Marilyn E. Alvarado is a first generation college graduate from CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice and paralegal with Safe Passage Project.
I did not know I would end up discovering the true strength and resilience of women in a place where it is supposed to be taken away. Being detained for an unreasonable and inhumane amount of time is one thing, but being shamed for trying to breast feed that same detained child is completely stomach turning to fathom. This is just one of the many instances in which I was reminded that I was greeting luchadoras (fighters) in immigrant detention. Their stories did not start from the time they were apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), and it certainly will not end after they leave Dilley, Texas. Something as simple as “Welcome to the United States” might be the one and only moment they finally feel welcome into a country that states it welcomes immigrants with open arms, despite the current political climate.
Our volunteer day begins around 7 am, and does not end until 8 pm, and I am not including the debriefing that needs to take place in order to prepare for the following morning. Needless to say, the long hours seem like nothing once you speak to these women and realize just how much they have overcome and just how hard they are fighting for the well-being of their children. Despite the horrific stories that they courageously choose to disclose to people they’ve met moments before, the level of optimism was astonishing. Regardless of the nervousness, shame, and guilt, among various other sentiments that surfaced during the Credible Fear Interview Preparation sessions (CFI’s); the determination to continue fighting never stopped. Again, the never ending resilience of the women shines tremendously during this preparation. They are essentially preparing themselves to disclose the most painful moments they have ever experienced in their lives. All of this in order to prove to an asylum officer that they are in fact afraid to return to their home country.
Inevitably, tears began falling from the eyes of the women that had endured pain and suffering for way too long. I saw them fighting to make their vulnerabilities invisible; but they would do everything in their power to make sure their children did not have to endure more trauma than they already had. As I reminded a woman that what we discussed would be kept confidential, and would not be shared with the government of her home country, nor her family members, her green eyes lit up and turned bright red. The tears were pouring out. I turned to look at her child, in an effort to hold back my own tears, and I could not help but smile. Despite him being a cranky 3 year old with a cold, he leaned over toward his mom. He wiped her face and closed her sweater in an effort to comfort her. That was not the most selfless act of love that I witnessed. As the loving mother she was, she promised to buy him some jam for the long walk from our trailer to the one housing them.
Illiteracy in their native language was a barrier I did not expect to encounter, but this certainly played a role in a woman’s perception of herself. One woman voiced her frustrations to Claire Thomas and me as she described how hopeless she felt not being able to understand the documents that immigration was handing to her. I tasked myself with reminding as many women as I could, that their worth as a human being was not defined by the horrible moments that they might have been subjected to, but instead how they were able to overcome those hardships with such resilience, patience, and grace. These women are completely disoriented from being shuffled around from facility to facility. They have no idea as to what lays outside of the maze of trailers. I am humbled to play a small role in being the daughter of two Central American immigrants, yet being able to be one of the first smiles they’ve finally received in a while. You belong here too, no matter how much other people try and argue otherwise. #EndFamilyDetention