In April, after COVID-19 hit, the Florence Project launched a free telephone hotline for people in immigration detention in Arizona. Our team has been fielding calls on a daily basis from people in immigration detention, making sure that one of us is available to pick up the phone during designated hotline hours. Because of the pandemic, these calls are absolutely essential. Our legal hotline is critical, as we continue to provide legal services and connect with people in immigration detention during this crisis.
We never know what to expect when we pick up the phone. A lot of the calls we take are really difficult. People are dealing with trauma that they have experienced in their home countries, on their journeys to the United States, or from being separated from their loved ones, and they’re also living through a traumatizing experience, being detained in detention centers, which have become COVID-19 hotspots.
Many of the people who call have medical conditions and are even more concerned about becoming ill with COVID-19. Even for those who don’t have pre-existing medical conditions or who do not become infected with COVID-19, the experience is harrowing. We are hearing that people are locked up in their cells for longer periods of time during the pandemic, and it’s harder for them to make calls and send and receive mail. Active outbreaks mean that people are regularly being put into quarantine, and people are constantly fearful of becoming sick. Every time we pick up the phone, we hear details of the crushing reality of life in detention.
A lot of people who call the hotline express feeling lost and don’t understand why they are in immigration detention or what is happening with their cases, so our primary job is to try to answer their questions as well as possible. We try to help them however we can, with resources so they know their rights and can advocate for themselves, or refer them to a Florence Project attorney or our Pro Bono Team. The one thing that people always tell us is “thank you for hearing me out,” or “you guys at the Florence Project are the only ones we have to help us.”
The best feedback we get is when someone ends the call saying they have a better understanding of what is happening to them, and they feel better equipped to decide how to proceed with their case after talking to us.
Immigration detention can be extremely isolating and scary, especially with a contagious virus spreading uncontrolled. Some of the people we work with speak languages that no one else in the detention center speaks. We often think about how lonely it would be to be detained and not able to speak with anyone around you.
Your support makes this work possible. Thank you. As we look forward to 2021 with cautious optimism, we look to you to help us build a better immigration system, rooted in human dignity, equality, and justice.