Why Immigrants Are Detained

By Karen Alford

There are various reasons immigrants end up in detention, and most have nothing at all to do with criminal activity: crossing the border, seeking asylum,  living in the United States after a travel visa expires, minor traffic infractions, then ICE being alerted and them going to detention rather than our court system.

What happens in detention is ridiculous, frustrating, painful, shameful and in some cases illegal on the part of our government. They wait to go to court, often without a lawyer or the ability to speak English well, they often end up in court without the correct paperwork. Then they wait to go to court again. Many seek asylum and request parole, often denied for no good reason. Some times they simply never hear anything back… I wonder if their paperwork just is thrown into a trash can rather than processed??? Some immigrants are eligible for parole, while others are granted bond. Either way, their families have to come up with thousands of dollars before they will be released. (I’ve heard $10,000 & $20,000 cases.)  I’ve heard of parole being denied 9 times while they were waiting. With the reason being that they weren’t connected to the community they wanted to be released to. This person had a husband and parents already living in that community… it makes no sense.  They need a sponsor and a connection to a legal resident of the US, and that person has to be above poverty level… finding sponsors especially with Covid going on is a real challenge.

The LA-AID transportation and housing project

What happens when detainees are released: ICE is supposed to take them to an airport or bus station. They don’t. It wouldn’t be beneficial if they did, because these people have no ticket, no phone, sometimes no money. We fill in the gap, and help immigrants transition from being held in a detention center to unification with their sponsor.

They need transportation. But they need so much more. They need a phone or way to charge their cell phone. They need a cell phone plan. It’s difficult to get a phone bought in Mexico to work with American companies. They need to connect to family both in the US and in country they’re from. WhatsApp – enables them to talk to people in their own country for free – They need access to WiFi.  They often need shoelaces. (Basile seems to takes their shoe laces… I’m guessing this is to prevent possible problems as so many are housed in a large room, about 50.)  Some are very traumatized and have numerous questions. They need help getting a flight/bus ticket to their sponsor. Often even though their sponsor has lived in the US for a while, they are unsure how to get a plane ticket with the connecting flights necessary for a reasonable price. If they can’t afford a plane ticket, we work with Miles4Migrants to get their ticket donated. They need a place to stay and food while their ticket is figured out. Usually this is just one night, but it can be several depending on flight times and weather. They need an explanation of the airport and how to connect to their connecting flight. If they don’t speak English well we ask the airline to help them connect. We also give them a paper in English to explain to anyone which flight they are trying to connect to. This gives them courage, and takes some of their fear away.  Some have never flown, and are very worried. They need money for food during the day they fly as airlines no longer feed people. We give them some spending money, snacks to eat on the plane, a bag of goodies – tooth paste, shampoo, Spanish/English dictionary.

So, we help in whatever way is needed on their journey to be connected with their sponsor. They are always so grateful. Well, one person was upset that we didn’t have a home for her to stay in for free when she got off the plane in New York… but other than that, everyone else realizes that we’re good at what we do and help them a great deal. We never ask an immigrant to pay for our services. If they want to donate, that’s fine. We mainly rely on Americans who are in better shape financially to help us.

One man stayed on the phone the entire time until three am while his sponsor drove up to my home from Florida. A girl taken into detention when 17 kept questioning why? Why? Why did they keep her away from her family for so long when she had done nothing wrong. She was not a criminal. Another closed herself in my guest room and didn’t come out until it was time to go to the airport. Another woke me in the middle of the night, sure that someone was trying to get into the house. The trauma that some have gone through is surreal. Machine guns. Brutal killings. Stabbings. Most don’t talk much about their past. Instead most ask many questions, and are focused on their future. Some want to buy clothes or certain food that they haven’t had in a long time. One couldn’t speak English, he just pointed to the cross in my living room and knelt down in prayer.

Free At Last!

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