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Fialho '12 photo

Christina Fialho '12

At a glance:

A law alum exemplifies Santa Clara Law's commitment to social justice with California's first immigration detention visitation program.

Christina Fialho J.D. '12 exemplifies Santa Clara Law's commitment to social justice by co-founding Detention Dialogues, a student-led group that created the first immigration detention visitation program in California.

Detention Dialogues was created in response to the fact that in 2010, close to 40,000 people were held in county jails and detention centers for violating a civil immigration law. Fialho and her co-founder, Christina Mansfield, received a $5,000 Bannan Grant to pursue the work. The detention visitor program seeks to build a culture of respect to address the growth in immigration detention and raise awareness to an issue that costs taxpayers approximately $45,000 per detainee each year.

"The mission of Detention Dialogues is to connect immigrants in detention to the outside world through visitation, while stimulating public awareness and meaningful dialogue about immigration detention," said Fialho.

Currently, West County Detention Facility (WCDF) in Contra Costa County allows Detention Dialogues volunteers to visit. The program, approved through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), operates as an official service to detainees at WCDF.

Detention Dialogues emphasizes that it is not a legal or counseling program, but simply a link to the outside world for the detainees. A friendly visitor can help detainees cope with the stress and isolation and reminds the detainee that he or she is not forgotten.

"I would definitely say I gained a new perspective on the importance of attorney representation combined with moral support from a visitor volunteer. Beyond Detention Dialogues, I have had the opportunity to help represent immigrants in detention as a Law Clerk for local nonprofits. Each person I have helped represent was given the opportunity to share his or her story in court, but for the other 84 percent of immigrants in detention who are not represented, their stories often go untold," Fialho emphasizes.

Those wishing to become a visitor volunteer must attend two trainings, one with Detention Dialogues and the other with WCDF staff. To join Detention Dialogues, go to and click on "Volunteer Today."