Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall Team

As we finish off with the last days of sunshine in Seattle, we fall into a new season and reflect on all the wonderful opportunities and help we've had this last summer. 

Thanks to our wonderful intern, Miriam Zuniga, from Whitman we were able to build further support for our clinical programs as well as a wonderful review on Every Row A Path, a local documentary looking at the life of migrant girls and young women who work in the Skagit Valley. Miriam is now back in school, finishing off her final year as an undergraduate and in the process of applying to graduate school. She will also serve as the president of BAM; a student-led advocacy group raising awareness on immigration issues. We are incredibly thankful for her help and look forward to see Miriam's professional development in the years to come. 

Teresita Barrera served as our program coordinator during the summer leading the helm of our forensic assessments program. We are incredibly grateful for her tremendous contribution to our organization during such a brief period of time. Teresita is now in her final year at Seattle University completing her Masters of Education in Counseling, specializing in Community Counseling. We look forward to seeing her work flourish in the community.

Lastly, Tania G. Del Real supported us this summer also as a clinical intern. Thanks to Tania, we were able to assist more clients with their immigration cases and further our research on the mental health of families and individuals affected by immigration policies. Tania will be finishing off her last year at George Fox University in Oregon and applying to Ph. D programs in psychology. We will be cheering for her as she continues her research and clinical work.


As for our new additions, Mackenzi Kingdon is our new Clinical Director and the catalyst behind our latest mental health initiatives like the opening of a Puentes 'clinic'. Melissa Galindo is coming on board as our year long, clinical intern from the UW School of Social Work, while Candelaria Maldonado is our new Program Coordinator and will additionally be part of our Mental Health Community Health Worker pilot training program in collaboration with Verdant Health Commission. Maria Lupe Jimenez will be supporting us as a mental health mobilizer as well as supervising many of our graduate interns. Our summer mental health mobilizer Keylee Hernandez, from Seattle U, will continue serving with us as she steps into her second year of her graduate program. 


With all that change, we've also welcomed a new space and made the transition to a fresh office located in Burien.

We invite you to come tour our facilities and see our new workplace! 

Puentes Pick: Every Row A Path

Whitman student and Puentes intern, Miriam Zuniga, reflects on the film Every Row a Path. Produced by the DreamFields Project in partnership with Reel Grrls, the film is a collaboration between Jill Freidberg and the youth who actually appear in the short documentary.

The screening of Every Row a Path was held at the Central Cinema in Seattle.  The screening started off with 5 young women from Mount Vernon, WA who made the film, speaking of their excitement at being able to screen the documentary here in Seattle. The opening scenes of the film were somber with shots of  field workers picking fruit at dawn. The young women then took turns recording each other, asking some hard hitting questions like “How was your life as a migrant child?”

Hearing middle school girls talk about having to help pick fruit in the fields of Mount Vernon after school was heart wrenching. Having to see young children make the conscious decision to help their family financially instead of focusing on their education really brought into perspective how a parent’s economic stability is inherently tied to a child’s ability to succeed in school.

The film was combination of the young women’s middle school and high school experiences and how much they had grown in that time. The baby faces from their middle school years, where they were just starting to realize their predicament morphed into high school determination to better themselves, but to also further help their families. They went to school, picked fruit afterwards, didn’t get home till late at night and then, they did their homework.

One of the young women recalls starting her homework around 2 am due to having to help with dinner and helping get all of her younger siblings to bed after they got back from picking in the fields. Another remark that really brought into perspective all of the hardships migrant children face, was when one of the young women spoke of how much she hates the tulip festival in Skagit county.

Everyone loves how beautiful the tulips look when in bloom, yet all she sees is the long painful hours planting those tulips. The beauty was marred by the back breaking work she was forced to endure to survive.

Despite of all of the hurdles that the young women had to go through to achieve success, with the help of their Migrant Leaders Club at the Mount Vernon Middle School, they were able to graduate from high school. They dealt with pregnancies, having to take care of their siblings, after school jobs, as well as balancing migrant work and school. With all of the scholarships received, all of the young women are now in various colleges across the state while continuing to advocate for migrant children. They want to become immigration lawyers and special education teachers, among other professions.

The Q&A following the screening was just as exciting and informative as the film. One of the questions asked focused on male migrant students and their high school graduation rates. The question was particularly important since the film was focused on 5 women and at the founding of the club, it was all girls. One of the young women partially answered explaining that male migrant students have even lower graduation rates since they leave school to work in the fields from a young age. For boys, education was not even an option, the only option for them was to work. Then, a young man was brought up to the stage and told his story of having to drop out of 9th grade to help his family out but due to the success of his girlfriend, one of the young women in the film, he was planning on getting his GED.

