Christina Fialho

Ashoka Fellow


This profile was prepared when Christina Fialho was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2016.
The New Idea
Thousands of immigrants are exposed to human rights abuses in the United States’ immigration detention system, the largest in the world. Undocumented individuals, documented individuals, and asylum seekers face the threat of deportation and abuse in immigration facilities. Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) has identified that the rise of immigration detention is connected to the rise of the private prison industry, which profits off of each additional body that is apprehended. Each day, 34,000 individuals are detained in U.S. jails and detention centers, some for several years, due to a congressionally mandated quota that requires the government to maintain 34,000 immigration detention beds and creates local incentives to ensure these beds are filled. CIVIC, which was co-founded by Christina Fialho and Christina Mansfield, aims to stop the human rights abuse in detention centers by defunding the U.S. immigration detention system.

CIVIC’s strategy is two-fold. First, CIVIC’s network of 1,400 volunteers acts as a watchdog, connecting personally to those detained, and using their stories to check the abuse of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by educating municipal legislatures and then, changing policy. CIVIC’s 1,400 volunteers are each part of independently-run community groups that regularly visit 43 of the largest detention facilities in 19 states. CIVIC also hosts a national hotline that is available to individuals in all 210 detention centers around the nation. CIVIC volunteers come from diverse communities and all faith groups. CIVIC engages people who were formerly in immigration detention as well as individuals from traditionally conservative backgrounds, who now make up a large percentage of their active, bi-partisan volunteer network.

At the same time, CIVIC is building an alternative system to traditional immigration detention that is more effective and less expensive than the status quo. CIVIC has created a demonstration model for a more humane way to assist immigrants that is run by community groups, inspired - in part - by the federal Refugee Resettlement Program. Over the last year and a half, volunteers have secured the safe release of 284 asylum seekers, and CIVIC is now expanding on the scope of its demonstration model by engaging local and federal governments in supporting a community-based alternative to detention that replaces immigration detention beds with holistic community support for all immigrants, eventually capping (and then eliminating) the number of people in immigration detention. With careful data tracking, CIVIC is proving that this new model is less expensive than immigration detention, and also leads to more successful outcomes.

[1] “Immigration Detention 101.” Detention Watch Network. Detention Watch Network. Web. April 8 2016.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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