In the spring of 2020, just prior to the beginning of the pandemic, the Sanctuary Task Force completed preparations to host a guest at Kehilla. The space was finally ready; protocols were in place; and volunteer trainings had commenced. With the onset of the pandemic we realized that we could utilize our space to assist immigrants in a way that we had not originally imagined. The pressing need during the pandemic has been to secure the release of as many people as possible from ICE detention and to prevent transfers from prisons or jails to ICE facilities, where crowded and unsafe conditions turn incarceration into a possible death sentence by COVID-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been working alongside legal providers and other congregations in the interfaith community to secure releases, prevent transfers and save lives.
Some releases are dependent on a person having an address to go to where they can safely quarantine. During the pandemic a number of Bay Area congregations have stepped up to host immigrants after their release from incarceration, some short-term, and some for several months. In May, Kehilla was able to help Pangea Legal Services secure the release of one of their clients, Luis Alberto, from the Mesa Verde ICE detention facility by providing him with a place where he could shelter and prepare for his next steps. Luis Alberto stayed with us for about a month before transitioning to a more permanent location.
Subsequently, we were ready to provide shelter to another guest, Patricia Waller, who was originally from Belize and who is a survivor of many years of domestic violence. Patricia won her release from prison on Aug. 31st., but instead of being able to come to Kehilla and quarantine as planned, she was turned over to ICE and taken to a detention facility in Colorado. She is now far from her legal team and community, and she faces deportation to a country where she has not been since she was a child. We, and many others, have written support letters, and are hoping that she will be released on bond and can come back to California while she continues to fight her case.
Our second guest, a young father and immigrant rights advocate, who works in the Bay Area immigration justice community, came to us for a few days in October after being targeted by the criminal justice system and spending a brief time in jail. We were able to provide shelter and a place of relative safety from ICE while he needed it. He was extremely grateful for this opportunity.
We are thrilled that we are able to put our space to an important use during these challenging times. And we are grateful for the Kehilla staff and volunteers that have helped make this process work smoothly.