It was heartwarming to see how these 5 young women are inspiring, not only their family members, but members of the community to continue their education despite financial hurdles. The young women are no longer members of the Migrant Leaders Club since they are in college now, but the club is still active. The club tours around the country screening the film and bringing awareness to a highly underrepresented population. It is both amazing, but also heartbreaking that this migrant student club is needed since no child should have to balance working in the fields with obtaining an education.

You can do your part by becoming informed about where your food is sourced from since often food systems affect the quality of life of migrant families and their children. Additionally, screening the film and raising awareness was suggested by the five women, alongside having frank conversations about unjust work conditions and vulnerable populations who are often lost in a cycle of poverty.

To view the trailer, check it out here:






Seattle Foundation’s YGB Grant Supports Youth Programs with $10K

Earlier this month, our team had the pleasure to celebrate with Seattle Foundation’s Youth Grantmaking Board at the Vude in South Lake Union. Honored alongside greats like Ryther (who’s been around for over 100 years!) we were incredibly grateful to be chosen out of over 40 non-profits who applied for the Seattle Foundation’s YGB grant.

With their support, we will be launching a pilot Youth Reunification Program for families affected by long periods of separation due to detention & deportation. Over 8 weeks, we hope to facilitate parallel programs for youth ages 12-16 and for parents & caregivers in South King County. Groups will be led by trained facilitators who share a similar personal experience and can help validate and guide the emotions and realities of families who have been impacted by the removal of key adult figures in their lives.

Groups will meet weekly and learn how to engage in conversation about difficult subject matters, making space to share their experiences within the family, and learn how to process the emotions that detention and deportation caused within themselves and their loved ones.

The Youth Reunification program will be available at no cost to families.

If you are interested in being a facilitator or participating in this program as an affected family member or youth, please reach out to us at

Thank you again to the Seattle Foundation and its Youth Grantmaking Board for investing in our communities’ mental health needs. Together, we can build solutions to take better care of each other & improve our local neighborhood, for ourselves and each other.

A principios del mes de Junio, nuestro equipo tuvo el agrado de celebrar con Seattle Foundation’s Youth Grantmaking Board en el local Vude en South Lake Union. Honrados junto con gigantes como Ryther (una organización que ha trabajado por más de 100 años!) fuimos muy agradecidos de haber sido elegidos entre otras 40 organizaciones que aplicaron a este grant.  


Gracias a su apoyo lanzaremos un programa piloto de Reunificacion Familiar, para familias afectadas por largos periodos de separación debido a detención migratoria o deportación.  Por 8 semanas, esperamos facilitar grupos paralelos para jóvenes de 12 a 16 años y padres o familiares en el Sur de King County. Los grupos serán facilitados por personas que comparten una historia de vida similar y que pueden validar y guiar las emociones y realidades de familias que han sido impactadas por la deportación de figuras claves en sus vidas.

Cada grupo se reunirá semanalmente y aprenderá a conversar acerca de temas difíciles, creando espacios para compartir experiencias personales en la familia, y aprender a cómo procesar las emociones que la detención y la deportación han elicitado dentro de ellos mismos y dentro de la familia.

El Programa de Reunificación Familiar estará disponible sin costo para los participantes.

Si tienes interés en facilitar or en participar en este programa como un miembro de la comunidad afectada, por favor escribenos a

Gracias Nuevamente a Seattle Foundation y su Youth Grantmaking Board por invertir en las necesidades de nuestra comunidad. Juntos podemos crear soluciones para cuidar de cada uno y mejorar nuestros barrios.


Distant Roots, Common Struggles: How a small Asian-American church in Bellevue is walking in solidarity with undocumented neighbors.

Lighthouse church in Bellevue has engaged with us in beautiful ways. In the process we found out there were a lot of common struggles for Asian-American and Latino-American communities. Monica Romero Wright sat down with Pastor Nancy Sugikawa and Daniel Astudillo as they shared their experiences engaging with immigration justice and the work at Puentes.

“This was the beginning of our church changing to becomecompassion- and justice-minded. We began to ask ourselves, “What are we doing about the issues of global poverty and injustice?” Nancy Sugikawa, a pastor at Lighthouse Christian Church in Bellevue, remarked to me. I met with her and church member Daniel Astudillo in a crowded Starbucks on Mercer Island over the weekend to talk about the church’s involvement with Puentes—little did I know of the story that was to come.


