The Work of El Refugio

El Refugio’s Hospitality House in Lumpkin, Georgia, 2020. Courtesy of Jennifer Dickey.

Written by Michael Putlak, Chester Wallace, and Jessica Woods

El Refugio is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2008 and is dedicated to helping detained people at the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia, 140 miles from Atlanta, in Lumpkin county.[1] The organization supports these families and provides hospitality to those people visiting loved ones. Because of the detention centers remote location, it is challenging for loved ones to travel long distances, so the Hospitality House, supported by El Refugio, is located a mile and a half from the detention center in the small town of Lumpkin, in which the center is the main source of income for many Lumpkin citizens.

El Refugio provides assistance to individuals who are detained at the Stewart Detention Center and educate the public about the United States policies towards immigration and the inhumane treatment of the people who are incarcerated at the detention center.[2] Because undocumented entry into the United States is designated as a crime, undocumented individuals can be arrested and placed in detention until their case can be heard by an immigration court. Likewise, asylum-seekers can be held in detention centers pending adjudication of their cases. Although individuals have the right under international law to seek asylum, each nation-state develops its own procedures for handling those requests. The arrest and detention of asylum seekers is a violation of the Fifth Amendment and has been ruled unlawful, yet there are thousands of individuals who have been arrested after seeking asylum at the border.[3]

Individuals held at the Stewart Detention Center and other detention centers wait for lengthy periods to plead their case. Many of those people who are held have little funds to make phone calls to relatives or to buy essentials, so they have to rely on family members to help them financially.[4] Many of those individuals who are released or deported have little else but what they have with them. El Refugio helps those individuals by providing emotional support, sponsors, and a place to stay for their loved ones at the Hospitality House in Lumpkin. Because of Covid-19, the house is temporarily closed.[5] The organization also coordinates sponsors through pen-pal and volunteer services that assist immigrants and their loved ones with information.[6]

El Refugio brings awareness of the conditions in which immigrants are detained through volunteers that speak at churches, colleges, and other events.[7] They give a voice to the people who are detained by sharing their stories and providing them with resources they may need such as clothing and other supplies, even if they are deported. The support of El Refugio through donations by the general public is essential to making sure that the detainees at the Stewart Detention Center are well cared for.

Further reading:

El Refugio,

“Expose & Close Stewart Detention Center,” Detention Watch Network, November 2012,

Stell Simonton, “El Refugio provides comfort to visitors of immigrant detainees”, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, June 1, 2017,

U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Stewart Detention Center”,


[1] El Refugio Website:

[2] El Refugio Website:

[3] Tan, Michael. “ICE is Illegally Imprisoning Asylum Seekers”, March 2018.

[4] El Refugio PowerPoint and Interview conducted with PJ Edwards, who works with El Refugio.

[5] El Refugio Website:

[6] El Refugio Website:

[7] El Refugio Website: