The press has gone.
Photographers no longer shadow us down the hallways as we tend to our guests. No more wanna-be volunteers show up at our door unannounced after having driven for hours from places like Denver or Phoenix. No more “angry moms” spend their mornings preparing breakfast and lunch for our migrant families as a positive response to their outrage.
Gone are the headlines about crying toddlers torn from the arms of their mothers and fathers. Gone are the news reports about abuses at detention centers.
Our lives are back to normal. Whatever “normal” is these days.
For those of us on the border, it may feel like we’re on our own again. It may seem as though people don’t care.
But I know that’s not true. I know you are listening, dear reader. I know that you do care. Otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this.
So, I’d like to make you aware. Better inform you about the “norm” for so many who do feel as if no one cares. About the maltreatment asylum seekers face, especially when they hail from African countries. About the abuses that occur. About the loneliness and isolation.
Once you know, my hope is that you will not forget. And that you will take some small, positive action from where you are. Make a difference in at least one other lonely or abused person’s life that will add to the growing wave of merciful acts done in the name of humanity.
So that others will know they are not alone.
As you may know, I have been visiting asylum seekers detained at the ICE El Paso Processing Center through a nonprofit called CIVIC. CIVIC stands for Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, and Jan, our local program administrator, has done a super job of connecting volunteer visitors with lonely people holed up in these prisons.
Some detainees have not had a visitor in over a year. They wait for Jan to connect them with an available volunteer. They feel so alone. Forgotten. Powerless.
Until last month when African asylum seekers at our detention facility became empowered.
They risked creating and signing a petition against the El Paso DHS ICE Field Office for “improperly and impartially” denying their parole and treating them unfairly. They claim they escaped persecution in their home countries and came here for safety, only to be persecuted at the hands of ICE officers and detention guards.
The majority of them have been in ICE custody for more than a year. They all arrived legally as asylum seekers at one of our EP ports of entry and had positive credible fear interviews, yet they remain in “immigration proceedings.” Proceedings that seem to have no end to them.
They have a right to parole through the Damus decision. And they have watched as parole is granted to Latin American detainees, especially to Cubans, awaiting their hearing, while their parole is unjustifiably denied.
At an alarming number.
A little background on the Damus decision. A teacher from Haiti, Ansly Damus has been confined in Ohio for more than a year-and-a-half. He fled his homeland fearing violence and political persecution and asked for asylum. An immigration judge granted him asylum not just once, but twice. But the government appealed those decisions and Damus remains locked up indefinitely even though he poses no threat and is eligible for parole. The judge has ruled that ICE violated its own procedures by not granting Damus release under what’s known as humanitarian parole.
That’s what our African detainees are petitioning for. Humanitarian parole.
On a personal note, I’ve been seeing my young Ethiopian friend, whom I call Mathias, for nearly nine months now. He’s been locked up for over a year. His birthday is coming up in early October. He’s told me he doesn’t want to spend another birthday behind these walls. Celebrate another year of his young life on hold.
It feels like such a small thing. To visit someone only once a week or a few times a month. It never feels like enough. And then he sends a letter saying how I make him strong and comfort him, how he is happy to have someone “on the outside” who cares. He says it’s not easy to be in detention, but he is “learning about life” and learning that there are “good-hearted people in this world like CIVIC.”
He is learning…and so am I.
I am learning that sometimes it feels like our hands are tied. That it feels like we are alone to face the wall or the tempest before us. But we are not.
Sometimes God shows up as the person accompanying us. Or the one accompanied.
Don’t forget this. Be the one who cares.
.NOTE: I am creating a new blog – same theme, different look. I hope to link it to this one, and I hope you will continue to follow me on this journey.