After World War II, a lot of prejudice remained with regards to the Japanese community. “People in Seattle were scared. They thought What if they’re spies? What if they want to hurt us? It was hard to be Japanese American after Pearl Harbor. Over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homesand placed in prisons—like current-day detention centers—and then when they were finally freed, they were unwelcomed in many cities,” Sugikawa commented. One of the fewneighborhoods in Seattle that would sell or even rent property to a Japanese or Chinese family was Beacon Hill, which at the time was a very run-down part of the city.


“A lot of our church members grew up on Beacon Hill. But, after just onegeneration, many Japanese-and Chinese-Americans were able to attend college and make enough money to move out to the Eastside—to cities like Bellevue and Mercer Island,” Sugikawa explained. “However, most of the Japanese and Chinese churches remained on Beacon Hill.So in 2001, Lighthouse Christian Church was founded to serve English-speaking, Asian-Americans living on the Eastside.”


By 2009, Lighthouse had over 400 members and was now focused on anyone that would like to join, regardless of ethnicity. It was in this year, too, that the church began its process of transforming into a church dedicated to serving the community.


“Around this time, Richard Stearns, the president of World Vision, came out with a book called A Hole in Our Gospel. It discussed how many churches today focus solely on spreading the word about Jesus but neglectissues of advocacy and social justice. So many of us have forgotten that faith and piety go hand-in-hand with helping others,” said Sugikawa. This book ignited a desire in Sugikawa and other pastors to place more focus on loving and serving their neighbors.


“We decided to participate in what is called ‘Advent Conspiracy’. The purpose of this movement is to bring a deeper meaning to Christmas in the four weeks leading up to the holiday by opposing its commercialization and focusing on caring for the poor. We focus on four values: spend less, give more, love all, and worship fully,” Sugikawa explained. “So, for example, if you usually buy your kids five or six presents, maybe only buy them three. Then, donate the money that you saved to help those in need in Jesus’ name.”


Since it was their first year participating, Sugikawa estimated that they would raise around $40,000 between their 400 members. However, much to everyone’s surprise, the church raised nearly $140,000 in four weeks and donated it to three charitable organizations as well as the school where they meet on Sundays. This year, Lighthouse selected Puentes as one of the organizations that would benefit from their participation in Advent Conspiracy.


I asked Sugikawa why they had chosen Puentes to be one of the organizations. She said that she had heard María-Jose Soerens speak at an event, and realized that immigration was likely affecting the church’s own community at Lake Hills in Bellevue, since it is roughly 20% Latino.


“We were established as an Asian-American church and didn’t have any Latino members, so that group was just not responding to us.I attended a gathering between Asian-American and Hispanic-American pastors about two years ago to discuss what affects our respective communities,” Sugikawa told me. “One of the major topics from the Latino side of the discussion was immigration. Many Latinos are afraid of being deported or targeted in some way—and the other pastors and I realized that although immigration issues do not affect Asian-Americans as significantly, they affect our Latino neighbors so we need to care about these issues too.”


Lighthouse members created a social justice group called Impact—a group dedicated to learning about poverty and systemic injustice, and then discussing ways to take action. A year and a half ago the group decided to focus on immigration and Soeren was invited to speak on what was happening at the NW Detention Center. Sugikawa remarked: “It was challenging at first for more people to become interested in justice and racial reconciliation. However, things are beginning to changesinceDaniel came.”Daniel Astudillo is one of the first Latino immigrants to join the church.


“It was really unexpected actually… to be sitting in service one Sunday and then hear the words ‘immigration’ and ‘detention centers’. Your ears perk up like a dog’s almost!” Astudillo said. “The immigrant community often gets forgotten. People forget that we are human beings with real feelings, but when we went to the detention center, we got to show the detainees that we are here and we care about them and love them.” Astudillo referenced a trip that he, Sugikawa and five other Lighthousemembers took to the North West Detention Center in Tacoma, WA, accompanied by two Puentes staff members.


The conversation shifted back to Sugikawa for a few minutes before we wrapped up. “You know, during World War II, the Japanese were in the same position that so many Latinos are in now: being detained,” she said. “It’s so easy to forget all that happened after two or three generations. But now that we are in positions of influence, it is even more important that we use our voice to speak out against the injustices that take place in places like the detention centers… The Bible tells us to protect the foreigners, the powerless in our midst, as we were once foreigners ourselves. We must not forget that.”

Lighthouse came to Puentes with open hearts and open minds, and because of that, our collaboration has been extremely successful. We hope that the work of Lighthouse not only continues to act as a force of change; but also inspires other individuals, communities and organizations to do so as well.


Welcome Esmy!


We are so honored to introduce you to Esmeralda Jimenez, "Esmy", the newest member of our team. Esmy will be serving as our Resource Development and Community Engagement leader. She has been volunteering with us for months offering her compassionate heart and incredible savvy to our work. 

