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 opened a hospitality house in Lumpkin, GA, in 2010, the realization of a vision that began months earlier with Anton Flores and the Alterna Community.

Since 2008, Alterna and Georgia Detention Watch had been partnering to lead groups to visit immigrants detained at Stewart Detention Center (SDC). After witnessing the challenges shared by those visiting loved ones at SDC — traveling long distances, the trauma of family separation, and the lack of resources such as hotels and restaurants in the remote town of Lumpkin — Anton and his wife, Charlotte, realized the need for safe, welcoming, free overnight lodging in Lumpkin. Together with a group of friends, they established El Refugio to offer meals and lodging at no cost as well as friendship and support to the loved ones of people detained at SDC.


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

Lesley Ediger Ramchandani

Loyda Paz Perez

Marilyn McGinnis

Katherine Narvaez Mena

Monica Khant

Tamara Serwer Caldas

Karina Jiménez

Minola Fernanda