NOTE: It's been four months since my last post. I have been traveling out of the USA for three of those months in Europe where there are also lots of immigration challenges. I am still active in immigration justice but in Oregon, not in Arizona. This post, however, concerns three women that I met last winter (2017) in Arizona.
What do a woman from Argentina, Mexico and Nicaragua have in common?
They were all detained at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona and two of them are still there. They were detained either crossing the border without papers or because they were picked up by the police for some kind of violation of the law.
I met them as a visitor through the Casa Mariposa Detention Center visitor program (2015-17). I recently learned that the Argentinian woman self-deported to Argentina where through a church network and a non-profit immigrant service agency she has found housing and is in training to work in the hotel and hospitality industry.
She has excellent English as she lived 20 years in an east coast state; is married and the mother of two U.S. born children. Her crime? She returned to Argentina after an accident to receive medical treatment and did not know that the immigration laws had changed. When she re-entered the USA at the Nogales, Arizona border she was sent immediately to the Detention Center.
She was told by an immigration judge that she did not qualify for asylum because she did not come from one of the Central American countries experiencing violence. She tried to find an attorney who could argue hardship due to separation from her children. To no avail, she now is in Buenos Aires where she hopes to find a way to reunite with her children.
Another A. person but from Mexico but who grew up in Tucson, AZ. She has excellent English and was an Americorps volunteer from 2012-13. She has three children who live with her mother-in-law in another state. She was arrested in 2014 and spent 34 months in prison before her release in 2015 to Eloy Detention Center. She has an attorney who is working to set aside her criminal conviction for drugs and possession of an illegal weapon and then to apply for a U visa on the basis of domestic abuse.
Not an ideal candidate for release in the current administration but in fact she has spent over two years in Eloy. She helps other detainees translate their documents for asylum applications. She is able to talk periodically with her children but wonders what they think of her and if she will ever see them again.
The third woman, H., from Nicaragua, has lived in the United States since her teenage years. She has a sister with two children in the southeast United States. H. was picked up by police in Arizona. They found evidence of drugs - she denies any usage but explained that she was traveling with a woman and kids as their nanny. I don't know the truth of the situation but again, she speaks English, and is looking for a sponsor to support her release. She has no family in Nicaragua and does not remember much of life there. She is hopeful that her sister will be able to find a sponsor. Meanwhile, she volunteers in the chaplain's office in the Detention Center.
Detention Center conditions are awful, especially in Eloy that has had more suicides than any other facility. There is something you can do. HR Bill 3923: Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act of 2017, was introduced by Representative Adam Smith, Renton, WA and Representative, Prayala Jayapal, Seattle, WA in early October. Here is a link to the bill:immigrantjustice.org/sites/default/files/content-type/commentary-item/documents/2017-10/Dignity-Detained-Immigrants-Backgrounder-Oct-2017.pdf.
Contact your Congress person and ask them to co-sponsor. Volunteer to visit Detention Centers and learn the harsh realities of people detained in them. Think about the children and families that are separated. ACT NOW!
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?