Esmy grew up in Eastern WA and knows first hand the difficulties of living without legal status. The daughter of campesinos, she attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she studied environmental science and international relations. Driven by curiosity and creativity, she hopes to find places that foster development of programs that bridge the gaps between unique communities.

We know Esmy to be a force of nature. She keeps herself busy hustling for Social Justice everywhere she goes. She also currently serves as a mentor for Young Women Empowered and hosts a community garden through Seattle Tilth's Just Garden program. 

If you want to learn more about our work, how to collaborate, or what we are up to, Esmy will always be available for a good ol' cafecito. You can welcome her here


Those Who Aren't Going Free

2,000 Immigrants to be Transferred from Federal Prisons to Detention Centers for Deportation Proceedings

The Federal Prison System has recently been applauded in headlines for their decision to release over 6,000 inmates being held on small-scale drug charges. What is overlooked, however, is the fact that one-third of those to be “released” are Legal Permanent Residents and Undocumented Immigrants who are actually being transferred out of prisons and into for profit detention centers to face deportation. These transfers will continue to stress a system that is already overwhelmed. We hope this story will help highlight the need to extend reforms targeted at reducing the amount of people caught in the industrial prison complex to also reduce funding for profit-driven migrant detention.

Read the original Article on


The U.S. will release 6,000 inmates next month—and then deport 2,000 of them

More than 6,000 inmates convicted of drug charges will be released from federal prison at the end of the month in what experts say will be among the largest inmate releases in U.S. history.

But about a third of those inmates aren’t going free: 2,000 of the releasees are immigrants who will be immediately moved into deportation proceedings.

The release is thanks to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a judicial agency which voted last April to reduce sentences for drug crimes by an average of 11 months. The commission decided in November 2014 that they would enact the changes retroactively, allowing inmates to petition courts for sentence reductions. The first wave of 6,000 inmates who have been approved will now be released between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2, although many of them are already in halfway houses or home confinement.

In past years, the commission made similar moves to reduce sentences for crack cocaine, but this release covers all drug charges. Over the next few years, it will mean that more than 40,000 inmates will be eligible for early release.

“We were motivated in part by the overcrowding in the federal prisons,” Rachel Barkow, a commission member and NYU law professor, told the Marshall Project. Congressional oversight reports say that federal prisons are 30% over capacity. 

The retroactive resentencing will take effect as criminal justice reform reaches a critical point in U.S. politics. It’s separate from President Obama’s move to grant clemency to some nonviolent drug offenders, which resulted in 46 commutations this summer. And it’s also different from the recent bills proposed in Congress to reduce sentences and mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes.

In fact, the commission’s resentencing decision will probably have a bigger impact than those higher profile actions. “Nothing to date comes close to what this shift is likely to produce over the next decade or so, starting this year,” Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group, told the AP.

A quarter of the inmates who qualify under the sentencing commission’s reforms are not U.S. citizens. The 2,000 inmates who will be deported—both undocumented immigrants and legal residents who can be deported for their crimes—will be moved from federal prison to immigration detention centers.

Donna Coltharp, an assistant federal public defender in the western district of Texas, told me that many of her clients eligible for the reductions were caught bringing drugs from Mexico into the U.S. “A lot of them are people who carried something across the border… for what seems to us as a small amount of money,” she said. They ended up getting sentences ranging from five to ten years in prison.

“Even the folks who are going home to another country, I think, are happy that they’re being released,” she said. Immigrants in federal prison are not eligible for some drug programs that U.S. citizen inmates are, which can make their time in prison more difficult.

Some have worried that the people being released are not just nonviolent drug offenders caught in outdated sentencing guidelines, but hardened and dangerous criminals. The AP reported that some of those being released carried automatic weapons and had past robbery or assault convictions. Judges can block an early release if they think an inmate could be a public danger.

Other criminal justice reform advocates wonder why the release is making headlines now. This has been in the works for more than a year, and some say the media attention could be timed by some prosecutors to turn public opinion against criminal justice reform efforts. “It’s fodder for the Bill O’Reillys and Heather Mac Donalds,” a lawmaker working on the Senate reform bill told the Marshall Project.

Taken into context, it’s hardly alarming: Every year, federal prisons release 55,000 inmates who’ve served their sentences, and state prisons release another 600,000.



