Update: Casa de Paz is one of the metro area agencies working to coordinate housing and resources for a group of 55 migrants recently released by ICE in EL Paso Texas who arrived in Denver on May 13. For a list of items needed and how to donate, go here.
This report originally aired on KGNU in August 2018.
A National spotlight has been shone on the issue of immigration since an increase in deportations under Donald Trump and in particular the recent separation of children from their families at the border. Many of the immigrants who are seized by ICE, awaiting deportation, or who have had their children taken from them, end up in an detention facility like the privately run GEO facility in Aurora. For many of those who avoid deportation who are released from the prison, they find themselves far from friends or family with few resources. KGNU’s Lucy Soucek reports on Casa de Paz, a local non profit that is stepping up to help.
Sarah Jackson, aka Wonder Woman, founded Casa de Paz, a fully volunteer-run home that offers hospitality to immigrants who have been released from the detention center in Aurora, as well as visiting family members of those who are detained.
Normally Casa de Paz doesn’t fund plane tickets but recently, after the zero tolerance policy was implemented and then unimplemented, they’ve received an overflow of donations specifically for the family reunification fund.
“When we found out that there were parents who had been transferred from the border up here to Aurora after their children had been separated and also put into detention centers, every cell in my body screamed against the trauma that we were putting these parents through. And so kind of a spur of the moment decision, I said I will at least pay one bond of one of these parents to get out and I’ll pay for their flight once they get out so that they can get to their family and be reunited with their child.”
So far, they’ve bonded out 9 parents and bought about 20 plane tickets with these donations. But their work reaches far beyond payment for transportation and release. They provide a loving, welcoming home where people can stay for up to three days, as they get back on their feet. In the 6 years that they’ve been open, they’ve hosted over 1300 guests from 22 different countries, and they’ve sent immigrants to every state. In addition to running Casa de Paz, Sarah has her own career and organizes an ongoing volleyball league with hundreds of participants, which funds the Casa. And so I asked Sarah what drives her motivation to do all of this work.
“It’s the right thing to do. If you put yourself in the shoes of someone who has just been released from a detention center, and you try to imagine what you would do in a foreign city and you made not speak their language and you have not even a penny to your name, I’m pretty darn sure you would want a nice person to come alongside you and say hey, how can I help you. We’re here with you and we want to make sure you get home safely.”
Sarah said that years ago, she would never have imagined that she be would doing this. She says that she didn’t even know anything related to immigrant detention existed. 8 years ago, she went on an all expenses paid trip to Mexico with a church where she was working, and learned more than she had ever anticipated.
“I was expecting a vacation, but my life changed. Because for the first time in my life I met people who were personally affected by our immigration policies and by the border. And I just kept imagining what if this had happened to my family. What if this was my dad who was just deported and he was trying to get back to his family to see them. Or what if this was my sister who was fleeing violence in her home country and came to the United States for safety. How would I want my family to be treated?”
So she came back to Colorado, rented a one bedroom apartment across the street from the detention center, and made it a place for visiting families to stay with her. Soon after, guards from the detention center contacted her, asking if they could send over immigrants who were just released. And then the Casa grew. Sarah says she hears a lot about people feeling hopeless. Feeling like you can’t do anything. But actually, there’s tons you can do. You can visit someone in a detention center, bring over a meal to the Casa, pick up and drop people off at the airport or bus station. So amidst this time of uncertainty and devastation, we can relieve at least some of the suffering. And Sarah says, knowing she’s doing something to help families get reunited makes it all worth it.
“I think most recently knowing that these parents who had their children ripped away from them at the border. Knowing that they got their kid back is priceless. I know that there was one mother who stayed with us a few weeks ago who hadn’t seen her child in two months and didn’t even know which detention center she was in, she just knew she was somewhere in the United States. And so when she came here to the Casa, she was just worried sick about where her daughter was. She wasn’t able to eat or sleep or drink, and her health was just going down hill really quick, because she was just totally preoccupied with finding her daughter. So we got her here and I invited our volunteers over to have dinner, and I asked for them to bring chicken noodle soup because I thought that that would be calming for her stomach since she hasn’t eaten in nine days, and so they brought the soup over and she was able to keep some of it down which was really nice to see her have a little nutrition in her body. And she spent the night and then the next morning our volunteers took her to the airport and she got reunited with her child just a few days after that. And I recieve text messages from her ever so often just to say “hey, how are you? how’s life” and just to know that she’s in a better place mentally because she has her child back with her, is very fulfilling.”