Immigrant Detainment and Deportation

Over the past year I have been volunteering as a hotline advocate for immigrants in detention centers. It’s been challenging, and sometimes I’m not sure if I am even being helpful. For two hours a week- a hotline phone line is routed to my cellphone, and I answer the phone for those two hours to immigrants in detention centers and jails all across the US.

I have had other crisis hotline jobs, but never one that was a direct line to a person being held in a cage. The people I speak with generally have a correctional officer listening to the phone conversation- counting down the minutes before they escort them back to their cell. This changes the whole dynamic of the phone conversation, and frankly makes it distressful.

When I worked at other crisis centers for their hotline, we could always invite the person on the other end of the line to stop by the crisis center for in person communication. But this is not an option here- the people I speak with in detention are not able to leave, and much of the time our free hotline number is the only number they are able to afford to call (phone companies make a lot of money in prisons by charging around a dollar a minute for calls made through them). The people in these detention centers that I speak with hail from all corners of the earth- Africa, Asia, South and Central America.

I still feel awkward every time I answer the phone, as the person on the other line asks me how I’m doing. I tell them I’m doing alright, and ask them how they are. Many of them answer “not as good as you.” I still haven’t figured out how to respond to that.

I am also a part of a local rapid response team in my city- which seeks to take immediate action anytime ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detain or attempt to deport a community member. Today I got an email that they had detained someone who had shown up for their regular check in with ICE. I drove downtown with protest sign in tow, and joined a small band of about 15 other people who were there to help defend the immigrant community. We were too late, however. The immigrant had already been taken to another city with a prison, where he will be detained and possibly deported from. He has been unsuspectingly ripped apart from his wife and children and did not even have a chance to say goodbye.

That man that was detained today could very well call me someday in the future during my detention center hotline shift — calling for help in reaching the outside world and his family that he can’t get otherwise within the detention center.

This is why I will continue to answer the hotline, and show up to stand in protest. We’re not talking about abstractions here, we’re talking real life.

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© Copyright 2018 Annie Windholz



midwestern librarian, writer, activist

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