We believe our most powerful role is simply to be present to the people we visit in detention – to recognize their full humanity, to see them face to face and to hear them.

El Refugio has its roots in Georgia Detention Watch, whose members began leading groups to visit immigrants and asylum seekers detained at Stewart Detention Center in 2008. After witnessing the challenges shared by those visiting loved ones at Stewart — traveling long distances, the trauma of family separation, and the lack of resources such as hotels and restaurants in the remote town of Lumpkin —  a group of friends established El Refugio. In 2010, El Refugio opened a hospitality house offering meals and lodging at no cost. Perhaps more importantly, we offer friendship and support to the loved ones of immigrants and asylum seekers who are detained.


Amilcar Valencia is the Executive Director of El Refugio. Originally from La Libertad, El Salvador, he has been involved in the immigrant rights movement in the state of Georgia since he arrived in the U.S. He has been helping people affected by immigration detention since 2010 and is one of the founding coordinators of El Refugio’s hospitality house. Amilcar has been a member of the Advisory Board of Alterna Community since 2011 and a steering committee member of Georgia Detention Watch since 2010. Amilcar has experience working for non-profit organizations both in El Salvador and in the U.S. Previously, he worked for the Georgia Latino Alliance for Humans Rights (GLAHR) as a community organizer and Hotline Intake Manager. He is a graduate of the University of Central America, UCA, El Salvador.

Patti Ghezzi
Program Coordinator
Michelle Fierro
Post-release Coordinator
Johanna Garcia
Advocacy Coordinator


Steering Committee

JoAnn Weiss, Board Chair Emerita

PJ Edwards, Board Chair

Amy Edwards, Secretary

Greg Wickersham, Treasurer

Board Members

Holly Patrick

Katie Beno-Valencia

Lesley Ediger Ramchandani

Loyda Paz Perez

Marilyn McGinnis

Marie Marquardt, Board Chair Emerita

Karina Jiménez

Minola Fernanda