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?