What is accompaniment?
Accompaniment is the practice of walking with each other, side by side, through daily life, challenges, and moments of uncertainty. The Latin roots of the word, cum pane, mean “to share bread with.” Accompaniment is an invitation for us to practice offering our presence above and beyond our problem-solving.
Through the Church Council of Greater Seattle’s Accompaniment Program, a group of over 80 volunteers across the region are prepared and certified to respond to requests to go with individuals and families to immigration-related appointments, where there is often uncertainty and apprehension to go alone.
In 2017, after listening to impacted and allied community members and noticing a gap in the regional immigrant rights efforts, CCGS and organizational partner 21 Progress began training volunteers to accompany youth and young adults applying for DACA to immigration appointments.
Since 2017, Church Council staff and volunteers have invested thousands of hours to grow and vitalize this program. We have connected with 80 volunteers through 6 initial orientations, over 35 USCIS small-group orientations, and 2 community gatherings.
The network of CCGS accompaniment volunteers are connected to Jewish, Unitarian, and Christian congregations, secular, spiritual, deeply committed to immigrant rights, and have residences spanning south King to south Snohomish counties.
In early 2019, the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN) was inspired by the accompaniment initiative of CCGS and 21 Progress. They convened a group of community partners to work together to launch a coordinated statewide accompaniment program. After a time-intensive collaborative process in which CCGS staff and accompaniment volunteers greatly contributed, a statewide accompaniment program was launched at the end of September 2019! WAISN is the umbrella organization across Washington State and CCGS is a coordinating accompaniment organization for Western WA, focusing on King County.
During these efforts, CCGS and leaders connected to the Jewish Coalition for Immigrant Justice NW (JCIJ-NW) have been increasingly collaborating and coordinating accompaniment efforts, with the hope of jointly increasing our collective capacity in 2020.
There will be additional training opportunities in 2020 for currently certified volunteers to receive training for accompaniment to bond hearings at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma and to go to state courts where there is a fear of ICE presence both in western and eastern Washington.
In addition to volunteer training, Church Council staff have been creating the necessary infrastructure to sustain the Accompaniment Program. In 2019, two paid interns and several dedicated volunteers have worked behind the scenes to get a database and hotline up and running.
With little promotion, the Church Council Accompaniment Hotline has received 40 requests in 2019. The majority of those requests came after April 2019, when the infrastructure was being established. Most requests take at least 5 hours from start to finish, sometimes more depending on their complexity and the number of people involved.
The Church Council network is partnering with impacted-community-led coalitions, organizations, and individuals in the struggle for the dignity and safety of our immigrant siblings as they navigate a deeply broken and inhumane system. Time and time again, the message of accompaniment resounds:
¡No están solas! – You are not alone!
Types of accompaniment have included:
- USCIS biometrics (fingerprinting) & interview interpretation, Tukwila
- Ankle bracelet monitoring, private company, Tukwila
- ICE Check-ins, Tukwila
- Immigration Court, Seattle
- Non-immigration state courts where there is a fear of ICE presence, Western & Eastern WA
- NW Detention Center Bond Hearings, Tacoma
- Clemency hearings, Olympia
- WA DOL for driver license or state IDs, King County
- Legal appointments, King County
- Family/children safety plans in case of deportation, King County
- Transit & neighborhood orientation, King County
- Consulate appointments for passports, WA & OR
- Social services appointments, King County
- Job and employment support, King County
Accompaniment referral sources:
- Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN)
- 21 Progress
- Kids In Need of Defense
- Casa Latina
- Entre Hermanos
- Centro Rendu
- Detention Lottery attorney
- World Relief
- Central Southeast Seattle Interfaith Migrant Rights Network (CSE SIMRN)
- Church Council facilitated Grupo de Solidaridad
- Local faith communities & congregations
Photo: Associated Press | Damian Dovarganes