United Methodist Committee on Relief

Go Ahead. You are Free Now.

*Yvonne Njoroge

There is a miracle happening in the desert. 

It began with a call from U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Bishop Robert T. Hoshibata of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. They called to ask if the church could help provide transition services to families that had been detained at the Arizona border and were ready for release.

Inn Project Beds.jpg Photo by Barry Doyle photography

Local pastors replied that not only could they help, but to BE the church, they must help. The first congregation involved named this work the INN Project (since it was Advent), declaring they would make room in the inn for released families. 

Once released into the care of the church, families are provided with food, shower and laundry facilities, lodging, and assistance in contacting relatives in the United States. Families can then travel to be with their relatives before appearing in court.

Inn Project Black and White.jpg Photo by Barry Doyle Photography 

The churches involved in the INN Project try to anticipate a released family’s physical needs. However, what may be more important is the attention they give to restoring human dignity for detained family members, even before conducting intake interviews. The most powerful example of this act involves wristbands. Family members arrive at INN Project locations wearing wristbands with their alien number also known as A-0 Number or USCIS# stamped on it. Volunteers then have the honor of giving them a pair of scissors to cut off these bands, saying, “Go ahead. You are free now.” 

Inn Project Board.jpg Photo by Barry Doyle Photography

Staff and volunteers work closely with bus and airport officials who provide extra assistance and instructions on navigating the U.S. transportation network. Immigrants travel with documents that are properly prepared and provided by ICE, so that they can then take them to other ICE officials in the meetings that are scheduled near their relatives’ residence. With the United Methodist Committee on Relief’s support, the INN project has already reunited 664 families.

*Yvonne Njoroge is Digital Media Producer, Communications for Global Ministries.