With the end of the semester just around the corner I decided I would try and pair up with a second community partner in order to fulfill my required twenty-eight hours of service for this class. I decided to get in contact with La Linea. This is a pilot program at the University YMCA that is staffed by volunteers that provide phone information service in the form of basic translation and interpretation. I was particularly drawn to this group because I had worked with them as a sophomore when the program was initially taking off. After contacting Francisco Baires, the Community Programs Director, I was able to meet with him and another volunteer by the name of Carolina. During our meeting we discussed what La Linea had evolved into in my absence and what our own person abilities could bring to this program. Having explained to them my interest in speaking more with immigrant community members they then presented to me a new case they were involved with and asked if I was willing to help.
I of course was excited to be on board. After we discussed the details of the case, we decided we needed to visit the individual that was being detained at a facility after a traffic stop revealed he/she did not have the proper documentation. Suddenly everything became so much more real for me. I had been learning about such situations in class all semester long and now here I was about to step into someone’s reality. I must confess that I doubted my abilities to translate and to cope with this emotionally. Yet the next night I found myself in a car with Francisco and Carolina driving to visit our community member.
When we arrived at the facility I was unable to visit with Francisco and Carolina and so I was given the task of speaking with the secretary and explaining the detainee’s health situations and how the language barrier effecter his/her physical care. Needless to say it was definitely a struggle to explain to the secretary how necessary it was for us to translate health forms and for us to be in contact with our community member. On our way back home to Champaign Francisco, Carolina, and I brainstormed ideas for our next visit and what steps we needed to take in order to inform the community of what was occurring. Also, as one of the requirements for my service learning experiences is in fact to speak Spanish, Francisco assigned me the task of calling our community member’s spouse to inform him/her of an update. Even though I was nervous, Carolina and Francisco reminded me of key points for me to touch on during my phone call. In the end I was able to surprise myself with my ability to translate under such circumstances.
When we got back on campus I felt extremely energized. While I was upset that our community member had to cope with this situation, I felt blessed to be working with this group because I knew we would try to make sure he/she would be taken care of in the future. My energy for this case helped to further reinforce my interest in social justice.
We will visit our community member again the week following Thanksgiving Break.
Below I have included a number of facts about the U.S. Detention and Deportation System courtesy of http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/aboutdetention.
· Immigrants in detention include families, both undocumented and documented immigrants, many who have been in the US for years and are now facing exile, survivors of torture, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children, and individuals who are seriously ill without proper medication or care.
· Being in violation of immigration laws is not a crime. It is a civil violation for which immigrants go through a process to see whether they have a right to stay in the United States. Immigrants detained during this process are in non-criminal custody. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the agency responsible for detaining immigrants.
· The average cost of detaining an immigrant is approximately $122 per person/ per day. Alternatives to detention, which generally include a combination of reporting and electronic monitoring, are effective and significantly cheaper, with some programs costing as little as $12 per day. These alternatives to detention still yield an estimated 93% appearance rate before the immigration courts.
· Although DHS owns and operates its own detention centers, it also “buys” bed space from over 312 county and city prisons nationwide to hold the majority of those who are detained (over 67%). Immigrants detained in these local jails are mixed in with the local prison population who is serving time for crimes.
· About half of all immigrants held in detention have no criminal record at all. The rest may have committed some crime in their past, but they have already paid their debt to society. They are being detained for immigration purposes only.
· Torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable groups can be detained for months or even years, further aggravating their isolation, depression, and other mental health problems associated with their past trauma.
· As a result of this surge in detention and deportation, immigrants are suffering poor conditions and abuse in detention facilities across the country and families are being separated often for life while the private prison industry and county jailers are reaping huge profits.