On a very cold Sunday in March, some 200 people from the Boston area gathered for a march in South Boston to a section of the Suffolk County prison which houses many detained undocumented immigrants. We were there to convey that there are people in this distorted political world who care about them. We couldn’t speak to them directly in a face-to-face way. We couldn’t even see them through the one-way mirror glass in the windows of their cells. But they could see us, up on a walking bridge across the street from the prison, and they could hear our chants and songs. And they could tell from the heavy winter clothing we were wearing that it was very cold outside and could appreciate the fact that we were there in spite of the freezing weather.
All well and good, a meaningful gesture, to be sure. It was emotionally meaningful for us, and we could tell that it was for them, as well. We could hear them pounding on their windows as their form of communication with us. And somehow, we could see the movement up and down on one of the windows of a white cloth a detained person was using to indicate his welcome for our being there.
My perspective was shaped by trips I have taken to Latin America and, in particular, by the many visits I have made to a particular village, Santa María Tzejá, in northern Guatemala. Kay and I helped found a partnership between the Congregational Church in Needham and the village, which has been visited by two church delegations each year since 1987. Standing across from this detention center/prison, I could imagine that someone from Santa María might be one of the incarcerated. I also thought about dreams that those detained people behind the barred windows had in planning for their migration to the United States. But I could also grasp the disillusionment of these individuals who had been so hopeful of finding safe, much better lives for themselves in this country. And now all they face are endless days of confinement to be followed by depressing deportation trips to their countries of origin.
What can be done? What can we do to make a difference in the lives of immigrants in this country? One starting place would be to join one of the periodic trips taken to the detention center like the one I and many others experienced last month. Then we can combine our intensity of feeling to find ways of slowing down our government’s deportation machine carried out by agents of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. And go from there.