Freedom For Immigrants: Why We're Changing Our Name

(March 21, 2018) – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national nonprofit working to abolish immigration detention, announced its new name today.

Freedom for Immigrants

The California-based nonprofit, which was founded in 2012, is changing its name to Freedom for Immigrants to better reflect its mission to free all people from the bonds of immigration detention.

In fewer than six years, Freedom for Immigrants has:

  • Built a national network of 43 community-based and volunteer-run visitation programs that provides people in immigration detention with a connection to the outside world and documents rights violations.

  • Launched the largest national immigration detention hotline, connecting people for free to their loved ones and a community of advocates that provides support.

  • Drafted and passed two laws that place a moratorium on immigration detention expansion in California - the first laws of their kind in the United States.

  • Created and disseminated award-winning storytelling projects, such as IMM-Print — a publication by and for people directly impacted by detention.

  • Conducted independent investigations in detention facilities, uncovering systemic abuses such as widespread sexual assault, medical neglect leading to dozens of deaths in detention, and physical abuse by ICE officers and contracted facility guards.

  • Worked with Santa Ana community leaders to shut down the only dedicated transgender immigration detention facility in the country and successfully won a commitment from the city to instead identify as a sanctuary for immigrants.

  • Received the 2018 James Irvine Leadership Award, the 2016 Ashoka Fellowship, the 2013 Rockwood Leadership Fellowship for a New California, and the 2012 Echoing Green Fellowship.

“History has taught us that freedom is something worth fighting for, and we believe that no individual should be imprisoned for crossing a border,” said Christina Fialho, the co-founder and co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants. “We want to reclaim the word freedom and shift its meaning to one of empowerment, not disenfranchisement. Freedom is not just for the privileged few — it is a right for all.”

The private prison and national security industries have relentlessly tried to rebrand themselves to appeal to the general public by sanitizing their documented histories of human rights violations. They’ve even co-opted language and other essential elements from advocacy organizations to appear more palatable. In our case, our name was usurped when the largest private prison company in the United States, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), changed its name to CoreCivic in October 2016.

We immediately hired trademark attorneys to fight this violation of our organization’s common-law and other trademark rights.  

Refusing to choose a different name, CCA/CoreCivic attempted to buy us out with a settlement that contained a strict confidentiality and anti-disparagement clause.  We refused to settle.  This is not the first time the prison company has tried to muzzle us.  We will never be silenced.  Rather than spending years fighting this battle in the courts, we chose to take advantage of this opportunity to change our name and broaden our focus — not only to disassociate ourselves from a corporate entity that cashes in on the suffering of immigrants but moreover to reclaim and redefine the notion of freedom.

Today, Freedom for Immigrants launches a new website, providing the public with:

  • A timeline on the history of immigration detention dating back to the 18th Century;

  • An up-to-date interactive map of the immigration detention system and accompanying statistics;

  • A short history on prison abolition and how it relates to the movement to end immigration detention;

  • New resources for immigrants, visitor volunteers, and journalists; and

  • A how-to-guide for running a successful “Dignity Not Detention Act” campaign in your home state to abolish or stop the expansion of immigration detention.

As part of our transformation to Freedom for Immigrants, we are launching an international organizing component to build a global movement of immigration detention visitation programs and support groups.   

“We recognize that immigration detention thrives on secrecy and on the isolation of people inside its jails and prisons” said Christina Mansfield, the co-founder and co-executive director of Freedom for Immigrants. “That said, the abuses occurring within these facilities are not isolated events — they are part of a larger network of systems of oppression worldwide.”

The United States maintains the oldest and largest immigration detention system in the world and other countries have drawn on its structure to model their own responses to migration.  U.S.-based multinational prison corporations such as CCA/CoreCivic and GEO Group have expanded to other countries to contribute to the creation of new detention facilities and carceral xenophobic policies.  In order to fight immigration detention in the United States, we must understand how immigration detention systems interact across borders.

In the coming year, Freedom for Immigrants will be focused on:

  • Growing our network of U.S. visitation programs, family support groups, and our hotline to monitor immigration detention facilities and provide people with a connection to the outside world;

  • Launching policy campaigns at the state and federal levels to stop the expansion of immigration detention and educate policymakers on the detention system;

  • Setting up public-private immigration bond funds that not only work to free individual people from detention but also challenge the supposed need for immigration detention entirely; and

  • Building connections and our collective power with visitation programs already in existence across the globe.

We hope you will join us in building a world where freedom for immigrants is a reality — because together, we will end immigration detention.

Check out our new website and show your support for Freedom for Immigrants. Make a tax-deductible donation today:

Share this news on social media by tagging @MigrantFreedom on Twitter or Instagram, or @FreedomForImmigrants on Facebook


Volunteers and Members of the Board and Leadership Council React to Our New Name:

“The journey toward freedom begins inside you, in your heart, in your mind, in your bones.  And it doesn’t end when you are released from immigration detention or prison.  This is why I love Freedom for Immigrants’ logo, which represents this truth — that freedom, in the symbol of the bird, exists within us all,” said Rosanna Santos, a member of Freedom for Immigrants’ Leadership Council and an immigrant rights activist who was formerly held in an immigrant jail. “That’s how I see myself.  I’m already free, but I am hoping others can learn to see me that way, too.”

“I believe Freedom for Immigrants embodies the hope I had in my heart for the 9 years and 4 months I spent inside immigrant prisons and jails. It is time we come together and fight for freedom for immigrants,” said Sylvester Owino, a member of Freedom for Immigrants’ Leadership Council and the owner of Rafikiz Foodz.

“How do you be in the prison system and be free?  The victory begins with you recognizing your mental freedom and that will lead you to your physical freedom. To me, Freedom for Immigrants means our willingness to humanize each other and the right for people to live up to their full potentials without fear and oppression," said Eddy Zheng, a member of Freedom for Immigrants' Leadership Council and co-director of Asian Prisoner Support Committee, who was previously held in immigration detention. 

“I have been a part of this organization since before it had a name, when Christina Fialho and Christina Mansfield were working to start the first visitation program in the state of California. I am honored to be part of this growing movement that uses visitation as a way to provide support to people in detention who are suffering right now while simultaneously dismantling the system,” said Grisel Ruiz, the board chair of Freedom for Immigrants and attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

“All people should be able to live lives without fear of deportation,” said Michael Kaufman, the vice board chair of Freedom for Immigrants and attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California. “To me, freedom for immigrants means that all people are able to hug their kids and loved ones without fear of being separated by a jail cell or a border.”

“Freedom for Immigrants has proven that people nationwide can build effective and humane pathways away from our punitive immigration detention system.  I am excited to be part of this innovative team that is working to build a world where everyone has the capacity and freedom to decide what to think, what to do, what to say, whom to love, and how to worship,” said Lorena García Durán, a member of Freedom for Immigrants’ Board of Directors and the director of the Ashoka Support Network in the US.  

“Immigration detention poses a moral dilemma for societies that claim to be democratic.  The name Freedom for Immigrants challenges our society to live up to its democratic ideals," said Christine Ho, an anthropology professor and visitation program coordinator of Friends of Broward County Detainees at the Broward Transitional Center in Florida.  "Freedom for Immigrants helped me to start a visitation program in Florida.  They fought for me when my program was temporarily barred from the facility, and they constantly provide me with encouragement in this very important but heartbreaking work.  I love being a visitor volunteer, but the goal is that there will come a day when visitation programs do not exist because we have achieved freedom for immigrants. I’m so excited to be a part of this growing movement to bring about that beautiful day!”