The women and children pursue their cases with patience and perseverance just a hundred yards away behind the sign. They are in detention. The following outlines my experiences with the migrant community in seeking peace:
Last summer, I stood across from these mothers and their children and waved. A strong network of activists with big, open hearts stood beside me. We watched the kids ride on bikes and their mothers sitting in the shade. The kids wore helmets. They filled cups from the water cooler to help tame the summer heat. A series of cones indicated the line they could not cross. Though there was no fence, these cones indicated the message of captivity in detention clearly.
Everything hints at normalcy until you remember you are in Leesport, Pennsylvania.
Leesport, Pennsylvania houses one of the three remaining family detention centers in the United States. The other two facilities are located in Dilley and Karnes County, Texas. Both the Dilley and Karnes detention centers are heavily criticized including for their remote locations. The state of Pennsylvania recently decided to revoke Berks’s license to operate.
Families arrive to the United States to seek asylum. They flee persecution and unsafe conditions in their home countries. I often feel amazed by their love for their home countries. An asylum-seeking friend once suggested I visit her home country – she described it as beautiful. She described her home country flooded with war and poverty as beautiful. She cried as she recalled the impossible barriers to reunite with her family still in her home country, as returning home would mean almost certain death for both her and her family. Although thankful for the physical safety of the United States, she considers the country she fled as her home. I feel shocked by the softness of her heart.
If families arrive to the United States and approach the government, they undergo a credible fear interview. This is no secret process and the details of the process are easily accessible on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. If an officer determines credible fear exists, the case is referred to a court. After the interview, an asylum-seeker with credible fear would be released on bond or remain in detention.
For women and children, a detention center means residing at Dilley, Karnes, or Berks. Some children regress to diapers, breastfeeding, and bedwetting during and after their detention. Children lose weight and complain of the food, as the food at the centers lack any resemblance to the food from their countries. Many of these children additionally face mental health adversities from a variety of sources including their home countries, journeys to the United States, and current detention.
With the concern of violence committed by undocumented individuals, a wall may seem like an appropriate solution. The United States has a fence currently:
But this fence actually lacks continuity across the entire southern border. When I spoke with people at the Borderlands, they echoed heartache at the presence of this fence. I also met United States Border Patrol agents that give candy to the Mexican children through the fence. Two Mexican girls on the south side of the fence even sweetly asked if my coworkers and I had candy.
People die in an attempt to cross the fence. They are buried with their identities unknown.
People mourn for the John and Jane Doe:
After celebrating mass in Ciudad Juarez, the city across the border from El Paso, Texas, Pope Francis spoke out publicly about this wall: “A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel”.
People may argue that family detention at least provides the basics: Food, water, shelter to migrants facing death otherwise. But is this all that our faith compels us to provide?
People may argue that migrants should “wait in line”. “Waiting in line” for a visa simply is not an option in the life-or-death situations many migrants face. Every month the United States publishes a Visa Bulletin on the priority of applications. All applications filed after the date listed on the bulletin are still waiting for a visa number to become available. The cut-off dates on the chart indicate that only applicants with a priority date prior to this cut-off date may assemble and submit documents. For some visa types, this means over two decades. The dates occasionally regress. Below is an infographic visually displaying the information from July 2015’s bulletin:
I am not an expert on migration issues, but my heart is heavy to live in a country comprised of migrants that too quickly forgot how to welcome their fellow migrants. As Pope Francis continues to stand alongside the migrant community, let us join him and the families in detention in pursuing peace.