Nurses see everything in a day’s work. But at the maternity ward of Nashville General Hospital, nurses caring for an immigrant woman in labor broke down and cried when the sheriff’s deputy guarding the woman refused to remove the shackles chaining her leg to the bed. The undocumented woman was detained by local authorities because of a cooperation agreement between the county sheriff’s department and the immigration enforcement agency, ICE.1
In Seattle, a seasoned community leader couldn’t hold back her tears at a press conference as she read excerpts from her organization’s report about abuses and indignities suffered by immigrants at a local detention center. Female detainees described strip searches and genital and anal cavity inspections following meetings with attorneys; detainees affected by an outbreak of food poisoning were denied medical treatment for many hours; a group of detainees transferred out of the facility by plane to Alabama — to clear room there for workers arrested in a raid — were refused access to the bathroom and were forced to sit in their own excrement for the duration of the flight.2
Following the May 12 immigration raid at the Agriprocessors meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, court interpreter Erik Camayd-Freixas reported seeing attorneys “weep alongside their clients” as hundreds of immigrant workers were left no choice but to plead guilty to criminal charges.3 At St. Bridget’s church in Postville, where staff and volunteers have been providing humanitarian assistance to families traumatized by the raid, Father Ouderkirk quotes Sister Mary as saying: “Once you’ve cried for two straight weeks, you don’t have any more tears. But it doesn’t mean you stopped feeling.”4
I’ve covered immigration news in a weekly bulletin for over a decade, and co-authored a book about immigration which came out last year. Yet it took me three weeks to write about the Postville raid because I couldn’t stop crying as I read about the indigenous Guatemalans and Mexicans, victims of labor exploitation, who were dragged through an incomprehensible legal process in makeshift courtrooms at a cattle fairgrounds and are now serving prison sentences; mothers hobbled with government tracking devices on their ankles as they try to care for their families, now without income; and hundreds of children who are grieving the sudden loss of a parent.5
I can’t even skim through our own book without crying. In the chapter on detention and deportation, the “Story of S.” still burns me up, unleashing tears of helplessness, as I remember how ICE delayed releasing S. for a few extra days, saying we needed to prove we had arranged a safe place for her to stay, since she was a survivor of abuse. Yet when they finally released her, they dumped her on the street without letting anyone know — not even her lawyer — and without any money, even for a phone call, so she had to make her way on foot to a public library and ask to borrow the phone.
Then there’s Farouk Abdel-Muhti, a friend and colleague whose case we covered in that same chapter. Farouk would be 60 now, but he died four years ago today — on July 21, 2004, his 100th day of freedom after two years in immigration detention. It’s not even Farouk’s death that brings up the tears for me. It’s the eight months he spent in solitary confinement, without seeing the sun, or breathing outside air — in total violation of the government’s own rules — while our protests, vigils, press releases, and petitions were ignored. And the fact that his entire detention was a farce, since the government already knew Farouk was a man without a country who couldn’t be deported.
Tears of rage, of frustration, of grief.
And tears of hope, when I see kids in Providence, Rhode Island, leading some 200 people in a noisy protest to support immigrant janitors arrested by ICE just a few hours earlier.6 Tears of hope, when I hear that Jewish and Christian communities are planning to converge in Postville on July 27 for a major demonstration in solidarity with the families affected by the Agriprocessors raid.7 Tears of hope, whenever I see resistance rising.
Hope that we will never get used to the brutality, the human tragedy, that our immigration enforcement system unleashes all around us. Hope that our tears will never dry up, our hearts will never cease to hurt, and our voices will never get tired of demanding justice.
1 Travis Loller, “Pregnant Inmate Shackled to Hospital Bed during Labor,” Associated Press, 15 July 2008; Julia Preston, “Immigrant, Pregnant, Is Jailed Under Pact,” New York Times, 20 July 2008.
3 Erik Camayd-Freixas, “Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account,” MRZine, 12 July 2008.
Jane Guskin is co-author of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, published by Monthly Review Press in July 2007. Guskin also edits Immigration News Briefs, a weekly newsletter covering immigration issues. She lives in New York City.