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Meet Bud Conlin of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bud Conlin.

Bud, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
The Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees was formed in 2013 following a community tour/visitation of the Krome Service Processing Center, an immigrant prison for men on the western outskirts of Miami-Dade County. Our goal was to start a visitation service to end isolation.

After several months of back and forth with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), we received authorization to visit. We have maintained a continuous presence at the prison since February 2014. We visit to provide our immigrant friends with a human connection. We do the things that friends do for each other. We provide books and phone time. We contact relatives, and when we can, we find legal representation. There is no right to a free attorney in immigration courts, and 85% of our friends are on their own in a strange country and system. We are also the eyes and ears of the community. ICE is accountable to no one. We take what we learn inside Krome to raise community awareness. Finally, if our friends are released, we meet them at the gate with clothes, a cell phone, a bus ticket to their new home, and kindness.

FOMDD has three other related initiatives. For the last 18 months, the Circle of Protection, a coalition of like-minded groups, including United We Dream, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Women Working Together, Pedro Arupe Institute and others meet weekly in front of the ICE check-in center at Miramar, FL. Anyone with immigration issues is forced to stand in long lines, as often as monthly, to see if they are worthy to stay in this country, or will be arrested on the spot, imprisoned, and deported.

As with all of our initiatives, we comfort, witness, and resist, in this case by offering food, water, chairs, some diversions for the children, and a welcome shoulder. Immigration detention affects spouses, families, and the community. FOMDD sponsors a Women’s Empowerment Group, facilitated by a volunteer psychologist. To ease the fear and risk, we provide safe transportation for women who are undocumented.

Our fourth initiative, Shine A Light, was born out of our duty to spread community awareness. FOMDD was part of a large peaceful demonstration at ICE Miramar in July 2018. After many hours, 17 peaceful demonstrators were arrested and spent the night in the Broward County Main Jail. While all charges were subsequently dismissed, ICE has now banned two of our visitors from the Krome prison for participating in the action. The ACLU of Florida, Southern Poverty Law Center, United We Dream, the Florida Immigrant Coalition, and Freedom for Immigrants believe this is a clear violation of our right to protected speech.

Our Shine A Light campaign seeks to force ICE to stipulate that community members do not lose access to immigrant prisons for simply protesting the system.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
We began as a quiet group, grateful for our access to folks in detention. There comes a time, however, when people of good will and character need to act on their knowledge and experiences. We have filed complaints over conditions and conduct, and now two of our members are facing retaliation for the exercise of protected speech.

Every aspect of visiting, while incredibly rewarding, can be difficult. The remote location, visiting times, and advance notice to ICE can be impediments. Recruiting and retaining visitors continues to be a challenge.

Additionally, the folks we visit mostly have too much of nothing in terms of money. For our first three years books, phone time, and expenses related to supporting immigrants in confinement came from the pockets of our volunteer visitors. This was clearly not sustainable. Two years ago we became a nonprofit with 501(c)3 status and began fundraising in earnest.

Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD) – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We are bold accomplices in community with the undocumented. We are the only independent community group in the Krome Prison. We use our privilege to speak for those who can not.

We are also known as the go-to folks to visit a community member who is suddenly incarcerated in immigrant prison, and we are the folks who will show up at the prison gates when someone is released. We celebrate with them, shelter them, clothe and equip them, and get them safely to their destination.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success is increasing our number of visits and visitors. It is shining a light on the evil of immigrant incarceration. It is welcoming a released friend, and finally, it will be the end of immigrant prisons in this country.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Bud Conlin

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