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Developing Community-Based Learning Practices Through Partnership

The Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (ICDI) is a Chicagobased organization of staff and volunteers called to respond actively and publicly to the suffering of individuals and communities affected by immigration detention, deportation, and post-detention through pastoral care, advocacy, public witness, and other activities. (For a brief historical overview of ICDI, see the accompanying Appendix, “The Origins of ICDI.”)

Melanie (second author) leads ICDI, which now has six different programs. Jail visitation volunteers provide weekly pastoral care visits in four county jails. Court Watch volunteers observe Immigration Court and document court proceedings. Deportation ministry volunteers provide spiritual care to people being deported and to their families, and they hold a weekly public prayer vigil. Post-detention accompaniment volunteers respond to hotline calls from people upon release from detention and provide food, clothing, and transportation. The unaccompanied children’s interfaith ministry provides spiritual care to migrant children from around the world who are without their parents. The Marie Joseph House of Hospitality provides long-term care and case management to people seeking or recently granted asylum who have no family or friends in the United States.

In 2015, Chris (first author) began volunteering with ICDI as a jail visitation volunteer, which he continues to do today. Once a month, he joins a team of volunteers who travel to a nearby detention center to provide pastoral care to detained immigrants. Pastoral care entails a ministry of presence: sitting with people in immigration detention, listening to their stories, letting them share, helping them find that which in their own faith tradition can help them through difficult times, and reminding them that there is a concerned network of people who are thinking about them and praying for them. Many detainees express gratitude for ICDI’s presence in the detention centers and volunteers also remark that it is a privilege to share time with them. The perseverance and sense of gratitude offered by detained immigrants, even in spite of their bleak situations, stand as true testaments of faith. Indeed, volunteers often express receiving more from the people they visit than they can ever give.

About a year after Chris began volunteering with ICDI, he approached Melanic to see if she might be interested in developing a community-based research project around the work of ICDI through the Steans Center at DePaul University. The question posed was: “In what ways can a community partnership benefit ICDI?” Having completed a doctorate in sociology, she was very interested. Melanic thought it would be beneficial to have data on how people who were engaged with the immigration-related work of ICDI (i.e., students, volunteers, and staff) internalized their experiences. Such data could help ICDI better understand what drew people to the work it is doing and to inform the future direction of the organization. Based on this insight, the first phase of this community-based research project would focus on student reflections of their ICDI experience (which will be explained further in the next section). A future phase of the project will look at survey data from existing ICDI volunteers and staff to understand how faith journeys are related to the work of ICDI.

Overall, we are both curious about what compels people—regardless of whether they are religiously affiliated or not—to be in solidarity with others who have been detained for immigration reasons. Through this research, we hope to discover how these experiences of solidarity bring people to new moments of what Paulo Freirc calls “conscientization,” how religious faith may inform this process, and how being in solidarity may inform one’s spiritual journey, however one may define it. These questions will help to inform and deepen both the mission of ICDI and the pedagogical scope of the Religious Dimensions course. In the next section, we describe the course and the research project.

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