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First Immigration Detention Visitor Program Approved With Help from Bannan Grants

Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011

Detention Dialogues, a student-led group dedicated to building a culture of respect to address the growth in immigration detention, has recieved approval for the first immigration detention visitation program in California.

Santa Clara University School of Law student Christina Fialho co-founded the program after receiving a $5,000 Bannan Grant to pursue the work. .  

Fialho and her co-founder Christina Mansfield were driven by the fact that in 2010, close to 400,000 people were held in county jails and detention centers for violating a civil immigration law. Detained immigrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, include both individuals and families with young children. They can languish in detention for weeks, months, and sometimes years with limited access to the outside world.

Fialho says the mission of Detention Dialogues is to connect immigrants in detention to the outside world through visitation, while stimulating public awareness and meaningful dialogue about immigration detention, which costs  taxpayers approximately $45,000 per detainee per year for a total of $1.8 billion a year.

Visitation programs require permission from the detaining facility, and Detention Dialogues received approval last month from the West County Detention Facility (WCDF) and from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal department responsible for housing ICE detainees. The program will operate as an official service to detainees at WCDF, a program-oriented facility in Richmond, California.

WCDF is located in the Point Pinole area of Contra Costa County. The facility itself is a large coeducational adult medium-security prison, approximately 25 miles from San Francisco. Detainees are required to schedule their own visits. While no contact visits are allowed, Detention Dialogues visitors will be able to meet with detainees on any day of the week from behind windows in a large visitation room.

Detainees also will be able to call Detention Dialogues at no cost using a three-digit extension provided to Detention Dialogues through the ICE detainee pro bono telephone system.

"We hope our work will inspire dialogue on our responsibility as Americans to engage with the issue of immigration detention," said Mansfield. "Our goal is to enable all motivated actors -- including government, community members, nonprofits, academia, business, and philanthropy -- to leverage their own distinctive roles to address the growth in immigration detention."

Those wishing to become a visitor volunteer must attend two trainings, one with Detention Dialogues and the other with WCDF staff. The next training set will be in August, and Detention Dialogues will be accepting only a limited number of volunteers. To join Detention Dialogues, go to and click on "Become a Volunteer!"

Aug. 2, 2011

Tags: immigration, law school

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