Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bus station hospitality

This reflection is by our friend Vicki. Last week we hosted three men at The Restoration Project's Tucson hospitality house, Casa Mariposa. We met them at the greyhound station after they were released from the Eloy detention center on bond. Last month we hosted four women that Cindy from the Florence Project met at the station. In all cases, they could not catch a bus that day and would have been left locked outside the station after it closed around midnight. Staying at an all-night fast food restaurant or sleeping on the sidewalk outside the station would have been their only other options. If you'd like to be part of the community response to this situation, please join us Saturday, March 26, from 9 am to noon, 340 S. 3rd Ave., Tucson.

I didn’t know what to expect when we walked into the Greyhound station that evening around 8:30. Inside a television played low in the corner. A wall of vending machines and video games including one named “Target, Terror,” buzzed and blinked at us. A few people were dozing on benches under the low ceiling and fluorescent lights. None of the released detainees in sight. Two folks from the Restoration Project, who live at Casa Mariposa in Tucson, Arizona, and I set up camp to wait it out.

An hour or two later, a lone ICE agent raced into the station and headed for the bathroom. Slowly, a small line of people formed in front of the counter. The ICE agent returned, racing as quickly out of the bus station as he had entered, muttering, “Good night, gentlemen” as he blew through the door. We exchanged bemused looks with the released detainees at the agent’s behavior. They each hugged a clear plastic bag stamped with Homeland Security’s insignia. They were quiet and some seemed scared. As they waited for the Greyhound attendant to return from his break, we began getting a feel for the group’s needs. Our small contingent had gone that evening to look for a specific woman who was to be released and stay at Casa Mariposa. Her bus ticket was for the next morning. She was not in the van that evening[1], the others said, so we spoke with them instead.

The group consisted of a woman from Nicaragua, a young man from Ecuador, just 18 years old, and men from Haiti, Mexico, the Punjab region of India, and Eritrea. They were going to Chicago, New York, Minnesota and California. Some had been housed in ICE detention centers in Eloy for just a few weeks, others for a few years. Some were fighting asylum cases, others had been apprehended for other immigration reasons and were being released on bond to continue their immigration cases from outside the prison walls.

Sometimes people the Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project have represented stay at Casa Mariposa between their release and when transportation to their final destination can be arranged. Sometimes it is just overnight. Sometimes for a few days. We’ve met people from Eritrea, fleeing forced inscription and the gender-based violence involved in forced military service. We’ve met people fleeing war in Somalia and political persecution in Ethiopia who have lived in multiple countries en route to getting to the U.S. to seek asylum. These are often torture survivors who are re-traumatized as they are forced to live in the detention center.

Other people are released from ICE custody directly to the bus station after posting bond. It is always at night. Sometimes family members or friends have pre-arranged a bus tickets or wired money that is waiting for them through Western Union. But sometimes people arrive with no clear plan. Sometimes the buses are full and no ticket can be purchased until the next day. Sometimes there are errors that delay a money transfer through Western Union.

The Tucson greyhound station closes after the final bus leaves around midnight, leaving some people outside to wait until it reopens the next morning. In these cases, people who have been in custody for prolonged periods of time have sometimes found themselves on the street or struggling to find an all-night restaurant where they can wait until morning. For some, this is their first experience of the United States outside of the immigration detention center.

The night we went to the bus station, I sat for a long time with the young man from Ecuador, who was able to purchase a ticket to Chicago. He talked quietly and seemed anxious. He asked how many times he would need to change buses before arriving in Chicago. He followed closely behind some of the other men who had taken him under their wings. I wrote down the specific instructions he’d need, and phrases in English he could use to ask for help if he needed it.

At the end of the night, two men, from India and Eritrea, were not able to secure bus tickets. We offered them a place to stay for the evening until they could arrange transportation in the morning. After we had been with them for a few hours, they agreed, and came with us to Casa Mariposa.

Hospitality is not simply the process of opening one’s home to someone in need of a place to go. That in itself is an often radical act. Hospitality is also the process of opening one’s heart and spirit to another, inviting both to share in a common human experience. Hospitality is a willingness to be transformed by the sharing of the other person’s experiences.

This bus station hospitality here in Tucson is happening organically. The next evening one of the community members walked to the station with one of the guests to catch his bus. It was the last one leaving that day. A man from Haiti, just released from the detention center, was there without a ticket. He stayed at Casa Mariposa that night. The next day, before he boarded his bus, the two of them played Bob Marley songs on guitars together in the living room.

