Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said to prepare for three people to be released from their custody – one from Irwin County Detention Center and two from Stewart Detention Center. Our committed team of volunteers sprung into action, eager to welcome our newly liberated friends. We knew it would be a joyous occasion.
The plan was I would pick up one person at the bus station while other volunteers would accompany two new friends disembarking an ICE van at the international airport. However, while we were in the midst of executing this plan we received a phone call. The van traveling from Stewart Detention Center was turning around; the men were being returned to detention.
Why would such a thing happen?
ICE released the “wrong” men.
Consider for a moment what these two men must have felt. We don’t know their stories but we know enough stories. Were they asylum seekers who fled the trauma of war or violence? Did they trek for many months over great distance in search of safety from a lived nightmare called their past? Were they detained for months or even years while fighting for the right to liberty and justice? We know at least one of the men in that van had loved ones in the United States expectantly awaiting his emotional return.
But the “wrong” men were released, so the ICE van turned around.
This is not the first time ICE has done this. When migrants are detained they’re dehumanized. When they’re dehumanized they’re treated like cargo; cargo that can be moved from one for-profit warehouse (called “detention centers”) to another. And if they’re returned, even returned damaged, so be it.
Radical hospitality is an act of solidarity that particularly affirms the dignity of the most discarded and disregarded among us.
Radical hospitality is an act of solidarity that particularly affirms the dignity of the most discarded and disregarded among us. To see that of God in those dehumanized by the powers of this age is also to embrace one’s own complicity and powerlessness.
However, this is not a time for disembodied despair, rather it’s a time for embodied hope. Hope that the voices of the voiceless will be heard in the chambers of power. Prayers that the privileged will be redeemed from their myths of superiority and self-sufficiency. Faith that the mighty will turn around and stop swimming upstream against the ever-flowing stream of justice. Until that truly jubilant day, we at Casa Alterna will continue to find our freedom on the margins.
Our sages will be people like Rudy who I interviewed in 2016. Rudy was detained at both Irwin and Stewart before being forcibly returned to Guatemala. I was allowed rare access to the military airstrip where the US deportation planes land. This conversation with Rudy occurred just minutes after he touched ground in Guatemala. Listen to his experience of both being returned to detention and his empathic reflections on what it must be like for others who are turned around.
Then let’s work for the day when we ain’t gonna let nobody get turned around.
Feature photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.