Texas: "Troublesome" lawyers locked out of private prisons

Read the original article in the Los Angeles Times 

Immigrants' attorneys say they were locked out of detention centers after raising concerns


Pro bono attorneys working at the country’s two largest immigrant family detention centers in Texas said Monday that they have been "locked out" after they raised concerns last week that officials were forcing the immigrant mothers they represent to sign legal papers without consulting them. The complaint comes as the Congressional Progressive Caucus and members of the House Judiciary Committee are preparing to hold a forum on family detention Tuesday that’s expected to include testimony from two immigrant women who were detained, a whistle-blower who worked at one of the Texas detention centers and experts on the psychological, developmental and legal implications of family detention.

It also comes after a federal judge in California gave the administration until Aug. 3 to show why she should not hold them to standards for detaining children set out in a 1997 legal settlement, potentially ending family detention.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman has said they are preparing a response for the judge.

The Obama administration has expanded family detention during the last year following a surge of tens of thousands of immigrant families on the Texas border last summer, mostly from Central America. They went from one 95-bed family detention center in Pennsylvania to three built to house 3,700 by year's end.

On Monday, four national immigration lawyers groups working at the two newer, larger detention centers south of San Antonio in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas, sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement demanding it “account for the cascade of due process violations and detrimental practices.”

The groups that wrote to ICE include Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), the American Immigration Council, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) and the American Immigration Lawyers Assn. (AILA). They jointly provide legal services to mothers and children detained at the Texas detention centers through the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project.

CARA lead attorney Brian Hoffman said that in recent weeks, staff and volunteers have witnessed ICE officials “coercing women into accepting ankle monitors, denying access to legal counsel and impeding pro bono representation, along with mass disorganization and confusion in implementing the new release policy for mothers who fled violence and who are pursuing protection in the United States.”

Gillian Christensen, ICE press secretary, said the agency would review the claims and "respond directly to AILA."

"ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care. The agency is committed to ensuring that individuals housed in our family residential centers have care and resources," Christensen said.

"DHS has determined reconsideration is appropriate for custody decisions of arriving families who have established eligibility for asylum, or other relief under our laws. Understanding the sensitive and unique nature of housing families, ICE is evaluating cases of residents at the agency’s family residential centers," Christensen added. "Going forward, ICE will generally not detain mothers with children, absent a threat to public safety or national security, if they have received a positive finding for credible or reasonable fear and the individual has provided a verifiable residential address."

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for the Geo Group, the federal contractor that runs the Karnes facility, referred questions to ICE but also released a statement saying it refutes any allegations of misconduct:

"The Karnes County Residential Center provides high quality care in a safe, clean, and family friendly environment, and onsite U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel provide direct oversight to ensure compliance with ICE's Family Residential Standards. Our company has consistently, strongly denied allegations to the contrary."

He said Geo officials at Karnes have "created an open and transparent policy of allowing visits to the center by the public, elected local and national officials, federal officials from ICE and other government agencies, as well as nongovernmental organizations.”

A spokesman for the Corrections Corp. of America, the federal contractor that runs the Dilley facility, did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the letter.

Among incidents raised in their letter:

-- Lawyers locked out:

Last Friday, the attorneys allege that ICE officials and guards at the detention center in Dilley locked attorneys out of a courtroom, telling the attorneys they could not enter until the hearings began and letting them in five minutes ahead of time. When an attorney informed the presiding immigration judge, the judge pushed all of the hearings back by an hour.

The same day, psychologists who were pre-cleared for entry into the Dilley facility at the request of pro bono attorneys to examine their clients and establish their asylum claims were “abruptly and without notice refused entry into the facility.” That afternoon, a pro bono attorney was removed from the facility “while in the midst of a client interview and without explanation, and denied further admittance,” according to the letter.

A spokesman for ICE, in a statement issued Monday evening, said of the attorney being removed: "A pro-bono attorney, who was disruptive to operations at the South Texas Family Residential Center, was asked to leave and is no longer authorized at the facility."

In May, support personnel who had been cleared to enter the detention center in Karnes City, Texas, and the west wing of the White House were refused entry at Dilley, the letter alleges, “without reasonable explanation.”

-- Coercive use of ankle monitors:

The attorneys allege that ICE officials at the Dilley detention center have summoned women to fake “court” appointments using Post-it notes instructing them, “Ir a corte” (Go to court) within 30 minutes. Once inside the courtroom trailer, ICE officials told the women that ankle monitors were a condition of their release, even for those who had already had their bond set by a judge.

One woman told attorneys she signed an ankle monitor agreement with ICE “under duress” after being denied access to counsel. Another told attorneys that when her uncle attempted to pay her bond in New York, in accordance with an immigration judge’s order, ICE refused to accept payment because she had not received an ankle monitor.

