That Was Then; This is Now: Part 2

This is a re-post from Ana Fores-Tamayo’s’ blog Adjunct Justice [http://adjunct-justice.blogspot.com/].

Given that the issue of undocumented immigrants in the United States has moved to the forefront during this year’s still nascent presidential campaign, and given that much of the discussion of immigration has been quite generalized and abstract, this sort of personalized perspective on the contemporary experience seems all the more necessary and valuable.

Part 1 is available at: https://academeblog.org/2015/09/17/that-was-then%CD%BE-this-is-now-part-1/

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So that’s why we moved to Montana, and that’s why we went off to Minnesota afterward — when my dad got his first teaching job — to a wee bit trailer farm out in the boondocks. The nearest town of 1000 people loomed 7 miles away from our lonely tree farm, the only place we could afford to pay.

Ana Fores Photo 1 

My Winter Childhood, © Dinorah Fores

In North Branch, Minnesota, my dad began to teach the year after he received his revalidation. And here, in this little town in the north country, I saw the happiest years of my childhood.

My first real memories—and they are wonderful—are of Minnesota, a land of beautiful people, of folks who loved us, of friends who cared for me as me, who accepted me for all my quirks, my accent, my funny little ways.

I guess that’s when I really conquered English. . . . when I first said my Pledge of Allegiance . . . when I learned the magic of books.

The people there let me thrive; they encouraged me to do so.

Maybe this is why I have such fond memories of Minnesota. It was the first time I remember people being kind.

You must be wondering why I have spent so much time telling you about my personal recollections as a refugee child. Maybe it is so we can notice the differences between then and now . . .

It’s oh so interesting seeing this part of my life from a historical perspective, comparing it with what is going on now in immigration, and how they are jailing mothers and families. Back then, they “voluntarily resettled” us; even if it were all psychological, it at least seemed as if we had the semblance of choice, of freedom.

After the horrors of Japanese internment all wanted to forget, and after the Hungarian refugees were resettled at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey in the 1950s—which left some frustration—the government thought they might begin treating refugees  differently.

Besides, Castro’s Cuba was not going to last. (Ahem!)

Thus, the form of resettlement made such a difference in our lives; we grew up safe and sound, and now as adults we can look back on good wholesome memories.

What choice do refugees coming in now have? What kind of memories do you think they will keep of this land, the land of freedom they had heard would help them?

If you look at most Cuban people today, their love for this country—aside from their politics—is tried and true. Why is that? The treatment one receives is immeasurably returned, even all those years later. And the money the government spent on the Cuban exodus has well been paid back by the success of the many Cuban accomplishments in both arts and sciences.

I look at my father’s love for this country, his unwavering belief that the United States was the best in the world—no matter what—and I can understand why. The government back then really helped him, even when they were helping themselves.

I look at the many Cuban refugees and their offspring, and I see all are hard- working individuals, who strive to make this their country a better place, more than 5o years later.

So why can’t the government do that same thing now?

Why has the government forgotten what they seem to have learned after the Japanese internment or the problems they faced with the disgruntlement of Hungarian refugees? Why have they erased the entire episode of the successful Cuban Resettlement Program, and why do they not want to reenact it now, with this new wave of immigrants, who are in so much need, who are suffering so?

Maybe refugees coming in now are not as professional as others were in the past, but always when immigrants enter a new country, they have taken menial jobs and have done them carefully and with detail and care, so that their children can get an education. The next generation then goes further, gets ahead a ways, until by the third or fourth generations, they become part of the fabric of what it is to be American.

But it seems that as these next generations take over, they forget what their ancestors went through once upon a time, they deny new immigrants the rights their own flesh and blood once had to live and struggle through day by day . . .

Ana Fores Photo 2

The Boat Docks at a Pier, © Dinorah Fores used by permission of Brian Fores

A few months ago, I went to visit a young mother of 24 at Karnes Detention Center. Her child was about two, but she was so thin she looked like a babe in arms. As we went to talk in the frigid reception area, the young child was listless, so she lied down on the cold hard floor, putting her little head on her mother’s thin legs and falling asleep.

Ana Fores Photo 3

Prayer 4 Juarez, © Raul Gonzalez

It was that or the icy ceramic tile . . .

We spoke for exactly one hour, timed, and though the young mother told us things were better now that RAICES and other rights activists were protesting every day, things were still difficult: the food was awful and expensive, she had no freedoms to speak of, she was one of the first to arrive at the center when it opened, and though all her friends were now gone (deported?), she was still there, waiting and waiting and waiting.

She was irritable and depressed, but hopeful that finally someone was visiting her, and that this meant that someone was listening, that someone would take her case. After 3 months of waiting, of being denied, was it her turn for something positive? Her first credible fear test had been denied, although she had escaped from a home where daily, a homocidal cousin threatened the entire family so he could take their money for drugs. When she told him she had none, he threatened her child.

She could not take it anymore and ran.

When she got to the United States with her child, she did not expect this treatment. She did not expect to be put into a prison. She did not expect to have to pay $1.65 for a can of soda when we can get it outside in the waiting area for $1.25, or $2 for a snickers bar when she had no money whatsoever. Yet she had to pay it, to get the money somehow, because her daughter gagged on the insipid food they fed them at the center, and she would not eat it.

