El Refugio will launch our Post-Release Program on March 2, working in partnership with Columbus-based Paz Amigos, St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Columbus, and other faith partners and volunteers, to ensure everyone released from Stewart Detention Center gets home safely to their family or sponsor.

Board Chair Emerita JoAnn Weiss hugs a friend released from Stewart Detention Center.

This program would not be possible without our funders, including the Episcopal Community Foundation for Middle and North Georgia, which provided us with seed funding to pilot our program and develop a sustainable model. Additional funders include AEC Trust, Central Congregational United Church of Christ, Latino Community Fund of Georgia, and North Decatur Presbyterian Church.

“We appreciate the faith these organizations and church partners have placed in us to carry out this urgent work,” said Amilcar Valencia, executive director of El Refugio. “We are committed to making sure our friends who have been dehumanized through immigrant detention can experience hospitality and  kindness as as they journey home to their families and sponsors.”

El Refugio hired consultant Sara Kamouni to take lessons learned from a pilot run in July and August and create a sustainable program that meets the immediate needs of immigrants and asylum-seekers being released from Stewart on bond, humanitarian parole, or, in rare cases, because they won their case. Michelle Fierro, post-release coordinator, started on January 6.

El Refugio is actively recruiting volunteers and hiring an intern.

Volunteers in Columbus will be critical to this program’s success, and we will rely on our partnership with St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Members have spent the past year becoming immersed in issues impacting immigrants and the work of El Refugio and Paz Amigos. In addition to volunteering at the hospitality house and visiting detained friends at Stewart, St. Thomas Episcopal has hosted community forums for Columbus residents to learn more about Stewart Detention Center and the work of El Refugio and Paz Amigos. With the Post-Release Program’s launch, this valuable partnership can continue to flourish.

“The opportunity to partner with Episcopal Community Fund on the grant encouraged us to think more deliberately about how a congregation in closer proximity to Lumpkin could be helpful,” said the Rev. Grace Burton-Edwards. 

In addition to St. Thomas, El Refugio is working with churches throughout the diocese, including St. Patrick’s Episcopal in Dunwoody and Christ Church Episcopal in Norcross.

“The board is excited about this new chapter for El Refugio,” said Board Chair PJ Edwards. “With support from St. Thomas Episcopal, the Episcopal Community Foundation, and other churches in the diocese, we can support our friends coming out of detention, while remaining true to our core mission of hospitality and visitation.”