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Ministering with immigrants in detention in New Jersey


The Rev. Ramon Collazo is a second-career pastor from Puerto Rico who ministers with immigrants in detention. It’s one way he channels his passion for immigration reform and raising awareness about human rights.

Quickly after finishing his time at United Lutheran Seminary (formerly, Luther Theological Seminary at Philadelphia), Collazo received a call to serve as mission developer for a new Synod Authorized Worshiping Community (SAWC) called Santa Isabel Ministry to Immigrants in Detention. This ministry focuses on providing spiritual care and hope for Puerto Rican and immigrant inmates at the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey.

One mission starts another

The Iglesia Luterana Santa Isabel Latino Mission congregation in Elizabeth launched the SAWC in 2015. Itself a mission congregation — sponsored by the New Jersey Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — Santa Isabel started the new detention ministry SAWC as one way to care and advocate for immigrants and their rights. The congregation also hosts a citizenship drive twice a year and collaborates with the New Jersey Coalition for Justice.

The Elizabeth Detention Center is specifically designed for immigrants who either do not have proper identification of their citizenship or have committed a minor crime. It holds male and female citizens of multiple countries from Latin America, Europe and Asia. Collazo first became active in this  detention ministry when he was invited to provide prayer during a rally outside its walls.

Santa Isabel detention ministry

Rev. Ramon Collazo (shown second from left), with ministry partners who presented the Puerto Rican Christmastime music tradition of Parranda to inmates at the Elizabeth Detention Center in December 2018.

Ministry in detention

Collazo brings a unique voice to this ministry, which centers on doing intentional work to help and share the gospel with its immigrant community and other detainees. He hosts two worship services each week. Each service typically has 50 to 100 participants in worship, Bible study and prayer. Collazo also spends time offering prayer over specific requests or distributing rosaries and Bibles.

On December 27, 2018, Collazo gathered together a few ministry members to bring the Puerto Rican Christmastime music tradition of Parranda to the  detention center’s residents. “We gathered not in a porch, but in a conference room, with guitar and cuatro puertorriqueño (a guitar-like instrument) to practice. We began the Parranda to the dorms, where we surprised the men and women with ‘Feliz Navidad’ and other songs.” Collazo could feel the joy this activity created in the residents as well as a strong sense of unity where it would normally be absent during Christmastime in the  detention facility.

Raising awareness of immigration reform

Collazo has learned much from hearing the stories of people who have tried to flee from oppression but then had to face the harsh reality of being forced to return to the situations from which they fled. He believes, “If we don’t watch the news and don’t put ourselves in their shoes, nothing will change.”

He points out that the reality is that change does not always happen from institutions, it happens through people who are willing to advocate and show empathy to those who are hurting. “It has to come from God, and it has to come from our hearts because we love God and are called to serve our neighbors.”

Touching the hearts of people is where we meet the authentic work of the gospel. Collazo is living this out wholeheartedly and invites fellow congregations to pray for those affected by immigration policies.


by Blake Thomas, Congregational Vitality Team

edited by Kris A. Mainellis, Program Director for Communication and Events, Congregational Vitality


Wed. Sept. 26 – National Call-in Rejecting Family Separation and Detention

Approximately 200 children who were separated from their parents at the border have still not been reunified with their parents. Additionally, the zero-tolerance policy that seeks to criminally prosecute all people arriving at the border continues, and there are efforts to expand the detention of children and their parents. As we face continuous policy changes that harm children and families seeking protection in the U.S., Congress has an important role to play in allocating funds for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Join the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) and hundreds of people of faith in a national call-in day, Wednesday, September 26th to ask your Member of Congress to reject family separation and detention and champion alternatives that honor the human dignity of all.

Family detention is inhumane and unnecessary. Community-based alternatives, such as the Family Case Management Program (FCMP), are humane, cost-effective and successful in ensuring families continue their immigration cases. Families that used the FCMP had a 99% compliance rate in continuing their immigration process. In addition, while family detention costs $319.37 per person per day, the FCMP costs $36 per day per family. Beyond punishing children and parents who have already been through a difficult journey to arrive in the U.S., there is no reason to continue to spend our tax dollars expanding detention.

You can act today by joining IIC’s Call-in day rejecting family separation and detention.

  1. Call your Members of Congress.​ Dial the IIC line (866) 940-2439 three times to be connected to your 2 Senators and 1 Representative. You can use this sample script for guidance, although your own story can also be influential:

“I am your constituent from [CITY/TOWN], and [as a person of faith] I urge my Senator/Representative to reduce funding for immigration detention, deportation, and border militarization. Enforcement alone without underlying reform is causing harm in my community and tearing families apart.

“I also urge my Senator/Representative to reject family detention. Detaining children with their parents is not a solution to family separation. Rather than detention, Congress and the administration should use and invest in community-based alternatives to detention such as the Family Case Management Program. The administration must end ‘zero-tolerance’ criminal prosecution of families and asylum seekers for crossing the border, and immediately reunify families already separated. My community welcomes and values immigrants, and we urge you to do the same.”

  1. Share on Social Media: ​Share the same message with your Senators & Representatives on social media.

Go to the Interfaith Immigration Coalition’s Summary Sheet to learn about more actions you can take to support children and families seeking protection.