Johannes Favi is a community organizer, leader and immigrant advocate who spent over 10 months detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in horrible conditions. Favi is an immigrant from Benin, a small country in West Africa. Upon release from detention, he started advocating for and providing support to other immigrants in ICE detention. He educated students and congregations on the impact of immigrant detention. He wrote several articles championing the abolition of immigrant detention centers in Illinois that ultimately led to the passage of the The Illinois Way Forward Act, disrupting the police to immigration detention and deportation pipeline. In addition to stronger protections for immigrants, the law also prohibits state and local governments from signing contracts with the federal government to detain immigrants.
Born in Cotonou, Benin, on June 7, 1987, Johannes Favi was raised in a house with four siblings. He went to a Catholic boarding school in Benin where he learned very early in his life the balance between discipline, hard work, and religion. He is a pioneer member of the Rotary Club in Cotonou Citou, Benin. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and worked at Etisalat Benin before emigrating to the United States in 2013.
Right after his release from detention, Johannes led and took part in different actions and meetings with politicians, local organizations, high-schools, universities, and churches. He shared his story widely to help build a country where there is a more humane immigration system, one where diverse immigrant communities will be safe. While he was detained, he missed the birth of his son, his daughter's first steps, and he couldn't afford to send them holiday gifts. His first year out of detention, he organized a Christmas toy drive in collaboration with The Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, Connect Kankakee, and the National Immigrant Justice Center. They sent toys to 80 children of people in immigration detention that year.
Another adversity he suffered while in detention was a lack of personal supplies. During his detention, he had to accept a low-paying job—only a dollar a day—to buy the hygiene items needed from the commissary and to call family from the expensive detention center phones. This inspired him to launch a campaign with the help of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants raising several thousand dollars for people in immigration detention so they could purchase these things more easily, all the more critical during the pandemic outbreak.
Johannes firmly believes that detention is not the solution for a civil matter like immigration, especially during a global pandemic.
“It is wrong to put immigrants in handcuffs and legcuffs as if they were in a maximum security prison. During and post detention many families struggle to pay their rent, bills or even put food on the table. It is not normal that in this country a parent would have to go hungry so their children can eat. When facing unstable housing situations and being worried about how you are going to pay the next month’s rent, many make bad decisions in their life just so they could fill in the lost income caused by detention.”
Johannes has continued to be active in civil rights and social issues, particularly through the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, a Chicago nonprofit organization where he is currently serving on the Board of Directors and as Deputy Executive Director. He recently became a Freedom Fellow with Detention Watch Network in Washington DC where he is continuing to learn how to abolish immigration detention and build a stronger and better community for immigrants nationwide. He has also worked with many other organizations: the Simmons Center for Global Chicago, the Midwestern Immigration Bond Fund, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights, The Lewis University of Romeoville in Illinois, The Loyola School of New York, The Santa Clara University of San Francisco, The Darst Center of Chicago, Progressives for Change in Dupage County IL, 6000 Moms, The Chicago Religious Leadership Network, Save the Children, The Elmhurst Rotary Club, and The Chicago Refugee Coalition.