Sarah Jackson is used to having anywhere between five and fifteen people show up to her organization's monthly training sessions, where volunteers are taught about the realities of immigrant detention in Colorado. The trainings also go over how Coloradans can help detainees through visitations to the 1,500-bed immigrant detention center in Aurora, or by donating items, money or volunteer hours to Jackson's organization, Casa de Paz, which hosts recently released detainees or their visiting family members inside a modest home in Aurora. (See Westword's July 12, 2016, cover story, “The House That Peace Built,” for more on Casa de Paz.)
Until recently, the largest number of newcomers that Jackson had ever hosted at an orientation was around fifty, for the first training session after Donald Trump was elected president. Then came the recent news about thousands of families being separated at the border under the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy, which was enacted in early April.
While much of the nation has been outraged over the family separation crisis, it also motivated 315 people to show up to Jackson's most recent training session on Saturday, July 7.
It was such a large group that Jackson had to change the location for her event twice, first from the Casa de Paz house to a public library and then to a church that could accommodate hundreds of attendees. But Jackson says that rather than feeling daunted, she was exhilarated by the high turnout and how it meant that she could share ways to help immigrant detainees with even more people.
“I tell the same stories whether I'm speaking one on one, or one on 315," Jackson explains. “And what was great was that so many people learned how they can make an impact. Many people who showed up [on Saturday] said, 'For the past couple of weeks I've been feeling helpless seeing the news every day and not knowing what I could do.' With the trainings, the goal is to use storytelling to get people emotionally connected enough to the cause that they will then shadow a current volunteer and learn all the logistical details of how to visit the detention center or help out around Casa de Paz.”
Jackson's organization has also raised money to bond out parents in detention whose children were separated from them at the border and taken to other parts of the country.
"We've now successfully been able to bond out several mothers in Colorado and also pay the travel expenses of parents who've been released from this detention center to get to family members elsewhere in the United States," Jackson says. “Additionally, we're giving $20 calling cards to each of the parents that we know who are still detained [in the Aurora detention center] and separated from their children."
Only two of the nine mothers that Jackson has hosted at Casa de Paz in recent weeks who were separated from their children at the border have been reunited with their kids.
One of those mothers is Maria, whom Westword wrote about in a June 21 article. Once Maria's story circulated, Jackson received money from Colorado supporters to cover her transportation from the East Coast, where she was staying with friends, to Texas, where her daughter had been released from detention.
But Maria is among the few immigrants who have been reunited with their children. “Some parents who were, or are, being held here in Colorado know where their children are, and it's just a waiting game,” Jackson explains. “But some are still trying to figure out where their children are."
For Jackson, the most surprising support she's seen in recent weeks is from Colorado children who have wanted to help in their own ways. "We've had three different groups of children, on their own, coming up with ideas to raise money or write cards to encourage the parents in the detention center," Jackson says.
They include a girl who ran a lemonade stand and raised over $200 in one afternoon. She even filmed a promotional “commercial,” seen below:
Jackson says some other kids sold popsicles at a pool and raised about $100. And a separate group of fifteen young children wrote over a hundred notes of encouragement for parents in the Aurora detention facility.
"This is one of the most beautiful things that I've witnessed in my life: young children who have heard what's going on and empathize with kids separated from their parents, saying that if they were taken away from their parents, they would be crying,” Jackson says. “It's amazing a child could feel what another child has been going through and decide that they want to help."
For others wanting to help, she adds, Casa de Paz's next fundraiser is this coming Friday, July 13, at 4 p.m. at Cerverceria Colorado; the brewery will give 20 percent of proceeds to a family reunification fund.
"I'm really glad that there is this recent surge of people who are saying that what is happening with families being separated is not okay,” Jackson says. “But I also want to remind people that once all of these children are hopefully reunited with their parents, it doesn't mean that the fight is over. And we're not just going away in a couple of months."
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