Serving Immigrants in Detention

Growing up in a poor rural community in el Salvador, Amilcar was not guaranteed access to a college education or given all of the tools necessary to go to college. However, his family taught him to work hard to accomplish his dreams, and his community taught him to always give back.

Amilcar is a co-founder and the Executive Director of El Refugio Ministry, the only organization based in the city of Lumpkin, GA. El Refugio serves detained immigrants  at Stewart Detention Center and their families. Stewart is the third largest detention facility in the USA, and detains people from the southeast and other who are transferred from the US/Mexico border. Besides being criticized for human rights abuses and neglect of detained immigrants  on the part of staff, Stewart Detention Center is located in the city of Lumpkin, which makes it difficult for family members to visit their loved ones, even if they live in Georgia. El Refugio donates books and clothing to those in detention , provides lodging for families to stay while visiting their loved ones, and arranges for volunteers to come visit immigrants whose loved ones are not able to visit and asylum seekers who don’t have anyone who can pay them a visit. El Refugio also advocates for those in detention among other services.

Amilcar has been active in community service since he was a teenager. When a 7.5 earthquake hit his community in El Salvador, he and some friends joined together to organize events and collect donations for affected families. From there, an NGO was formed of which Amilcar was part of the Board of Directors and in charge of educational programming for families and students in need of school supplies.

However, when Amilcar himself graduated high school, he could not afford to attend college in El Salvador. After two years, he could not get a spot in the National University because of limited spots and because his rural schooling did not properly prepare him for the national exam. He decided to continue to teach computer classes for kids in his rural community and for an NGO at a local city. The President of one of the NGOs he worked at hold him about a scholarship at the Central American University (UCA). After she wrote him a letter of recommendation, he applied and studied for six months to pass the national exam. He was accepted to the university on a full ride scholarship. He graduated Cumm Laude with a Bachelors in Theology in 2008. In El Salvador, he previously worked as a computer instructor and later at a Catholic School. He later moved to the US to marry his fiance, and he shares that his upbringing and work experience in El Salvador are what prepared him for his current work at El Refugio.

He explains, “I always keep in my mind the place I come from. I never forget the homeland or the people. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve and for the many blessings I have received in my life. I feel it is my duty to work for justice, do the best to serve, and to help others to see the injustice and do something to chance that reality. I also want to say that I am inspired by the people I encounter in my work. The people I visit in detention and the families we host at our hospitality house give me hope. They are the motivation for everything I do. Their resilience inspires me to work for a welcoming and human treatment of immigrants and to work to end of detention. I am also inspired by the work of El Refugio’s volunteers. They are truly committed to work for justice while serving the people caught up in the immigration detention system.”

When asked what advice he would like to share with students and young professionals, he wants them to know that they should never give up. Life may not give you all the tools you need to succeed, but that isn’t a reason to stop dreaming. To learn more about El Refugio and their services, visit,

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