Across the country, there have been cases of immigrants being detained after going for routine check-ins at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices. In some cities, a successful tool to protect against this threat to due process has been to organize volunteer groups to accompany individuals to these check-ins. Continue reading to learn more about the general accompaniment movement and the way that IFCLA has committed to the goals of accompaniment.
What is accompaniment?
For IFCLA, accompaniment is both a mindset and a ministry. We believe the goal of accompaniment is to walk alongside someone in their journey, acknowledging mutuality in the struggle for justice. In day-to-day practice, this looks like the Accompaniment Project: being present with immigrants when they present themselves for check-ins at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office or the office of BI Incorporated, a subsidiary of the GEO Group, the private contractor who administers ICE's Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). Many people in the ISAP program are forced to wear ankle monitors, and IFCLA’s accompaniment project has recently dedicated itself to furthering efforts to have these ankle monitors removed through direct petition to ICE.
Why does IFCLA coordinate accompaniment efforts?
By volunteering to accompany migrants to immigration check-ins, we are able to show solidarity and offer comfort and company to help ease some of the anxiety of interacting with the legal system. Volunteers’ presence is also effective in reducing the likelihood of maltreatment or even detention, as non-immigrant presence often serves as an accountability measure for ICE and ISAP offices. In the least fortunate scenarios, accompaniment involves the necessary practice of keeping relatives and/or lawyers informed in case the individual is detained.
How is accompaniment useful?
Accompanying individuals to immigration check-ins can be helpful in various ways. First, our non-anxious presence serves as an act of welcoming and support to the compas (an inclusive term for the individuals we are honored to accompany, from the Spanish root "compañeros," or companion) during an often traumatic time; we are humbled to walk with the compas in this experience and together demonstrate that no one stands alone. Second, the teams act as a witness to the actions of immigration authorities and publicly declares support for the rights of immigrants. Third, IFCLA’s commitment to including clergy or people of faith and goodwill in all accompaniment team is an expression of prophetic resistance to policies and laws that are not compatible with our values. Finally, IFCLA’s commitment to including a Spanish-speaker on each team to serve as an interpreter gives the compa the access to immediately understand the results of the interaction and the necessary support to facilitate communication with family, friends or legal counsel if necessary.
How has the accompaniment project helped compas so far?
Accompaniment teams have been active in St. Louis since August 2017 as part of a growing state-wide initiative to ensure that no one has to go to a check-in alone. To date, IFCLA has trained over 230 volunteers, over 130 of whom are currently committed to serving in this capacity. We have practiced solidarity with compas during nearly 50 check-ins and ankle monitor removal requests at ICE and ISAP offices, averaging nearly an accompaniment a week. Some groups of volunteers have committed themselves to accompanying the same compas month after month to their routine check-ins.
Since August, five compas who are regularly accompanied by IFCLA volunteers have had their ankle monitors removed! While this is surely not the only metric for “success” in the project, it is heartening to be witness to personal victories in the lives of our compas.
How can I get involved with the accompaniment project?
New accompaniment trainings occur regularly, and partner organizations work to spread the word through immigrant communities that this program exists and is available to all. To stay informed on future accompaniment trainings, for more information, or to ask questions, email accompaniment coordinator Allie Seleyman using the button below.
What can I do if I can’t participate in this way?
Because the ICE and ISAP offices are open weekdays 9-5, many people who work full-time are unable to participate personally in the accompaniment program. But that doesn’t mean you cannot help IFCLA grow its program! Click below to donate to IFCLA; these donations will be used to help grow our communications, so that we can continue to spread the word about this program to immigrant communities.