BVS Volunteer from Germany Is Detained for Visa Lapse

Church News and Resources on Immigration

A “Brethren Bit” from the May 5, 2010, issue of the Church of the Brethren Newsline:

The new immigration law in Arizona is being critiqued by Christian leaders including the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops denounced the law as “draconian” and called on Congress to stop political “gamesmanship” and pass immigration reform, according to Religion News Service. Michael Kinnamon, NCC general secretary, reiterated the view of member denominations and Arizona religious leaders that “this legislation will not contribute to the reform of our nation’s immigration system.” Church of the Brethren statements on immigration available online include a 1982 Annual Conference “Statement Addressing the Concern of Undocumented Persons and Refugees in the United States” at
 and a 2006 pastoral letter from the former General Board at


A young German man, Florian Koch, who has been serving in the United States through Brethren Volunteer Service (BVS) was detained for more than a week by immigration authorities in April. A request to extend his visa had been denied and BVS was in the process of filing a motion to reconsider the visa denial, when Koch was detained while vacationing in Florida by bus.

The volunteer was detained on April 19 when those on the bus he was traveling in were checked by immigration officials. He was held at a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) transitional detention center in Pompano Beach, in the greater Miami area.

On April 28 he was released under voluntary departure status, after the Church of the Brethren retained an immigration attorney and posted his bond. He now is legally authorized to stay in the country for 60 days in order to finish up his time in the United States.

During his time in detention with ICE, Koch was briefly threatened with transferral to another detention center in an undisclosed location. He was taken to the Miami airport along with a group of some 150 other detainees to be put on a flight–most probably to Louisiana, BVS learned. In the end, however, the ICE kept him in Florida until his release last Wednesday.

Koch has been volunteering at Samaritan House in Atlanta, Ga., an organization that serves homeless men and women through employment programs and a restaurant called Café 458. He came to BVS through EIRENE, a German volunteer organization that regularly places 12-15 volunteers each year through BVS and has a strong historical connection with the Church of the Brethren, which was one of its three founding organizations in 1957 along with the Mennonites and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.

Staff of BVS, EIRENE, Samaritan House, and the Church of the Brethren; board members of the Community of Hospitality, the organization providing housing to Koch in Atlanta; and Koch’s parents all worked diligently for his release.

On learning of Koch’s detention, BVS director Dan McFadden flew to Miami arriving on April 23 to work personally to gain his release. He and Community of Hospitality board members worked to locate and retain an immigration attorney in the Miami area. Also advocates in Georgia were in touch with members of Congress about his case.

McFadden kept in touch with Koch through daily telephone calls, met with him when the detention center allowed visitors over the weekend, and was present to receive Koch on his release and accompanied him back to Atlanta.

In Germany, EIRENE director Ralf Ziegler and Koch’s parents advocated for his release with the US consulate in Frankfurt, and the German consulate in Miami. Church of the Brethren general secretary Stan Noffsinger alerted National Council of Churches leaders to the case and personally went to the ICE offices in Chicago to post the bond.

BVS and its international volunteers have not experienced such legal repercussions before on issues of immigration, according to McFadden. Although in recent months several other international volunteers with BVS have been denied visa extensions, they have continued to serve in the United States while appeals are in process.

BVS will be reviewing its procedures for visas for international volunteers, Noffsinger said.

“While Florian had a host of witnesses and advocates working on his behalf within the system, thousands remain in detention, often without advocates,” Noffsinger noted. “What is our role as a church to befriend the stranger in our midst, to visit and accompany the imprisoned, and to seek fair and just actions? This incident puts the onus on us to be informed and involved out of our own concern for our sister and brother human beings.”

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