-- Intimidation:

A woman at the Dilley facility told attorneys that Thursday night, officials went room to room demanding the names of women who told attorneys about problems with the ankle monitors. “These officials emphasized that they wanted the mothers’ names. The client reported that the angry officials told the mothers that lawyers have nothing to do with this matter,” the letter said.

Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced a new policy supposedly speeding the release of women who had passed an initial asylum interview. ICE officials also announced added oversight and case reviews intended to improve family detention. An ICE spokeswoman has defended family detention, citing those improvements.

But Hoffman said those improvements appear to have made little difference, according to reports from volunteers they work with who visit families in detention and help them catch buses once they are released.

“Volunteers at the San Antonio bus station have found many families do not understand the terms of their release, and even where they have been handed important documents, they are in English so Spanish or indigenous language speakers do not understand,” Hoffman said.

“Mothers who have been shackled with an ankle monitor have no idea how or when to charge the device, and their deportation officers refused to explain or answer questions before release.”

Hoffman also said his group has pleaded "with ICE to be allowed to help prepare the mothers to understand their rights and obligations upon release through pre-release orientations, meaning a daily briefing to explain the women's rights, any reporting obligations, the importance of appearing for all scheduled court appearances, how to file an asylum application in advance of the one-year filing deadline, and how to connect with pro bono attorneys in their cities of destination."

He said that "although those requests were initially received with enthusiasm" by ICE officials, "nothing has yet been implemented."

Richard Rocha, a spokesman for ICE in Texas, said it was preparing a response to the letter on Monday.

He has noted in the past that immigrant women at the detention centers received “know your rights” presentations, pointing out one that was underway for several dozen mothers in the detention center chapel in Dilley during a recent tour.

The South Texas Family Residential center in Dilley, the largest of the three family detention centers with 2,400 beds, is run by Corrections Corp. of America, which sub-contracts with another company, American Gateways, to do the legal presentations.

Hoffman said pro bono lawyers would like to work with the company, but have so far been unable to because they do not have access to that part of the detention center.

Class Action against GEO Group for violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

Class Action against GEO Group for violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act

At Puentes we could not be more excited for this ruling, as we believe that GEO Group has been the institutionally enabled pimp of an operation that profits from detained bodies for much too long. We applaud the court's decision as well as the courageous efforts of the detainees and organizations collaborating in this very important matter. May this be the beginning of the end of migrant detention.

The Narrative of Greed and the Narrative of Community: Background Details of Veronica vs. the Bulldozers.

Corporate greed thrives by disrupting any form of clear and meaningful communication. Take for example, the quintessential "fine print," or all the money health insurance companies make by creating unreadable forms--and we are smart! Or think about the difficulties in getting to talk to the right person to solve your issue without going through hoop after hoop. It seems as though keeping people confused is the key to breaking their bank. 

These are the dynamics that are at play behind our "Veronica Vs. the Bulldozers" campaign, dynamics that also make it difficult to explain the issue in more than three seconds (no "water for Haiti" for us). 

Many of you have asked very good questions trying to understand the situation. While we are almost at our end goal, I want to take the time we did not have last week to explain the background of the situation to honor the beautiful trust so many of you put on us by giving with the eyes of your heart. Others need to understand to make sure their investment counts. We get that. So here is the situation:

One of the most confusing issues has been that of renting vs. owning. "Landlord" and "mortgage" are terms that don't go together for us unless we are familiar with the dynamics of manufactured homes (trailer parks, mobile homes, and such). For those of you, like me, new to the issue, think about this as a house boat. You pay mortgage on the house but you still have to pay for moorage. 

This is how Veronica and Ramon paid the mortgage in their unit and rent on the plot. This isn't a perfect analogy because the unit would never really be removed from the plot in the same way the house boat would be sailed away, but you get the idea.

Back to the issue at hand: It is common practice for landlords of manufactured homes to conflate these two issues together and confuse land & unit in order to kick tenants out and keep their homes. This makes sense from a pure profit perspective (as opposed to a healthy community perspective). In Veronica's case, she and Ramon had done tons of improvements to their house before Ramon was detained. It is, indeed, a beautiful place. Their daughter, now 6, showed Diana and I how she would follow Ramon around with a hammer to help him improve and expand the house. Their house has increased in value since they bought it. 

Usually the landlords or managers will wait for any sign of financial vulnerability on the part of the tenant in order to make their move. For Veronica this vulnerability was to be consistently late with her payments since January, due to the hardships related Ramon's detention at the Northwest Detention Center. Although she paid each month, she did it a few weeks late. This is when White River Estate, MHP, took advantage of Veronica's situation and initiated a lawsuit against her because she was no longer in compliance with the contract. They decided to charge her with the back rent on the lot PLUS attorney fees to be paid within a week (that was the first $3500). If she failed to pay, then the Sheriff could come and evict her and the children today, June 23rd. This would leave them homeless.

