Letter Writing FAQ

VIDA: Volunteers for Immigrants in Detention - Albuquerque (formerly Civic ABQ)

VIDA Letter Writing Program

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I write? Each letter writer makes their own decision about how often they can write to someone in detention. Some wait to receive a letter back, while others may pick a day once a week or once a month regardless of whether or not they’ve received a response. Do what works for you and what is sustainable for your life.

What should I say? Check out these sample letters for ideas. Your letter does not need to be long. It can be short and sweet and tell the person that you are thinking of them. Ask questions but keep your tone light. Once the person has written you back it will get easier to keep the communication going.

I wrote a letter but I didn’t get a response. Why? We never know why someone in detention does not answer a letter. It may be because they are depressed, or because they are not comfortable writing, or their literacy level is low. We have to trust that it still makes a difference to them to receive letters. At VIDA, we can find you another person to write to if you are bothered by never receiving a response. Many immigrants in detention write back promptly.

Can I send a greeting card? It depends on the detention center. A simple "Thinking of you" greeting card should be OK, but a more elaborate one (e.g. one that speaks or has other things attached) may be construed as concealing "contraband." Some places will allow it and some won’t. For your first letter, stick with regular paper. Then you can experiment with what’s allowed. Unfortunately, some of these rules are intermittently enforced so it’s hard to know what’s allowed for sure.

I feel uncomfortable using my home address. What should I do? We have two address options for this situation. One of our coordinators can scan the letter and email it to you, or you can have it physically forwarded to you. You can let us know what you prefer on this form or by e-mailing us anytime at abqvida@gmail.com.

My correspondent asked me something I couldn’t answer, or told me some disturbing stories. What should I do? Please reach out to us at VIDA (abqvida@gmail.com) if you are ever concerned about something you read in a letter or you have any questions. If they mention taking their own lives or committing suicide, we coordinators can alert the medical department at the facility. We can’t usually solve the problems that immigrants may have in detention, but we can try.

My correspondent wants me to help them with their legal case. What should I do? The legal side of an asylum or other immigrant case can be quite complicated. We are not attorneys and are not able to advise them about their cases. Encourage them to seek out the legal aid that should be offered in every facility (usually called Pro-Bono). We are on their side, but there is not always something that we can do to help. Reach out to the coordinators at abqvida@gmail.com and we can talk to you about this.

My correspondent asked me to send them money. What should I do? VIDA Abq volunteers provide a caring connection for immigrants in detention that is very valuable. We do not usually provide financial assistance. We do not want to create an expectation of financial help that many volunteers cannot fulfill. If you develop an ongoing relationship and want to help financially, it's important that you know and follow facility guidelines so that neither the immigrant or our program is inadvertently harmed. Please contact a Coordinator if you want to pursue providing financial help.

What is ok to send to my friends in detention? Each facility has different rules. We are aware that any of the items on the following list may not be accepted:

  • Greeting or post cards with glitter, electronic devices, ribbons, etc.... they must be plain store bought and also cannot be homemade or altered in any way.

  • Postage stamps

  • Envelopes, writing paper, posters, and/or stationary items.

  • Hardcover books, magazines, newspapers, or paperback books.

  • Photos must be professional and cannot be printed on home computers.

  • Any suspicious or writing in codes.

  • Newspaper or magazine clippings.

  • Computer printouts from Internet

  • Mail containing, perfume, cologne, lip-stick, chap-stick, bodily fluids, watermarks, paint, colored pencil markings, permanent marker, glue, Paste, substances, etc……

  • Cash money or funds

When in doubt, you can call the facility and ask what is acceptable.

Why is requesting asylum so difficult?

Requesting asylum is a long and complicated process. To better understand the process, please read the following which was extracted from the Episcopal Migration Ministry's (EMM) document Supporting Asylum Seekers - A toolkit for Congregations.

Pages 31-35 from A toolkit for Congregations