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!
One of the joys of being in Tucson is seeing a Guatemalan woman friend who has been at the Eloy CCA, a private detention center. I met Julia in November, 2015 – she has sparkling eyes, a little mischievous. We connected. We laughed and shared stories – some of hers were very sad – “I was kidnapped in Mexico and held for ransom for six weeks, but I am determined to get out of the detention center and live with my “tia”
When I returned to Portland, Oregon we promised to stay in touch through letters. I wrote a letter of support for her bond hearing and was absolutely outraged when the bail was set at $20,000! Incredible! She is a high school graduate, active in her home church in Guatemala and volunteered at a local orphanage in her small town. Her attorney believes that she will get asylum due to the Mexican kidnapping and probably, trafficking.
When I saw her in January, she gave me a big hug and smile. “Pat, estoy muy feliz to see you. She was almost bouncing off the walls, she was so happy. And I have good news for you; I am going to be released soon.” My family has raised $5000 and my attorneys are helping with the rest of the bail.”
I am so excited for her. I call her aunt and attorney – later a friend picks her up and brings her to Casa Mariposa in Tucson. I hug her and cry out, “¡Julia , te liberaron del centro de detención! ¡Vamos a celebrar! Two other women at the Casa, friends from the detention center, hug her hard. “Pat, can we go shopping tomorrow? I will need some warmer clothing where my aunt lives.” So we go shopping for cold weather clothing. At Ross store she finds a new pair of Nike shoes on sale – we giggle over underwear like two kids on a shopping spree. We buy boots for the snow. The next day with tears and many hugs, I say, “Vaya con Dios, Julia.” She boards the bus to her new life.
I know that she will make it! I want to yell and shout – another immigrant is freed. One small victory but it is a victory! Julia has so much to offer. Will she be swept up in the expansion of “expedited removal procedure?” Prior to Trump, this procedure was only used within 100 miles of the border, but now ICE can detain any undocumented immigrant anywhere in the US without a hearing before a judge. Inwardly, I scream is the United States, a democracy or a police state?
At the Comedor in Nogales, Sonora, I sit next to an indigenous woman from Chiapas, Maria, who had just been deported. Maria notices a well-dressed woman crying while surrounded by tall men in suits. “Who is she?” Maria asks in a whisper. “I don’t know but all the Mexican officials mean that something big has happened to her.”
She is Guadalupe García de Rayos, the first person deported from Phoenix under the new overreaching Trump policies. The press with cameras appears to ask Guadalupe about what happened when she was detained. Guadalupe has two U.S born children and had reported regularly to the local ICE office where she was detained and deported. She is staying in Nogales at a safe place to be near her family.
Under the Obama administration she would not have been a deportation priority. Now it seems as the rules have changed. The raids against undocumented immigrants have begun and I fear that many families will be separated. Everyone who overstayed a visa or who “illegally” crossed the border can now be deported.
A recent event in Portland, Oregon brings it home. Latino parishioners were being harassed as they entered their Roman Catholic Church in Southeast. What happened? Word went out and the next Sunday 200 “undocu angels” surrounded the church to protect the documented and undocumented parishioners. The angels sent a strong message – We will not tolerate racist abuse and intimidation!
In Tucson there are many places to help. Join me in Portland or wherever you live to be an undocuangel. After all, most of our family stories are immigrant stories.
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?