She was wasting away.

As I looked at the sleeping child on the legs of her mother—an older child, because that’s all she really was—I was sickened by our cruelty.

Ana Fores Photo 4

Called “The Dog Catcher” because that’s what ICE thinks human beings are . . .

© Ana M. Fores Tamayo

The government outsources these facilities to for­profit centers. Though there are many, the most common are the GEO group, which owns Karnes Detention Center, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s oldest and largest of the many sleaze bag operations profiting off the misery of immigrant women, children, and families. Most recently, CCA opened Dilley, the largest “Family Residential Center” in the United States—or as protesters like to call it—a “euphemism for a low­security prison.”

The GEO group also owns the franchise the center uses to sell this young refugee and all inmates $100 telephone cards for $110, and who knows how much they charged per minute while using it? This young girl’s husband, who lives in the Bronx and had been trying to get her out since she arrived, sent her money every week. For every $50 he sent her, GEO kept $6: sounds like loan sharking to me… This is standard procedure, and prisoners cannot get money by any other means except through GEO machines. And if the young woman could work—she cannot because children must be 3 so women who have younger children do not qualify—she would only be paid $1 per hour: how does that compare to adjunct labor?

I was surprised the guards actually let me bring in my bag when I entered the facility, after making us wait endlessly outside, in the waiting room. Of course this was another delay tactic, one they said they never do. Yet we were waiting there at least 45 minutes before we were finally called in, and when we spoke to the young mother, she said she had never received a notice, though she had been in her room the entire time, just as she was supposed to be.

After all, where would she go? It is a prison, after all.

When I realized I had my bag with me inside, I emptied it of all contents this young mom could use and gave them to her. If I had known this previously, I would have brought her more things, for her and the baby. As it was I gave her a couple of pens, a note pad, a hand cream, some lipstick . . .

And we gave her hope.

When we left, we took off our RAICES bracelets and gave them to her, and told her people from the organization would be in touch. As promised, RAICES stopped her deportation just in time, but for how long?

Cases like hers are endless. One after another after another.

I just finished going through a list of people who attended refugee asylum clinics that a group of independent volunteers have been holding for the past few months at Catholic Charities of Dallas, and as I called the participants to find out their status, I kept hearing one sad story after another.

Out of 66 cases so far, only three have been successful. With the rest, there are 12 definite deportations, anticipating a final date with dread, while the others are in some sort of limbo, waiting between a court date or a result of their hearing, to see if they qualify for asylum.

But given that less than 10% are granted asylum, can we hold out much hope?

The young mothers I am speaking to now, who are outside on their own recognizance, both have ankle monitors. Guess who owns the company who handles these humiliating electronic watchdogs? Of course, the GEO Group . . .  These innocent women are trapped inside prison walls by these for profit centers, yet if they are released, they are trapped by them too: when will it all end? And now, if ICE releases these refugee women on bond (and most likely a high bond at that!), they are told they will get ankle monitors if they reveal  to anyone how much their bond cost: intimidation, retaliation, anyone?

Does this sound like a country that is kind, that is trying to help refugees? What has happened to the United States that I came to as a refugee child?

Yesterday, I spoke to a mom who was coming back on a bus from Chicago to Dallas because the folks in Chicago would not accept her. I guess they did not realize what they had bargained for: the mother had two children with her, so they sent her packing.

After almost 24 hours on a bus with two small children, and an ankle monitor that had discharged because the batteries only last so long, she had to sit perfectly still for another three hours, not moving, so she could recharge the battery once more, since she cannot take the ankle monitor off.

And her children? What is she to do with 2 small and tired children while she sits waiting for a battery charge?

Ana Fores Photo 5

© Ana M. Fores Tamayo

Later I spoke to the other mom who escaped her husband; he was coming after her with a machete. She says now in the summer she is especially ashamed to go out into the street, to walk about, to have people stare at her as if she were the criminal.

All she did was take her oldest daughter and run; he had kidnapped the younger two. I still hear her sobs as her voice quivers when she thinks about them —

Yet she is the criminal . . .

The GEO Group does not think about such technicalities. They just care about the millions they are making not only off their Detention Centers, but also their accompanying paraphernalia . . .

In April, US District Court Judge Dolly Gee said that family detention centers were illegal, yet women and children are still being detained. Further, the court seems to be dragging its feet making the decision public, while high­level negotiations are ongoing; they were to have the decision by the end of May, then it  was June, and what will happen when June comes and goes? To me, that sounds as if everyone is just trying to figure out how to circumvent the law. In the meantime, both Dilley and Karnes are applying for Children’s Daycare licenses: why? Is this a way to get around the Flores agreement from 18 years ago, which says that children may not be held in restrictive, unlicensed facilities?

So it all comes down to money.

The Cuban Refugee Resettlement Program was kind. It helped refugees start a new life, while also helping impoverished or isolated areas of the United States become revitalized. It was a win-­win for all involved, both government and refugee people.

 

 

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