Backpacks for Migrants

Through group visits in jail classrooms, letter writing, safe release/accompaniment (for those people released from ICE custody who need help reaching their final destination) and other programs, we volunteers of CWF are in solidarity and friendship with our brothers and sisters in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention who suffer from isolation, loneliness, uncertainty and/or fear as they face deportation and, as a consequence, likely permanent separation from their family, friends and communities. They come to know that we in the community truly care; they are not abandoned, are not alone. 

One area of need that has been increasing substantially is our provision of backpacks. They are provided under two completely different scenarios:

  1. In 2018, we did twelve safe releases. That means we picked up twelve people from the Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling, either in response to a direct call from ICE to help someone being released reach their final destination, e.g. Sioux Falls, Grand Forks, or a call from a lawyer in the Twin Cities whose client is being released from Whipple and needs similar help. For those living outside of the Twin Cities, we often provide a backpack for their bus trip that contains hygiene products, a pad of paper and pen, a Natl. Geographic magazine, travel pillow, sunglasses, etc. In 2019 YTD, we have done twenty-two safe releases. We typically don’t include clothing in these backpacks but occasionally stop at a Goodwill if they have a need after we pick them up at the Whipple Building and there is time before their bus departs.
  2. We have been responding lately to requests from people who expect to be deported within a month or two to their home countries, e.g. Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and ask for a pair of pants, good walking shoes, a couple shirts and a belt.
Create a Backpack
Here are items we typically include in a backpack that is large enough to also include a large files that contain their legal documents: (liquids should be travel size per TSA requirements):
  • shampoo, 3 oz. or less
  • soap or hand sanitizer
  • body lotion, e.g. Jergen’s
  • lip balm
  • floss
  • toothbrush
  • toothpaste
  • comb
  • Tylenol or Advil
  • Kleenex
Other items:
  • washcloth
  • water bottle
  • sunglasses
  • pen and paper
  • magazine (e.g. Natl. Geographic)
  • underwear
  • socks
  • travel pillow
  • granola bars, other snacks for what could be a 4-6 hour (or longer) bus drive
  • shoelaces (since they are asked to remove these in the detention center)

If you are interested in putting together a backpack to give to a migrant in transition, please contact Pastor Leah at


More about Conversations with Friends:

Our visits: Since October 2015, we have been visiting, in a group of about six CWF volunteers, the men (there are no women there) in immigration detention at the Freeborn County Jail in Albert Lea, MN, two evenings each month in a large classroom setting, usually visiting with about 40 men over a 2 1/2-hour period. The men are originally from Mexico, Central America, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Liberia, and other countries.

Starting in July 2019 we began our group visits to the Carver County Jail in Chaska, MN, two two-hour classroom visits each month.

From March 2011 until December 2017, we visited with people in ICE detention at the Ramsey County Jail in St Paul during two evenings each month. Ramsey County announced that effective January 1, 2018, the Ramsey County Jail would no longer house ICE inmates.


CWF programs:

We support those with whom we meet in multiple ways: 

  1. CWF letter writers write weekly to their pen pals, regardless whether they receive a response;
  2. We send books to ICE detainees if they have a specific book request not available in the library; 
  3. Our birthday club in which 4-5 letter writers send birthday cards to those with birthdays each month;
  4. Immigration-hearing accompaniment whereby if the family or friends of an ICE detainee are unable to attend the immigration hearing, we’ll do our best to be there to provide support, if requested; 
  5. CWF’s safe release/accompaniment program through which we receive phone calls directly from ICE at the Whipple Building when they are releasing someone from detention who needs help reaching their final destination, e.g. Sioux Falls, Grand Forks, and we respond by picking them up at Whipple, providing a travel backpack, purchasing a celebratory meal and/or driving them to the Minneapolis Greyhound station and buying a ticket, if needed;
  6. We provide backpack drop-off at the Whipple Building to respond to specific requests for clothing (e.g. pants, shirt, sturdy walking shoes) from people expecting to be deported soon (e.g. to Somalia, Sudan).

Pen pals: The majority of the people with whom we visit say ‘yes’, they’d like to have a pen pal. Spanish is not required; more than half of those with whom we visit speak English. Letter writers, once trained, write a weekly letter to a person (usually male) detained by ICE in a Minnesota county jail, until the time the person is released or deported. They continue writing, even when people are transferred to another jail, for as short as a week or two, a median of four-five months, or as long as a year or sometimes even longer. Our volunteers are 22 years and older, post-college, since they find they are more likely to be able to meet the weekly, letter-writing commitment.

Protesting, marching, vigils: Please note that CWF is a humanitarian, all-volunteer, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on its mission of visiting and supporting people who are being detained by ICE. They are facing likely deportation and we accompany them during this tremendously difficult time of their lives. We do not protest, march or vigil. Bottom line, jails will not approve a visit program that intends to protest in their parking lot. We certainly do not discourage people from protesting, but, unfortunately, CWF visitors will not be able to do so. We’ll have to leave parking lot protesting to others.  

For additional information: This article published on 7/6/17 by CIVIC (now known as Freedom for Immigrants) describes the CWF visit ministry at the Freeborn County Jail: Also, you can visit