When Your Presence Isn’t Enough

Tina, Charlie, and myself holding signs at shift change at Homestead migrant child detention camp.

Trying to find the words to start this blog post isn’t easy, as you can see from this sentence. After spending 3 days at Homestead I struggle to make sense of what I saw, experienced, and what my body wouldn’t allow me to experience. Upon arrival and for the entire time I was honored to be there my body took total control and did not allow me to be present and help the way I knew I was needed. Each day my body revolted more than the day before. The heat and humidity won and I am struggling with this defeat. But one thing is for sure, these two women and a few other dedicated, daily witnesses deserve our utmost support and respect. I, unfortunately wasn’t able to give what was so desperately needed.

I arrived in Homestead late Thursday morning. Upon seeing the camp I was taken by surprise by the overwhelming emotions I felt. After emotional hugs with women I have worked with remotely for months, I got to work helping with the remaining set up tasks of the witness camp. Setting up and taking down of camp is a huge task.

As the afternoon rolled around it began to rain and the relief from the intense heat was welcome. The word, rainy, is an understatement. Sirens and loud speakers told everyone to take shelter because of lightning strikes in the area. All I could think about was how scary this must sound to the children especially to those who don’t know English or Spanish. Little time for thoughts were allowed when the sky opened up. While I assumed that we’d hunker down under the canopies I quickly realized how wrong I was. Charlie, Tina, and Marty grabbed signs and took to the sidewalk because it was shift change. Many, many workers were leaving and arriving, mostly on huge buses. And there we stood, signs held high, silently demanding everyone who passed to look. Do not look away, children should not be taken from their families, and children do not belong in this prison, were a few of our messages. Addressing the workers is not as clear cut as one may think. They are often marginalized folks struggling to pay the bills and these are high paying jobs. How clever of the company that runs this hell hole. Put it somewhere really difficult to get to, somewhere ungodly hot in the summer, and in a community that desperately needs jobs.

After shift change Tina and I took a walk around the perimeter of this place. We passed where the 17 years olds live (if they are still there?), where those children are put into a 3 point handcuff shackle on their 18th birthdays and then transferred to ICE custody (please imagine that happening to your 18 year old on his or her birthday); through parking lot after parking lot, past where they young teens live, eat, play soccer, a visit to the ladders, and back to the witness camp. Why I bother to tell of this mundane routine is because of something Tina and I came across in the remote back area of the camp and what I struggle to deal with emotionally.

I have no words to describe coming upon children’s clothing so haphazardly disposed of in an empty lot. So I summon up a poem that helps me and I hope you are able to remember: “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” Please hold onto those words and do not look away. Do what you can from where you are to respond appropriately to the humanitarian crisis our government is inflicting on the people seeking asylum on our southern borders. And remember, seeking asylum is legal.

Mary(ellen)

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