I am terrified I tell David, If I or someone does not provide me with money I would die.
I can confess my fears to David knowing him as a fellow undocumented poet — we’ve only met on a handful of occasions when civil disobediences or celebrations have brought us together — but we know each other deeply having been forced into America from Mexico before the age three & growing up with the terror of deportation & finding ourselves irreconcilable with our reality & having wrestled with loneliness & insecurity & illusioned ourselves with policy as relief & felt liberated & then overwhelmed by organizing within our communities. We are both 23. & maybe the death is not instantaneous, I resume, (which isn’t entirely comforting) — it might be softened with acts of charity or prolonged if I steal to survive or become institutionalized in some prison or detention facility but by that point the choices are so wretched that perhaps death is preferable.
What I am getting at is that living is difficult, by this I mean not solely surviving but rejoicing in the activity you choose to do, not just toil you are forced into. This conundrum is not (at all) disconnected from our hatred of the poor or the arts — and perhaps is the scariest fact of our current market economy — by discarding any other measure for human worth, people are measured by their production, if they cannot produce they are expendable, and when they are expendable they can then be used as soldiers, prisoners, automatic & sexless workers.
That is why when Mohammad proposed the plan to infiltrate Broward Transitional Center & set up a detention camp there through the summer to further the work we had already begun in stopping deportations I did not hesitate in saying, Yes. & when Claudio (one of the first detainees we worked with &, moreover, the chief organizer inside) amidst one of our first meals asked how I had begun, I told him about our eight day hunger strike for the Dream Act in the summer of 2010. He looked at me then & said: Entonces, te gusta luchar? — Well then, you like to fight? — & not needing to respond, I am to assume, that he does, too.
The goal was to get stories out; to us the person is the story, so get the person out of detention: Each time Claudio or I or one of our core group of our fellow detainees-turned-organizers approached a new person we would explain the process of how they or preferably a loved one outside should call the hotline number connected to five phone-lines which would then do a basic intake with biographical & legal information (age, family, time & claims to the US, reason for their detainment, possible avenues to legalization & strategize next steps). Each campaign has three components, legal, advocacy, & public organizing & each case would then raise awareness of the violations that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) was making in this so-called model facility. On the legal front we would steer the family through filing for Prosecutorial Discretion* or other forms of relief if they could not afford an attorney, or coordinate with the attorney in correspondence to ICE or the media. In terms of advocacy the family would be connected to local representatives and shown how to plead their politicians for support on the detainee’s behalf. Last, the organizing front usually demands the most creativity as each person’s story & community is different; by exploring all social connections we tried to get churches, labor advocates, health professionals, community leaders & immigrant allies involved by calling for the person’s relief through sign-on letters, spreading alerts & signing online petitions.
We found cases of medical negligence, police abuse, rape, spouses who had valid claims filed with their partners, victims of trafficking, assault, refugees waiting for years on their asylum request. & while the actual detainment structure wasn’t suffocating the wait, the legal maze, the looming end of deportation & separation from your family are insufferable. Claudio did considered throwing himself down a main flight of stairs in order to get out – potential suicide we said – and it wasn’t the first or second time someone had attempted that summer.
The facility appears to be an enclosed pink motel from the outside — it’s easy to dismiss coming off Interstate 91 & onto Powerline Road across the landfill & shopping plaza, next to the Humane Society & amidst the gas stations. The hallways inside are sterilized & decorated with art fitting for a children’s hospital & lead only to the courtroom (inaccessible for relatives & reporters), the clinic, or the cafeteria (which serves as visiting room on weekends). The nearly 100 male cell rooms are not locked & hold three bunk-beds but the occupants are constantly in flux — the female unit is constrained to one hallway, two supervised visits to the courtyard (at midday & in the afternoon) & much less freedom to walk about the facility.
Returning to my first point, this sense of confinement & surveillance is not new to someone who grows up undocumented & criminalized. One develops a separate consciousness that is always monitoring what you do & who you’re with & what’s to lose. & the more urgent call to me is that when we let the market dictate our morality & determine our lives then there will be segments of people left out who find this form of living in complete disagreement with theirs. I am not unimaginative enough to believe that millions of people abroad selected to be poor & found migration unavoidable & found their existence unjustifiable in the land of the free. Or that, domestically, millions should be locked-up or in the streets, homeless, hungry, & deemed without worthy talents. I think here is where we must confront the Gospel & say that armaments, narcotics & prisons should not be traded in the market as goods. & if you cannot justify our present reality with your faith, then you will become illegal, too, and also irreconcilable with the present. That’s the lesson from Broward Detention, that the current system of operation is unsustainable and yearns for a new creation.
*Prosecutorial Discretion was a process outlined by the Obama administration in the summer of 2011 stating that undocumented immigrants who were not deemed a high priority for deportation (based on their ties to the US & lack of threat to domestic safety) would have their removal stopped or not be a target of enforcement. The announcement & subsequent relief are rarely applied as the current administration continues to deport at unprecedented numbers & set higher quotas & funding for enforcement.
Bio: Marco Saavedra is a 23-year-old activist with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance & DreamActivist.org. Last summer, he infiltrated an immigration detention center in Florida as part of a hybrid political action and investigation drawing attention to the plight of undocumented immigrants caught in the U.S. detention system. Much of this work is documented in a photobook found at ShadowsthenLight.com, co-written with Steve Pavey.
More info on the Broward Infiltration: http://broward.theniya.org/