Last month a Florence Project staff member was picking up a woman just released from the detention center, and called Casa Mariposa to ask if they had room for several more people to stay. That night four women in all, including an older woman, stayed and shared a meal at Casa Mariposa instead of an all night restaurant or on the street.

Members of the community have gone to the bus station several times over the last few weeks. Most nights everyone gets on a bus and on his or her way. But not always. And so the community and the Florence Project are taking steps to have small groups of people take turns going and waiting weeknights at the greyhound station, just to be present and see what people might need. It is happening in small steps, in each one a careful attention to the spirit of God as it appears in the experiences of people in need.

[1] Unfortunately, ICE dropped her off the following morning at 6 am. The station was closed until 7 am. She had no coat. It was about 45 degrees. She waited outside. They were actually trying to be helpful since her bus didn’t leave until that day.

Vicki Kline recently moved to Tucson from Baltimore, where she worked with unaccompanied minors through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. In Tucson, Vicki works with No More Deaths, and has greatly improved the beauty of Casa Mariposa through a home makeover of the breakfast nook. She believes the dream of the 90s might still be alive in Tucson.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tucson Orientation Saturday

Want to know what it's like inside an immigration detention center? Want to learn how you can make a real difference right now? You'll have a chance this Saturday in Tucson.

We'll hear from Hector who recently spent five months in Florence Correctional Center. Staff from the Florence Project will share about their work. They are legal-aid heros of immigrants and refugees detained in Eloy and Florenc.

You'll also have a chance to share about your experiences navigating the immigration detention system.

In addition we'll begin to formulate a community wide response to support recently released immigrants who are left in limbo on Tucson streets until they can catch a bus the next day.

So come share your experiences, learn from others and let's work together to restore human dignity to immigrants and refugees being detained in our state.

Snacks and lunch provided.

9 am to noon, with lunch afterward
The Restoration Project @ Casa Mariposa
340 S. 3rd Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85701

Thursday, March 17, 2011

International Commission 'troubled' and 'distrubed' by immigration detention centers in US

Today the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published its Report on Immigration in the United States: Detention and Due Process.

Arizona detention centers were among those investigated for the report. The Inter-American Commission uses words like "disturbed" and "troubled" to describe their findings.

In a press release about the report, the the Inter-American Commission said they are "troubled by the lack of a genuinely civil detention system with general conditions that are commensurate with human dignity and humane treatment."

The Inter-American Commission also said they are, "disturbed by the fact that the management and personal care of immigration detainees is frequently outsourced to private contractors, yet insufficient information is available concerning the mechanisms in place to supervise the contractors."

Three Arizona detention centers were among the six that were investigated as part of the report. The other three were in Texas. In Arizona, the Inter-American Commission visited: Southwest Key Unaccompanied Minor Shelter (Phoenix, Arizona); Florence Service Processing Center (Florence, Arizona); and the Pinal County Jail (Florence, Arizona). The for-profit detention centers run by CCA in Florence and Eloy were not included in the investigation.

The Inter-American Commission is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS). The Inter-American Commission has a mandate from the OAS and the American Convention on Human Rights to promote respect for human rights in the region. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

Let's hope the U.S. government doesn't try to sweep this under the rug of, "we've already made important changes in the last two years." From what we've heard and observed from those detained recently, the U.S. immigration detention system is not fully respectful of human rights.

We hope you'll join us in this international human rights work, right in our own backyard. Come learn how you can be part of honoring the human dignity of immigrants being detained. We are offering a training on Saturday, March 26, from 9 am to noon, at Casa Mariposa, the Tucson hospitality house of the Restoration Project, 340 S. 3rd Ave.

Read the New York Times article about the report.

The full report is here:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March Orientations in Phoenix, Tucson

Two chances to attend orientation sessions this month:

Saturday, March 5 
9 am to noon, followed by lunch
115 North 12th Ave
this is a community house

Saturday, March 26
9 am to noon, followed by lunch
340 S. 3rd Ave.
at The Restoration Project's community house, Casa Mariposa

You'll learn about what it is like inside detention centers, why people are there, and how important it is for folks to have someone who is writing and visiting. We'll also explore power and privilege, hear a presentation on survivors of torture, and take a moment to consider good self care.

A photo from the February orientation in Phoenix.