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Witness to A Family’s Tragedy

Acting in Faith  |  May 17, 2013
Newark immigration rally

Immigration rally in Newark on May 1, 2013.

Photo: AFSC

This morning, May 17, we received this message from Elissa Steglich—a staff member of AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program—about a client who is being detained and set to be deported by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

If you are moved to take action after reading this story please click here to send an email to your Senators to tell them not to tie access to citizenship to immigration enforcement tactics described below. -Lucy

I am ghostwriting my client's immigration story as he sits behind bars, awaiting deportation. He was detained without reason today - perhaps solely the logic of reaching a "target number" - as I sat next to him as his attorney and witnessed the destruction of hope, the unraveling of family, and the foretelling of three US citizen children hearts breaking.

My client's story begins in Africa, where he was brave enough to do his part to encourage democracy. He spoke out against authoritarian rule, and was persecuted. He came to the United States with the promise of freedom. He sought asylum, and unfortunately lost. He pursued appeals without success. After almost 10 years, the end came. ICE placed him on an order of supervision - penalty for having overstayed his visa and daring to seek protection from the US. [If you wonder why many fleeing harm in their home countries are afraid to ask for help here in the US, my client's story provides a clear answer.]  Today, ICE detained him.

Apart from his case, he had built community here. He fathered two daughters and cares for his girlfriend's son as his own. These three US citizen children depend on him. Today, he cried hardest knowing he would not be able to pick them up from school. “Who would fix their breakfast?” he asked, since his girlfriend works nights and is not yet home to see the children up. He was due at work as a manager of a small business. He had hopes to go back to college over the summer to improve his writing in English. He participated in democracy, taking his children to visit Congress to ask for more humane immigration laws.  

I struggle to understand the decision to detain such a person. He understood his circumstances, and if given the opportunity, would have left the United States on his own and with dignity knowing that while separation would be hard, he left his family well cared for. He would have paid for his own departure and kissed his children and girlfriend good-bye. But he was not given that chance. Even though he had been reporting regularly for 3 years, that for a year he had won the good graces of the local ICE office and secured a stay of his removal, that he complied with every request ICE had made of him in the past, today they decided he needed to be robbed of his liberty. Nothing had changed from the day before, yet on Wednesday ICE was content for him to be with his family; Thursday he could not be trusted with his freedom.

We as a nation like to take credit for the "immigrant success stories."  We need to accept responsibility for the tragedies as well. My tax dollars locked my client up today. My government crushed a kind man's heart for no good reason. The president I voted for has incentivised the highest number of immigration detentions and deportations this country has ever seen. My client deserves better. Without irony, he spoke about how much he loves the US as immigration agents were rifling through his wallet and threatening that protesting would only make matters worse. I want my client's immigration story to end differently. I want the happy finale. But I too am losing hope.

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About Friends Relations

Lucy Duncan and Greg Elliott work together and with other AFSC staff to foster strong relationships between AFSC and Quakers.

Lucy is AFSC’s Director of Friends Relations. She has been a storyteller for 20 years and has worked with Quaker meetings on telling stories for racial justice and of spiritual experience. She attends Green Street Friends Meeting (PhYM) and lives with her son and partner in a Quaker cemetery.

Greg is the Friends Relations Associate. He grew attending North Branch Monthly Meeting in the Poconos of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Greg currently lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.