In addition to this, White River Estate and Olsen Law firm, issued an acceleration of payment for what she had left on her mortgage, totaling a little over $4600, to be paid on June 30th. But if she pays, then she owns her house and is no longer vulnerable to White River Estate's shenanigans.

To be sure, White River Estate and Olsen Law Firm were expecting Veronica not to be able to pay for this and were hoping to evict her and sell the house. You see, there is no cost and all profit for the two companies because White River Estate gets to sell a property that has appreciated (increased in value) and Olsen Law Firm gets to be paid for serving the lawsuit. Veronica, however, is left homeless, in debt, and with the losses on a house she has invested in. 

At Puentes, we saw the actions of White River Estate and Olsen Law Firm as predatory and abusive and decided this was not going to happen on our watch. This is why we decided to mobilize for our sister and her family. We did it not only for the sake of Veronica and the Mendoza's but also for the sake of White River Estate and Olsen Law Firm--to show them that a different way of doing things is possible. 

You see, this situation is an example of what the narratives of Empire produce: The creation of debt among a people and the reaping of profitable fruits that grow from their financial vulnerability. This is a narrative that leads to death (hunger, broken relations, you name it).

We chose life. We chose to tell a counter narrative where trust, community, and neighborhood power would speak louder than death. All of you, my friends, decided to step into that narrative with us. And that is what this campaign is about. 

Thank you so much for walking with us. 





It Could Be a Wonderful Life

By Claire Burkitt
Original post: June 23, 2015, 

You know that scene in It's A Wonderful Life where Mr. Potter tries to take everything away from George Bailey?  And do you remember the next part where the entire town rallies around him and raises the money he’s missing, because they know that he will always, always be on their team? Over the past four days, I have been living just such a scenario. I am neither George Bailey. Nor (thankfully), am I Mr. Potter. I am Mr. Gower, Violet, Sam Wainwright.

Veronica Noriega is an irreplaceable part of our greater Seattle community. She has sacrificed a great deal to be here, and she has consistently done so with extraordinary generosity and strength. For the last 18 months, Veronica’s husband Ramon has been in immigrant detention in Tacoma (In case you didn’t know, Tacoma is home to one of the country’s largest detention centers, privately run by the GEO Group). During her husband’s detention, Veronica has organized and lead solidarity events outside of the center and worked three jobs, all while being a mother to three children.

None of these things matter to her bank or to her landlord. Today, Veronica and her children are on the verge of homelessness.

Veronica with her children: Jose, Ashley, and Veronica

Veronica with her children: Jose, Ashley, and Veronica

I want you to understand why Veronica is so much like George Bailey. I want you to understand that, like George, Veronica loves her family. Like George, she loves her community, her neighbors. Like George, she has dreams and aspirations that have been put on hold over and over again, in service of those around her. Like George, she needs her community’s help.

This is not a story that will end with Veronica running through the streets of Seattle shouting “Merry Christmas, you old Building and Loan!” It won’t have a white, male protagonist, perfectly timed music, or an adorable angel named Clarence.  But none of that is what matters. What matters is that we choose to give Veronica the same kind of love that we give a fictional character from a fictional town.


Last week, I went on a date. As we sat talking about things far too cerebral for just about anyone’s taste but our own, my date leaned in and whispered, “You know that romanticized notion of the 1920s drug store, where the kids know the guy behind the counter?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s a Wonderful Life; Mr. Gower!”

“I want that back,” he whispered.

I want that back too, but I don’t want it just for the few people who had it in the first place. I want it for everyone. I want it for Veronica Noriega. I want it for her husband Ramon and for her children. I want the lawyers and the landlord and bank who think she is unloved and alone to know, beyond all doubt, that she is loved and she belongs here.

So I am inviting you to participate in a story of high ideals realized, of love winning. I’m asking you to improve upon a Frank Capra classic where the color of your skin and the language you speak do not determine whether you can be the hero of the story.


Veronica needs $8000 by July 1st in order to own her home and pay her legal fees. What’s more, over the course of one year, she will pay that money back to the organization that is raising funds for her, so that the money can go into a revolving fund for people in similar situations. Any money raised in addition to what Veronica needs will go immediately into that fund.

More of Veronica’s story can be found here, along with a giving page.

Adam Smith re-introduces the Accountability in Immigration Detention Act

Congressman Adam Smith (WA-09) re-introduced legislation today to address both the cruel conditions of migrant detention and put an end to the bed mandate.

