The view outside my window at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago

The view outside my window at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago

Greetings from the Windy City

Ah, it is good to be in the Midwest. I was born in St. Louis, Missouri—where my family and I lived until I was 4 years old (to move to Lowell, MA where I would spend the rest of my childhood).

Even though those 4 years were very early on—they still left a visceral impression on me—something that can only be described by just being back in the Midwest. It's a lovely sense of familiarity even though so much is still admittedly new. 

It's the way the air and wind feel; frozen custard stands everywhere; a feeling that is down-to-earth even though I am in the 3rd biggest city in the US. It offers some comfort in an ever-changing journey. 

Detainees in County Jails in the Midwest

I'm spending at least the next month or so at the National Immigrant Justice Center in the heart of downtown Chicago. I am going to be spending the majority of my time in their detention unit, giving legal services to detainees in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Kentucky. I am eager to learn more about what the heinous for-profit detention center complex looks like here in the Midwest.

And I've already learned that most of the detainees in this area are held in county jails.

Specifically, my colleague told me that there have been a significant number of border transfers—Central American asylum seekers who have been transferred to the Midwest.

And many of them are literally sitting in jail as we speak.

Thinking of the days when I was in the middle of nowhere

There have been a number of stops on this journey where I have been surrounded by well, not very much. On Sunday afternoon, when I was driving in from Milwaukee to Chicago, I felt nearly shocked at well, how many people there were.

The very rural towns of Dilley and Karnes City, Texas were also very isolated and for months now, I have been rather used to silence.

But it is exciting to be working in the heart of downtown Chicago—the organization I am working with has so many resources and experts in immigration law. I want to take these lessons and take them back to the more rural areas of this country that very much need legal assistance.

It has been a huge privilege to get to work with different immigration attorneys across the country—and it has been illuminating about how similar and different immigration issues are all throughout the country.

In the late 1880s—my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Gleason, immigrated to the US from County Cork, Ireland. He was based in Cleveland (where most of my dad's side of the family still is to this day) and worked as a stoker on the Great Lakes barges that transported raw iron ore from Duluth to Cleveland. The raw iron ore was dug out of the Mesabi Range near Duluth and it was converted to steel in the Cleveland steel mills.

In the late 1880s—my great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Gleason, immigrated to the US from County Cork, Ireland. He was based in Cleveland (where most of my dad's side of the family still is to this day) and worked as a stoker on the Great Lakes barges that transported raw iron ore from Duluth to Cleveland. The raw iron ore was dug out of the Mesabi Range near Duluth and it was converted to steel in the Cleveland steel mills.

You are who you are... wherever you go

About a year ago, when I was a volunteer attorney outside of Bakersfield, California—I ran into a friend of mine from law school. We were talking about working in rural areas and in urban areas alike.

And then I had asked her about living/working in rural California compared to where we were living for law school (San Francisco/the Bay Area). And she told me: you are who you are, wherever you go.

I understood what she meant then, but now it's on a whole new level. There is an ease that I feel living in a rural community and then the next week living in one of the country's largest cities.

Don't get me wrong—it can still be exhausting and stressful. But, it's a secondary tier feeling, second to the feeling of alignment of what I want and need to do. It is challenging, but I take comfort in knowing this is my path.

Interesting cases ahead

I am already working on a case that is based out of Eloy, Arizona—one of the country's worst detention centers. I am working with a client who has been detained for 2 years. She is on the caseload here in Chicago because of a former search for plaintiffs for a class action suit (by the group I am working with).

I'm sure by next Tuesday, more details will emerge about this woman's case as well as countless others that are based here in the Heartland. And I am sure I will have, as always, lots to share.