Arkansas Vigil to End Immigrant Detention

El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center, a volunteer-based grassroots organization that provides support to immigrant detainees and their families and to immigrants needing to access medical care, is asking Arkansans concerned about immigrants rights to attend a vigil to end detention this Sunday, December 9th beginning at 4:15 p.m. at St. Edwards Catholic Church.

Arkansas immigrant rights advocates are joining with national groups to call on Obama to “expose and close” the ten worst detention centers in the country, thereby follow through with his 2009 promise of reform for the American immigration detention system. According to activists, appalling conditions in immigration detention centers in the United States have been increasing for the last 15 years and are now at a tipping point. The “Expose and Close” campaign has sent an open letter to the Obama Administration asking it to immediately close 10 of the worst immigrant detention facilities, as identified by the Detention Watch Network (DWN), a national coalition of religious, civil, immigrant, and human rights organizations.

“Our current system of immigrant detention violates the fundamental rights of individual liberties and due process. Immigrants in detention often face months or even years without any charges having been filed against them preventing them from even presenting the merits of their case,” says attorney Maricella Garcia, the director of Catholic Charities Immigration Services in Little Rock. “The overuse of detention criminalizes all immigrants, some of whom are placed in detention resulting solely from traffic violations. The end result is we are prevented from focusing our limited resources on true criminal and national security threats.”

“There are alternatives to detention which provide for family reunification, culturally sensitive services, and access to legal and housing services,” explains immigrant advocate Sara Mullally of the El Zocalo Imigrant Resource Center based in Little Rock.  “Often detained far from their communities, families, and legal aid organizations, these immigrants are subject to isolation and even abuses but have few ways of getting their voice out. Over 400,000 immigrants are in detention each year, costing taxpayers $2 billion annually. With no legally enforceable civil detention standards in place, ICE has let bad practices become endemic,” she added.

According to information received from El Zocalo Immigrant Resource Center, at all of the 10 facilities there is “threatening lack of medical services; a lack of access to outdoor recreation, sunlight and fresh air; inadequate diet; the use of solitary confinement as punishment; and, the extraordinary difficulty imposed on families who often travel hundreds of miles at great expense to visit loved ones who are detained.  Complaints aren’t made out of fear for retaliation from guards and negative impact on the outcome of immigration cases. Detailed reports on each facility are available at” While none of these facilities are in Arkansas, local immigrant detainees are regularly transferred to these out-of-state facilities.  ICE also has dedicated detention space to hold immigrants in the Sebastian County Detention Center, Miller County Jail, and with the Lonoke Police Department.

Over 300 groups signed the letter, including a dozen Arkansas-based groups: Arkansas Coalition 4 DREAM, Arkansas Coalition for Peace and Justice, Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, Arkansas Interfaith Conference, Arkansas Justice For Our Neighbors, Arkansas Voices for the Children Left Behind, Catholic Charities of Arkansas, El Zócalo Immigrant Resource Center, Just Communities of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center, and United Church of Peace. The letter recommends that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) terminate contracts with the following 10 immigrant detention facilities: Etowah County Detention Center (AL), Pinal County Jail (AZ), Houston Processing Center (TX), Polk County Jail (TX), Stewart Detention Center (GA), Irwin County Detention Center (GA), Hudson County Jail (NJ), Theo Lacy Jail (CA), Tri-County Jail (IL), and Baker County Jail (FL). Click to read the Letter to Obama.

The vigil will take place this coming Sunday Dec. 9th beginning at 4:15pm outside St. Edward Catholic Church, 801 Sherman St. in Little Rock.  If you are interested in helping with the work of El Zocalo, they are currently in need of donations for several families. Click here to read how you can help. 

Are there similar vigils taking place where you live? We’d love to hear about them. 





  1. […] “Visit A Detained Immigrant.” Written by Sara Mullally, the co-founder of El Zocolo Immigrant Resource Center, the article discusses the organization’s work in partnership with the Arkansas Interfaith Conference in visiting with detained immigrants. Far too often these men and women receive virtually no visitors and can be detained for long stretches of time. “Immigrants can be taken into custody over something as petty as a traffic violation,” Mullally explains in the article. And once they are in the immigration system, they may be transported multiple times while awaiting trial or deportation.” Visits help them cope, Mullally says. And they open visitors eyes to the complex human lives that are at the heart of our too often abstract immigration and criminal justice discussions. if you’d like to know more about this work and become involved in immigrant detention visits with El Zocalo, click here. You can also read a previous article about their work here.  […]