First Friends FAQs

First Friends FAQs

Who are the people that First Friends serves?

First Friends of NJ & NY serves immigrants and asylum seekers held in detention in the Elizabeth Detention Center, the Essex County Correctional Facility, the Bergen County Jail and the Hudson County Correction & Rehabilitation Center.

 

What is the purpose of First Friends?

First Friends upholds the inherent dignity and humanity of detained immigrants and asylum seekers by providing hope and compassion through volunteer visitations, resettlement assistance and advocacy.

 

How does First Friends assist detainees?

First Friends offers friendship to immigrants and asylum seekers who are detained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in New Jersey by assigning trained volunteers to visit individual immigrants and asylum seekers. Twice a year we give each detainee, whether in our visitation program or not, a Stamp Out Despair (SOD) folder of writing materials to help them  contact family members, friends and lawyers. We maintain a help line which detainees can access to reach out to First Friends. We also offer post-release services such as shelter, transportation and assistance in obtaining benefits for which individuals may be eligible.

 

What is a Refugee?

Refugees are people fleeing conflict or persecution. They are defined and protected in international law, and must not be expelled or returned to situations where their life and freedom are at risk. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18.1

 

What happens to those refugees who flee their homeland?

Over 2.6 million refugees currently live in camps worldwide and have been displaced for over five years, some for over a generation.1 Only 1% of refugees living in refugee camps get to leave the camps. Those that do leave either return home (which most would prefer), are sent to a camp in another country, or are repatriated to a third country. Refugees in camps do not get to choose which country accepts them.

 

What does the U.S.A. require in order to accept a refugee into the country?

The vetting process is handled by one of nine domestic Resettlement Support Centers (RSC). It often takes over two years and includes an initial interview, the collection of bio-data and biometrics (iris scan) , and another interview. If refugees are assigned to the U.S. there are more interviews, extensive background checks and medical checks.

Enhanced security screening is a joint responsibility of the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security and includes the participation of multiple U.S. Government security agencies.3

 

How are accepted refugees welcomed to the U.S.?

Once admitted for resettlement, refugees get $1,100 per person from the government. The RSC requests a “sponsorship assurance” from a U.S.-based resettlement agency that is experienced in providing assistance to newly arrived refugees. Most refugees undergo a brief U.S. cultural orientation course—which could be one hour to days long— prior to departure for the United States. They are admitted indefinitely and apply for a green card after a year. They must become self-sufficient in 90 days. They must repay their airfare.

 

How do asylum seekers differ from refugees?

Asylum seekers—who may be survivors of torture, and victims of human trafficking and violent crimes—flee their homelands because of conflict or persecution. However, rather than going through an application and vetting process they arrive at the border, often without necessary papers, and request asylum.

How is an asylum seeker treated in the U.S.?

Rather than a welcome, an asylum seeker is handcuffed upon arrival and placed in detention. They are required to present their case to a judge but, unlike a U.S. citizen, they do not have the right to be assigned legal representation.

 

What is a Migrant?

Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve their lives. Migrants are fundamentally different from refugees and, thus, are treated very differently under international law.

 

What is Immigrant Detention?

Immigration detention is the practice of incarcerating immigrants while they await a determination of their immigration status or potential deportation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that runs the detention system, subcontracts the majority of detention space to county jails and private prison companies. Every day the United States government mandates that 34,000 men, women and families are incarcerated in a massive detention system. Since its establishment in 2007, this bed quota has led to increased arbitrary detention of migrants and those seeking protection in the U.S. every year. This quota wastes U.S. tax payer money and causes unnecessary suffering and harm to immigrants.5

 

What is Mandatory Detention?

Mandatory detention is the practice of imprisoning an individual without any consideration of whether incarceration is necessary or appropriate—without any individual assessment of their risk to public safety or flight or of their vulnerability in detention while the government tries to prove that it has the authority to deport them.6

 

For what reasons are Immigrants put in Mandatory Detention?

Any non-citizen can end up being subject to mandatory detention, including legal permanent residents who have lived in the U.S most of their lives. Besides asylum seekers who await review of their cases, mandatory detention can be imposed on any non-citizen who has ever been convicted of a crime, regardless of the seriousness of the offense or the fact that they have already completed any sentence for the offense. Their family and community ties or the strength of their legal case is not considered. Misdemeanor crimes as minor as shoplifting or petty drug-possession trigger mandatory detention.6

 

Can people be paroled from Immigrant Detention?

Asylum seekers who arrive at ports of entry are eligible for parole under U.S. law if they pass a credible fear interview, but many who pass the interview are not being paroled in practice under DHS’s new policy. ICE also has the authority to release asylum seekers or any other person in immigration detention on bond. Despite a recent high percentage of asylum seekers with credible fears of persecution, attorneys and advocates across the country are witnessing a marked increase in the denial of parole or bond to families and individuals who are exercising their right to seek protection under international and domestic law.8

 

What is the Cost of Immigrant Detention?

The federal government estimates detention costs U.S. taxpayers approximately $123 per person per day while other organizations estimate a daily cost of $159 per individual, amounting to over $5 million per day. The cost for detaining families is even higher at $343 per person per day. For FY 2016, the government budgeted $2.3 billion for the detention of immigrants.5

 

How are people treated in detention?

In the facilities we serve, detainees live in dormitory rooms with many others who may not share a common language; they never have privacy. They are required to pay higher than normal rates to use the phone and may receive visitors only for limited times and in some facilities, separated from them by a partition requiring them to speak through phones. The American Civil Liberties Union says, “There are no regulations or enforceable standards regarding detention conditions, including medical treatment, mental health care, religious services, transfers, and access to telephones, free legal services, and library materials.”7

 

  1. UNHCR, “Figures at a Glance,” accessed 5/23/2017, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html
  2. UNHCR, “Shelter,” accessed 5/23/2017, http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/shelter.html
  3. US Department of State, “U.S. Refugee Admissions Program,” accessed 5/23/2017, https://www.state.gov/j/prm/ra/admissions/index.htm
  4. “Immigration Detention 101,” Detention Watch Network, accessed 5/24/2017, https://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/issues/detention-101
  5. “Immigration Detention,” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, accessed 5/25/2017, http://lirs.org/immigrationdetention/
  6. “Facts about mandatory detention,” Detention Watch Network, accessed 6/07/2017, https://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/sites/default/files/Mandatory%20Detention%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf
  7. “Immigration Detention Conditions,” ACLU, accessed 5/24/2017, https://www.aclu.org/issues/immigrants-rights/immigrants-rights-and-detention/immigration-detention-conditions
  8. “Attorneys & Advocates Document Widespread Parole & Bond Denials Under Trump,” CIVIC, accessed 6/07/2017, http://www.endisolation.org/parole-denials