) (Nashville, TN) - The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC)  empowers immigrants and refugees in Tennessee and seeks to create an environment in the state that guarantees their rights as members of American society.

Texas Civil Rights Project (Austin, TX) - The Texas Civil Rights Project supplies lawyers who speak Spanish and native Central American languages to migrants on trial in Texas.

Texas Organizing Project (TOP) (Texas) - The Texas Organizing Project (TOP) brings together black and Latino communities across Dallas, Harris and Bexar counties to advance their rights within a state plagued by systemic discrimination. In the arena of immigration reform, TOP conducts direct action organizing, grassroots lobbying and electoral organizing led by working families in Texas.

Women’s Refugee Commission (New York, NY) - The Women’s Refugee Commission is advocating for the rights and protection of women, children, and youth fleeing violence and persecution. WRC researches their needs, identifies solutions and advocates for programs and policies to strengthen their resilience and drive change in humanitarian practice.

Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights (Chicago, IL) - The Young Center is a human rights organization that advocates for the rights and best interests of unaccompanied immigrant children. Young Center attorneys and social workers, along with volunteer child advocates, support children from custody and release to the ultimate decision about whether the child will be allowed to remain in the U.S. They advocate for change in immigration policy and practice so that immigrant children are recognized first as children and their best interests are considered in every decision.

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TorchLight Legal Communications is launching a series of articles and media resources to provide clear, understandable information about what is happening at our southern border today, what it means for civil liberties, and what we can do. There will be resources for refugees and other immigrants, U.S.-based allies, and those seeking to become allies.

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