Answering the call for justice
Join me for a moment in thinking about an amazing young woman we’ll call Janice.
Janice came to the U.S. from Africa to study. She couldn’t afford school and so dropped out to work and save money. She overstayed her visa and was taken from her apartment in the middle of the night in her pajamas.
Janice spent five months in the detention center for immigrants in Aurora, Colorado, where AFSC is organizing monthly vigils with other people of faith. Her country of birth couldn’t find a record of her and wouldn’t take her back. If a community member hadn’t bought Janice the one change of clothes immigrants are allowed, she would have been returned to her country in her pajamas or in prison clothes.
Yet while in detention, Janice applied to pre-medical school in London and was accepted with a scholarship. This gentle and amazing soul wants to be a heart surgeon. She’ll be one someday, in London, not in the U.S.
Members of Coloradans for Immigrant Rights (AFSC’s ally project), clergy and I visit the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters being detained in Aurora. There are six phone booths in the visiting area and we talk to our friends over the phone with a small window separating us.
To see one another, we have to sit at an angle because there is a big round circle in the middle of the glass where our heads would normally show through. Each person being detained is only allowed two 20-minute visits a week.
Most of the people I’ve visited were picked up for broken taillights, cracked windshields, or in home raids for overstaying their visa. As I leave the center, I stare out through the three-year old large crack in my windshield—a crack for which I have never even been pulled over, much less incarcerated. I think about all the prayers that have been said and the deep faith which sustains many immigrants in detention.These are the stories that inspired us to hold our first faith action at the immigrant detention center in Aurora in February. Joining with the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and people of faith across the country, we prayed together for strength for immigrants, courage for our political leaders to enact just and humane reform and conviction, and for ourselves to enable us to speak out for justice.
In July, we began weekly online reflections, and are planning a formal visitation and support program to follow.
The prayers whispered over the phone, said between family members in the parking lot and spoken over the mic in monthly vigils call us together, call for a love that is stronger than walls and bars, call for solidarity and visibility and truth-telling.
We hope to continue issuing and answering those calls.
Jennifer, who goes by Piper, is AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Interfaith Organizing Director in Denver. She can be reached at JPiper@afsc.org.