I hope this blog post finds you as well as possible! And I am looking forward to getting back to many of you this week who have dropped me a line—my travels in the South of the US have been busy and intense. Thank you so much for your patience.
I can't believe this is my second to last blog post (!) of the current version of my project! And my last project stop over the last year and half is: Lumpkin, Georgia.
Living with those who have friends and family in detention
When I arrived in Lumpkin, Georgia (in rural southern Georgia)—I stayed at a hospitality house called El Refugio. El Refugio houses friends and family who are visiting loved ones who are detained at Stewart. I have been in a number of different living situations while working with immigrant detainees over the past year and a half (living with total strangers who were members of the community in Dilley, Texas; living in a convent in San Antonio and commuting to Karnes City, Texas; Couchsurfing in Tucson while visiting Eloy, Arizona; staying with friends in Seattle while working in Tacoma; and staying with other community members in Berks County, PA).
But I've never lived with those who have had loved ones in the detention center before. This would be different. I was the only lawyer in the house. And as far as I knew, I was one of the only lawyers around for miles.
One afternoon, one woman who was staying overnight heard from one of the other volunteers that I was a lawyer. She told me the painful story of her loved one being in detention. And then we ate dinner together at the same table and spent time together in the living room, with everyone else who was staying there.
And here in Georgia, things look very bleak: as per this report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, immigrant detainees in Georgia are more likely to be deported than detainees elsewhere in the entire country.
While meeting with her, this fact was in the back of my mind constantly. I always want to be honest and compassionate with how I handle consultations and all types of legal work. One of the last things I remember telling her was: "You have a sense of individual agency. That is something that no system or government can take away from you."
This is one of the tenets of my belief system that is at the center of how I focus my legal advocacy. Being in Lumpkin, Georgia, however—has tested my resolve in this belief as even the most steadfast agency has such a monumental chance of getting crushed by the immigration system. But—no matter what—that agency is always there in terms of what's next.
It's just that the "what's next" conversations often involve thinking and talking more concretely about deportation.
His name is Nestor
While at the Stewart Detention Center, I met with a young man named Nestor. He currently has a petition up on dreamactivist.org for his release, which I encourage you to please sign.
Nestor came to the United States when he was 9 years old with his mother. When I saw Nestor this week, he was currently in a wheelchair after the detention van he was in was in an accident. The driver of the van transporting Nestor, and the others he was detained with, was involved in road rage that ended with him colliding with another car. Since the accident, Nestor has been in continuous pain.
He told me that he really needs physical therapy. And that his broken glasses have not been replaced and he has barely been getting by with one-month disposable contacts.
On top of this immense injustice, Nestor should have never been picked up by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the first place. According to DHS, immigrants should not be held by local police, and treated any different than anyone else, unless they have already been convicted of a crime.
Nestor has never been convicted of a crime and is thus a low priority for deportation according to DHS' own guidelines.
But why has he already been in Stewart for 3 months?
I met with Nestor over Thanksgiving weekend. In addition to talking about the above, we talked about earlier times. He talked about how much he loved going to Appalachian State because it was a smaller school. So, it gave him time to be with his thoughts and enjoy nature. He told me he had a kayak that was waiting for him back home in North Carolina and he thinks about how he'll go back on the water when he gets back. He had a job with an insurance company that he loved and told me how tough it was to know that everything was back in NC.
Nestor has a remarkable zest for life. A zest that the oppressive Stewart Detention Center and system were doing its best to destroy. More stories like Nestor's and the hundreds of thousands of other immigrant detainees in this country deserve to be told. And these stories deserve justice.
We already had our work cut out for us in our country's immigration system, and it certainly looks even bleaker in the upcoming months and years under the Trump administration. And friends like Nestor need to know that we are fighting for them harder than ever.
Those in the immigration community are organizing for resistance and here are some resources that have come out thus far:
Resisting Donald Trump: Getting prepared to fight immigration raids and deportations, Salon, November 27, 2016
Cities Vow to Fight Trump on Immigration, Even if They Lose Millions, New York Times, November 27, 2016
Resisting Trump: What's Next for the Immigrant Rights Movement, Truthout, November 21, 2016
Thank you for your support & friendship—and until next week for the last post of this current version of AOTM. Much love and peace.