What Does Accompaniment Mean?
I. In Latin America and other places in the world accompaniment is understood. Human Rights Protectors in Central America are witnesses to people whose lives are in danger. In the United States the threat of deportation to undocumented people and families has resulted in the "New Sanctuary" movement along with other immigrant rights groups to protect them in a visible and to provide moral support in face of deportation threats from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
As part of the accompaniment team with the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIrj) I signed up to "accompany" persons to ICE check-in or court appearances. Two weeks ago I went with/accompanied a young man from El Salvador for his first ICE check-in. He arrived with his two younger siblings last May when he was only 17 years old. The three children were Unaccompanied Minors seeking to unite with their father who lives in Oregon. Now, Jose is 18, attending high school, struggling to learn English. His lawyer reached out to IMIrj for two Spanish speaking people to accompany him.
It was my first visit to the local ICE office in Portland, Oregon. Only two "people/accompaniers" are allowed. Another woman and I went with Jose to the office. Interesting in that neither the receptionist nor the ICE agent spoke Spanish so we translated for him. The forms he had to complete were also only in English.
The interview with the ICE agent went well. The ICE officer began by telling me and Jose that he would not be detained and could leave at the end of the interview. Whew - Jose looked really relieved. The gist of the interview was that if Jose stayed out of trouble, attended school, did not commit any crimes - e.g. DUI, AND kept in regular contact with the ICE regional office, he should be fine. I am not sure if that means that he gets to stay with his father, but he has an attorney to represent him. Having an attorney is really important as without one, his chances of either asylum or family reunification would be slim.
His father was very grateful for our presence. He could not accompany his son because he does not have papers. We went out for coffee afterwards and talked about their hopes for the future. He asked if I would go with his son at the next hearing a year from now. "Of course," I replied, con mucho gusto.
II. Accompaniment also means Advocacy.
This past Monday I was on a local community radio program to talk about the upcoming Mother's Day Vigil this Saturday, May 13 outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. This is the ninth year of this event co-hosted by the Washington New Sanctuary Movement and the Oregon based, Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice. We gather outside the entrance gate - Share flowers with the mothers and their family going to visit loved ones who are detained; share food and conversation; have a vigil in which we remember all who died in detention this past year.
Here is the link to listen to the conversation: kboo.fm/media/57654-mothers-day-behind-bars. Let me know what you think and if you are in the Portland or Tacoma area, join us this Saturday, May 13!
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?