At the beginning of November, Sarah Jackson and a handful of volunteers started a visitation program at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colo. Jackson, the founder and director of Casa de Paz, or House of Peace, hospitality house in northeast Aurora says, “It’s been my plan to do this, and the visitation program is one of the best ways of getting the word out [about Casa de Paz] to families.”
- Sarah Jackson moved to Denver from Colorado Springs last fall. Her vision: to humanize the issue of immigration and help the families of detained immigrants re-connect. After meeting a sympathetic landlord earlier this year, Jackson soon began hosting the visiting family members of detainees in her two-bedroom apartment, which is located within site of the ICE facility. Jackson lives full-time at the apartment. She sleeps in one room, and visitors of detainees sleep in the other. A local Mennonite church helps pay the rent.
For its part, the ICE detention center is privately managed by the GEO Group, Inc., “the world’s leading provider of correctional detention,” according to its website. A 2010 article in The Nation, identified three other ICE field office detention facilities in Colorado.
“There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to do the visitation program,” Jackson says. “The first one is just to become a friend. Many of the people who are detained, the only conversations you have are with your lawyer or other detainees or the guards, so I just wanted to find a way to provide another link, an outside link to the world for the detainees…It can be a very isolating experience to be in detention, so the visitation program is just a way to provide companionship.
“The other part is to spread the word about the house. It’s not possible to promote the house within the detention center. The staff or the guards aren’t allowed to have any kind of associations with us. So, we just want the families of detainees to know that they are welcome to stay here.”
In the weeks since Sarah started the visitation program, Casa de Paz volunteers have already helped five kids from two families visit a detained parent. Jackson says, “We’ve been able to kind of be the middle man when a family has been separated. Let’s say a husband is detained and his wife is undocumented, but their kids are U.S. citizens. The wife can’t visit because she has no ID, so our volunteers step in and bring the kids so they can see their dad.”
Casa de Paz shares its contact information and vision openly. “That’s very intentional because I don’t want people to have fear of the home,” Jackson says. “Most of the people who visit the home are documented, because in order to visit a family member [at the ICE facility] you have to have an ID. So it’s not technically a safe house. All the families that have stayed here are documented.”
Fifteen volunteers provide meals at Casa de Paz, or help translate, and four volunteers visit detainees. Four more people expressed interest in volunteering with Casa de Paz after Jackson shared about her work at the recent Denver Faith & Justice Conference. Visitation training involves shadowing Jackson or another volunteer on a visit and a two-hour training. Most visits so far have been done in English, although certain detainees only speak Spanish or French or Chinese.
Correction: The above photo of the reunited family members was originally attributed to Casa de Paz. In fact, the photo was taken by Erika Hussein Blum.