Click here for the press release. 

This bill is the result of a strong collaboration between colectivo de detenidos who held a successful hunger strike last year, and immigration advocates. 

The introduction of the bill is not enough, however. We need all of us to call and press our representatives to understand the importance of acting on this bill. 

Please sign this petition demanding action from congress.

The Sin Fronteras Resource Guide is Live

Have you ever been sitting in front of a person who urgently needs help you have no idea where to get? 

Well, this is the experience of many of us providing direct services to undocumented neighbors and their families. 

Life without legal status is very hard; families are constantly being burdened by the threats of deportation and detention--which are financially quite costly; think legal fees, processing fees and well, you know about GEO and the NWDC. In addition, both deportation and detention mean the loss of all or at least half an income to affected families.

These financial burdens add up and many families who were financially solvent find themselves in deep financial trouble. Suddenly they can't make rent payments and are evicted, or unable to pay utilities. Don't forget that DSHS does not provide coverage for undocumented migrants. 

Thankfully there is a whole network of care to support families in need in King & Pierce County, but not many of us, working in direct services, know about them.

This is why earlier in the summer, The Church Council of Greater Seattle and Puentes were tasked with producing the Sin Fronteras Resource Guide

This guide is designed with our overworked/underpaid/good-doer colleagues in mind. 

When somebody who, for good reason, is very anxious and stressed out asks you for some information, you can now go to the Sin Fronteras Guide website, and easily find the information you need and can swiftly print it or share it with the client in front of you... everyone's happy :)

We truly hope this guide is as helpful as possible, so if we are missing something or if you have ideas of how it can be better, please do not hesitate to tell us. We are all in this together!

Share this guide as you find it useful. 

New Partnership with Latino Community Fund

We are so excited and proud to announce that Latino Community Fund has become our fiscal sponsor. 

Latino Community Fund of Washington is an organization focused in empowering innovative Latino-led projects like Puentes to succeed by providing administrative support, financial guidance, excellent standards of good governance and a wonderful network of support. 

We are thrilled for this new partnership and look forward to continue contributing to the well being of the immigrant community in Washington State.

Now, of course, if you were dying to donate much needed financial support to our program but were curious about that tax-deduction, here is your answer! Please consider investing in Puentes as part of your year-end contributions.

We are very grateful for the encouragement of our friends, partners, and community and look forward to a new season with much excitement.


Thick Spaces: Finding the Spirit in Social Resistance

Thick Spaces: Finding the Spirit in Social Resistance

The NWDC Resistance movement is not religious, at all, but their praxis is nothing short of prophetic.+

Maru Mora, a leader in the movement, introduced the celebration telling us that Mexicans laugh at everything, including death. This day of the dead procession was a way to laugh at Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), and at GEO, the corporation running and profiting from migrant detention. Through our marching, we would simultaneously mourn with those who have lost their loved ones to deportation; remember those who have died crossing the border trying to reunite with their families; and declare freedom over oppression. In laughing at GEO, we would proclaim their lack of power over us. She invited us to “claim this space” (the street outside NWDC) against the horrors brought about by GEO and ICE upon migrant families. The procession carried two coffins; one for the children who have died and another for the adults. Yet, the name on the coffins was “GEO.”+

The juxtaposition of deadly oppression with life-giving resistance deeply echoed the kingdom that is here and at the same time yet to come. Colorful outfits, decorations, altars, and bubbly children’s laughs were a slap in the face to the sterile and oppressive statement of corporate bullying that is the NWDC.+

Fight the Bed Mandate

In 2013 the Senate passed a bipartisan bill for comprehensive immigration reform. However, the bill was stopped in the House when Speaker Boehner refused to bring it up for a vote, despite bipartisan support. Now the president is considering providing immigration relief through executive actions, and advocates hope to have a chance for reform in 2015.

Difficult, Meaningful, and Transformative.

This is a post from Catherine Jensen on why she works on psychosocial assessments for immigration cases:

In graduate school, I was introduced to the concept of life as story.  Viewing life through a narrative lens, one begins to notice themes and patterns.  Clarity is gained as one begins to grasp the impact of particular losses and traumas.  Giving context to one’s life events and past behaviors births compassion and awareness. 

When I write reports for immigrant clients and their families, I have the privilege of acting as a story-teller.  More accurately, I get to help someone else tell their story, and assist them in putting the contextual pieces together.  Together, we make some sense of past heartache and loss.   I witness my clients’ strength and resiliency and validate both the interpersonal and structural oppression they have often suffered.

It is a very unique privilege to do work that confronts injustice on both a micro and macro level. It is difficult, meaningful, and I love it.