I love my son more than anything, as most of you know. So, to say that I love my young friend in detention like a son is no small thing. It’s not that I love him as inexpressibly as I love Davis, yet I care about this young man as I would a son.
I know this is true because I find myself praying for Mathias in the middle of my day. I feel how much I genuinely want his well-being and freedom. Probably almost as much as he does.
Even after a very tiring Wednesday at the Nazareth hospitality center, I don’t try to talk myself out of visiting him later that night. In fact, I’ve spent nearly every Wednesday evening since the beginning of this year at the El Paso Processing Center visiting him.
And I haven’t once resented it. It’s never felt like an obligation. Something I had to do.
On the contrary, our visits have been a gift to me. For what he teaches me about acceptance, trust in God, expectations in life. We’ve created quite a bond.
That’s why when I visited him last week for his 26th birthday – his second one in this prison-like system – it wasn’t easy. Not for him. Not for me.
Both of us had expected he would have been released or deported by now. Instead, another three-month extension has passed with no answers. No explanations.
That night was tough, not being able to bring him anything to celebrate. No gift. No cake. Not even a card to slip through the slot under the glass that separates us. I forced myself to stay cheerful as I wished him a happy birthday. Trying to keep things light, I drew imaginary balloons on the glass. Blue and yellow and green and red ones, I told him, as if he were a little boy.
Hoping to make him smile with my silliness. He did.
I thought there was little else I could offer.
I was wrong.
Mathias is not easily discouraged, nor is he willing to be a victim in life. That evening, this smart young man told me more about the research he’d been doing. How he had contacted the ACLU and the American Bar Association, and discovered his rights and the 180-day limit of being held in detention once you’re processed for deportation. He also learned about something called habeas corpus.
That’s where I stepped in. I knew nothing about the law, but I wanted to find out.
“Let me contact my connections at Las Americas,” I told him. “Let me find out more about your rights and how I can help you pursue this.”
I know staff at Las Americas, the El Paso immigrant advocacy nonprofit, are overloaded with pro bono cases these days. But, to my surprise, they quickly responded that they thought they could help Mathias. And they, too, wanted to get him out of this prolonged and unjustifiable detention.
I was almost giddy last night when I planned to give him the good news. But just before I’d arrived, Mathias had already been visited by an attorney from Las Americas who explained they wanted to take his case. He was jubilant as he told me. He could not thank me enough. Said he would never forget me no matter where he goes in life.
His joy filled me. And in that moment, I knew how God had used me in these simple, weekly encounters in which I’ve felt so powerless.
As I left him that evening, I realized I had indeed given Mathias a birthday gift. It was just a week late.