How to be the difference between terrible despair and hope

February 18, 2020 |

Delays...Delays...Delays... They say that good things come to those who wait. But for immigrants who are in prisons throughout the United States waiting for their immigration trial, that axiom couldn't be further from the truth.

Our immigration system is so broken, that delays are literally killing people. According to the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) website, nine people died while in ICE custody in 2019. The 57,000 immigrants detained in ICE facilities are faced with inhumane delays to get their cases heard. Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse – better known as TRAC – reports that the number of pending cases for FY2020 is currently at 1,089,696, with NY ranked 3rd in the nation in pending cases with 129,954 cases and NJ ranked 5th with 56,319 cases. The average time a pending case waits in immigration court as of December 2020 is 704 days, with the wait times in NJ reaching 874 days!

At First Friends of NJ & NY we see firsthand how these delays are causing irreparable harm to detained immigrants who have no idea when their cases will go in front of a judge. Our First Friends’ board member, Edwin Koi, remembers his dark days in detention before being visited by First Friends volunteers. Edwin, a native of Sierra Leone, received asylum after spending 4 months in Elizabeth Detention Center. Edwin tells us to “imagine you find yourself in a place where you don’t know anyone, you don’t have friends, nobody knows about you, and you think all hope is lost. It’s like you are just in your own world. That is where you really begin to realize that something certainly is wrong with your future.”

That's why our visitation program is so important. Every week our community volunteers visit detainees and provide compassion and hope through conversation. These visits break the monotony of detention, where immigrants spend 23 hours a day locked in their units without any direct sunlight. In 2019 we had over 210 volunteers visiting detainees, and we are constantly recruiting more.

Edwin recalls the first time he received two visitors from First Friends. “When Myra and Jackie saw me, they opened their arms to embrace me. This was the best moment I ever felt in my life. I could not hold my tears. They were also crying. They told me, ‘We are here for you. We love you and care about you. That’s why we are here.’ That was a breakthrough moment for me.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer visitor, please reach out to us. We look forward to having you join our family of community volunteers. Your visit can make the difference between utter despair and hope.

Our Progress

In 2019

207Total Detained Friends Enrolled
181Total Detained Friends Visited
140Total Pen Pals Receiving Letters