Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Bag Lady visits a refugee detention facility

Two evenings ago, I drove with another volunteer - I'll call her Ana - to have a conversation with a refugee from South America - I'll call him Roberto - now detained in Eloy, Arizona. I wanted to see what the detention facility was like, and have a conversion with a person actually there, and learn more about what was going on. Here's what happened:

1. In the La Palma facility, the staff is friendly - almost welcoming - to visitors. On entering, we left everything behind except driver's license and car keys. And when going through security, we left license and keys behind as well.

2. Between the second and third security gates, I viewed a glorious sunset beyond the concertina wire, but couldn't take a picture because I'd had to leave my phone in the car.

3. Ana and I sat at a round table across from Roberto for an a hour-long conversation. The room, a cafeteria, was full of such tables and such conversations. 

4. Our conversation was entirely in Spanish, though Ana translated any questions I had. I'd say I understood about 20 percent of it.

5. Roberto, detained in Eloy, has a wife similarly detained at a facility in another state. They are not allowed to talk to each other because facility-to-facility phone calls are prohibited. Their only contact is between each of them and Ana.

6. Roberto's wife has applied for asylum on behalf of herself and her husband. Her hearing was the day before our meeting with Roberto, but none of us had heard the outcome of that event.

7. Roberto has been in detention for four months without a hearing. He will also apply for asylum on behalf of himself and his wife. I asked if there's a database that will show the same two people applying for asylum in two locations. Roberto said he does not think there is such a database.

8. Roberto and his wife are in fear for their lives. As I listened to their story, I know for certain their lives are indeed in danger.

9. Roberto said, "It isn't fair that people who come across the border illegally are getting hearings more quickly than people who came across legally."

10. I know more of Roberto's story, but I'm not going to say more here, for the sake of his safety.

Last evening, my husband and I spent our usual four hours volunteering at a refugee shelter in Tucson.  We had 20 guests - ten adults and ten children. Most of the people this week were from Guatemala. 

Our shelter is serving only families - one or two adults with one or more of their children. Children cannot be detained for more than 20 days, so this shelter system has been devised. Within a two-day period, the families will travel to sponsors in other parts of the US to apply for asylum there.

I understand that in times of rapid policy change, agencies may scramble to comply. The children are being kept with their families, but where is the fair treatment of cases for people like Roberto, whose lives are in danger, where their hearings are not close at hand?

Over all these things, I know I am powerless. So I listen to Roberto, and provide a safe place for the shelter guests, one person at a time.


Sandi said...

Surely there's an answer to all of this, a way to do it that helps people who need it and protects people too. I am for a strong border. We should know who is coming in and why. But I am also for helping people. Bless you, Linda, for your efforts.

DJan said...

I wish there was something to do other than write letters and vote people out of office. We just don't get to do it often enough. Thank you, Linda, for all that you do.

Linda Myers said...

You write letters. That is good. I don't. I volunteer because that is easy for me. Each of us needs to do we can. I guess.

Linda Reeder said...

I am encouraged to hear of the humane treatment of refugees that you are seeing. I don't know if that is the case everywhere. Because of the regulations regarding children now, adults without children are perhaps not being processed in a timely manner. I don't uite understand the "legal vs illegal" situation. It that the difference of where you cross and if you are given permission to cross the border?

Arkansas Patti said...

Thank you for the first hand account of part of the problem. I don't know the answer and can only do what Djan does. I email rather than write.

Sally Wessely said...

Thank you for this account. These stories are important for us to read. I pray that these people will be granted asylum.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I do not understand why Roberto was separated from his family and cannot contact her. This is such a heartbreaking situation.

susie @ persimmon moon cottage said...

Thank you for posting about this. To me it seems like the news media has put information about conditions in the detention centers on the back burner and are not giving the situation the coverage it deserves. I wish they would do some more in depth reporting about how individuals are being treated. Maybe they are unable to due to government regulations.

It is very informative to be able to read what you have seen and heard while speaking to detainees. I think is cruel that he is not allowed to speak on the phone with his wife in another facility. I don't understand why that is a problem for the authorities.

Thank you for volunteering and helping, and once again, thank you for writing about it. I discovered your blog just today and am now following.