(During Hispanic Heritage Month, we will be profiling some of the stories of contributions from Latinos in Georgia, but for the first time, we will also be featuring some non-Latinos that are great allies to the community with excellent work and dedication. Here is one of those stories written by Ric Stewart, a volunteer with Casa Colibri and SGISN, the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network.)
When immigrants and asylum seekers enter ICE detention, they are often sent to for-profit facilities in remote locations, hours away from family and friends. One such facility is the Irwin County Detention Center, a privately-operated ICE detention center in Ocilla, Georgia, which houses about 800 immigrant women and men. Families who travel long distances to visit their detained loved ones have few lodging and food options, and they are often already financially strained by the toll of immigrant detention.
In response to this need, the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network (SGISN) formed.
SGISN is a local, grassroots network of concerned community members incorporated as a nonprofit in Tifton in 2017. Volunteers began making humanitarian visits to detained immigrants and coordinating a pen pal program. Inspired by El Refugio, a similar organization that provides hospitality and visitation to families affected by detention at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, SGISN saw the need for a hospitality house in Ocilla for families visiting their detained loved ones. They envisioned a safe, supportive haven for them—a place for rest, care, homemade meals, and comfort items. Grant funding and a house became available in April, and six weeks later Casa Colibrí was fully operational, furnished by donations from across the state, and they began receiving guests. Volunteers participated in work days, collected donations, and filled the freezer with delicious food.
The house is now open every weekend from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon, managed by local volunteers. During the week, volunteer legal professionals, interpreters, and visitors utilize the house as well. All services are offered free of charge. Casa Colibrí is located four miles from the Irwin County Detention Center.
Weekend host teams are needed to train together and serve together 4-6 weekends per year. Ideally, each team will have at least one Spanish speaker. Other opportunities to serve include visitation, writing to a pen pal, collecting needed donations and gift cards, and coordinating educational talks to raise awareness.
Those wishing to schedule a stay at Casa Colibrí can call the toll-free hotline at 1-877-LIL-BIRD (1-877-545-2473) for assistance in Spanish or English.