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My First Mother’s Day Vigil at the NW Detention Center

by Peach Jack

Originally posted in the Seattle First Baptist Church e-newsletter, The Spire - June 2015

 “Si, Se Puede”; Yes, It Is Possible

On Saturday, May 9th, less than 100 people gathered under tents outside the NW Detention Center in Tacoma. We gathered to hear stories and to be a presence to those who are detained, and to say “enough is enough” to the 34K nation-wide nightly bed requirement set by ICE: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Our group represented a diverse people of faith and spirit, sanctuary supporters, and the immigrant justice community who showed up offering love and support, saying “si, se puede”, yes, it is possible to make a difference, to offer hope in the face of despair.

I went to be a presence and to continue my journey of discovery and bearing the responsibility of one “who has the privilege and a voice” to tell the stories I hear. I went as a mother and friend to show solidarity with other mothers and friends, fathers, sisters, brothers and kids. I went to hear stories and to learn what other people of faith are doing in the face of a tragic situation across our continent, with our neighbors to the South. I went because family is important to me.

What I saw and heard reminded me of parenting my own kids. I have heard and I believe that parents, no matter who they are, love their children to the best of their ability and resources. Surely there are situations when parents are not up to the job of providing for and supporting their children. But reading letters to us from mothers on the inside who have risked all to make a better life—including leaving children behind or caring for other people’s children when their parents could not—these stories ring true. Having to prove to authorities a ‘credible fear’ seems absurd, knowing that parents fear for even lesser hazards than these daily realities they have known. I know because I still hope for a future for my children and for theirs.

What I saw and heard reminded me of the people who supported me in my parenting, including the families in my community and abroad, who took in my kids when I needed help. What I saw and heard reminded me of the women I met when I worked in social services, often hearing about the sacrifices they made in order to find a better life—a life I often took for granted. What I saw and heard reminded me of the stories of my immigrant grandparents, who left home because of war and conscription and religious persecution. What I saw and heard reminded me that I know a God who loves justice and calls me to be the hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice for those who are not free to act. What I saw and heard asks me to walk in solidarity with those who have no choice. What I saw and heard reminds me that the Kingdom of God “disrupts and speaks of a greater power, a greater authority for Jubilee, freedom and forgiveness. In the words of the movement(1), “Si, Se Puede”—yes, it is possible. It is possible for us to offer blessing and walk beside them as they grow in faith. Let us gather our hearts for prayer. 

Other thoughts: Anthropologist and author, Bruce Feiler writes on the exile of the people of Israel to Babylon and how it strengthened them as a people of faith. To those who had formerly found their identity as a people around the temple worship, they came to identify with each other in experience and truth—that God is with them everywhere. This event actually resulted in great blessing to the Jewish nation, as they grew in numbers and in intellectual capacity—and eventual prosperity. They are a people with a common narrative of adversity, identity and monotheism. Without being tied to place, their faith was able to grow and their religion to survive and give them strength against a common enemy. (197-198, Where God Was Born.)

I am reminded of this thought as I read the stories and letters from the detained. Many of them tell of a renewed faith in God, when they were left without any help from others. “People are crying out” inside the detention center, according to a formerly detained woman, L. Garcia. They have left families, suffered great persecutions and hurts, have gone without health care and even food and water upon capture. Children on the outside suffer greatly as well, though their natural response is to protect their incarcerated parent and not disclose. They do not want the parent to suffer more knowing what grief they have caused. Communities and extended families suffer because of the additional burdens on the outside, offering bond, paying off the coyotes, caring for the estranged children, living on lesser resources due to incarcerated, unemployed adults. They are asking all of us, “please make a difference.”

The cost to taxpayers for the 34K beds is approximately $130-150 a day, paid to private companies, part of an empire whose profitability is the priority.

(1) Delores Huerta, women factory workers; and Cesar Chavez, United Farm Workers, and MLK The Exile, Psalm 137 The light of God dawns in the Darkness, Isaiah 60 Jesus on Power, Luke 20

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