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Let’s Sit Down Together, Agree on the Facts and Answer a Few Questions

Monday and Friday mornings between 9 am and noon are the times when property can be left at the Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling for people who will be deported. I was there on Friday morning, December 11th, to drop off winter clothing in the backpack we had previously dropped off in July for one of our CWF friends currently in Freeborn. Immediately after entering the room, a young man entered carrying a backpack. We conversed for about twenty minutes.

The young man’s brother-in-law is in the Kandiyohi County Jail and is 43 years old. He has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, is married, has six kids, the youngest of whom is 5, and has grandkids. He has been working on a hog farm in Austin, MN, has had three DUIs and will be deported to Mexico City on Wednesday. All of his family lives in the U.S. except for a sister who lives in Michoacan, Mexico.

How would we respond if we had a brother-in-law who has a serious drinking problem, committed multiple DUIs, and should be counseled and attend chemical dependency classes but rather is in jail facing imminent deportation?

All Americans need to answer the following questions:

  1. After this gentleman has lived in the U.S. for 22 years, are we truly okay with separating a father from his wife and six kids, likely forever?
  2. Can we justify a 5-year-old child going to bed every night without a goodnight kiss from their dad?
  3. How will his family who will remain in the U.S. support themselves (food, rent, etc.) after having lost at least 50% of their annual income?
  4. Is it likely that one or more of his six kids and/or his wife and other relatives may suffer from depression and/or turn to alcohol or drugs?
  5. How is it that many Americans respond to this situation by saying that we must maintain a system of law and order such that a person who has violated immigration law must suffer these dire consequences and be punished by being deported?
  6. Do they fully understand that this form of punishment not only results in the physical separation of a father or mother from their spouse, children and grandchildren but is a form of emotional and psychological torture?

We will not be able to create a fair, humane and just U.S. immigration policy until we are able to agree on the essential facts and thus find common ground that can form the basis for a humane solution.

Here are the facts:

  1. People don’t come to the U.S. to murder or rape. They arrive to escape murder, rape, gang violence, gang enlistment, extortion, and/or kidnapping, and/or to find a job to support their families in the U.S and/or in their birth countries.
  2. The majority of people in ICE detention were offered jobs that made it possible for them to rent homes, buy cars, pay taxes, have families and establish roots in their communities.
  3. If they have committed a criminal offense—the majority have not—they have already served their sentence when they are detained by ICE.
  4. In Minnesota they are detained by ICE in one of four county jails where they await their immigration hearing and are jailed with U.S. citizens, some of whom are in jail serving time for very serious crimes. 
  5. If you are one of the few who wins some form of relief from the immigration judge—e.g. Convention against Torture guidelines under which you’ve demonstrated to the judge that there’s a 50.1% chance or greater that you will be tortured if you return to your birth country—the government is likely to appeal the judge’s decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA). The BIA will take at least six months, possibly as long as a year, to issue their decision, while you remain jailed and separated from your family.
  6. Even if the BIA agrees with the immigration judge’s decision granting relief from deportation, the government can appeal the decision again, resulting in another six to twelve months more of detention.
  7. The great majority of people detained by ICE will ultimately be ordered deported. On deportation morning, they are shackled at the wrists, the waist and ankles and put in a van that leaves the county jail at about 6 am and arrives at the Whipple Federal Building at Fort Snelling. There, the paperwork is processed, they receive any property that has been left for them by family and/or friends, and they are then transported to the airport for a flight to a staging location, oftentimes in Louisiana, where they will be joined by others so that the charter flight is filled as much as allowed under current Covid guidelines.
  8. People being deported will return to a country that they no longer know and where their lives may be in danger.

We Americans tend to fall into one or more of these three categories: people who value family and its ability to provide the foundation for a healthy, successful life; people of faith; law-and-order people. If we value family, faith and all human life, shouldn’t we value the lives of our immigrant brothers and sisters? If we believe in law and order, we demand that laws be obeyed and offenders suffer the consequences. Should the consequences include being jailed by ICE followed by deportation—after having lived in the U.S. for a median of about 15 years—and destruction of the family?

Let’s sit down together, agree to the facts, and answer the above questions. I expect the majority of us will find common ground and work toward a fair, humane, just, and acceptable immigration policy that will treat immigrants as we ourselves would wish to be treated if we were in their situation. I doubt that U.S. citizens who are in any of the three categories would be willing to support the emotional and psychological torture that results from the physical separation of spouses, of siblings, and of parents from their children.

By Steve Kraemer

Updates on our visits

On March 13, 2020, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced: “As a precautionary measure, we are temporarily suspending social visitation in all detention facilities.” An ICE official told CBS News that the measure will prohibit visits from family members and friends.

Before this announcement, CWF visit teams had been visiting people detained by ICE in classrooms in the following county jails in Minnesota:

  • Carver County Jail – Chaska
  • Freeborn County Adult Detention Center – Albert Lea
  • Kandiyohi County Jail – Willmar

At this time, our visits with people at Carver and Freeborn continue via Zoom. And, our CWF Volunteer Family of letter writers continues sending weekly letters to our friends in ICE detention in the above three jails as well as in the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River, MN.

The people with whom we visit and correspond are originally from Mexico, Central America, Somalia, Kenya, Liberia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, and other countries.

Goodbye to our friend

Conversations With Friends mourns the loss of Rev. John Guttermann. John died peacefully on December 29, 2016. Survived by his wife Dawn, John leaves a legacy of social justice activism. He founded Conversations With Friends and worked tirelessly for just and humane immigration policy.

Funeral Service will be on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2016 at United Church of Christ, 1000 Long Lake Rd, New Brighton, MN at 3pm, with visitation one hour prior. Visitation time will also be held on Friday, Jan. 6, 2016 from 5-8 PM, at Miller Funeral Home, 6210 Hwy 65 NE, Fridley, MN. Miller Funeral Home http://www.millerfuneralfridley.com 763-571-1300.john_gutterman

A call to compassion

Reverend John Guttermann started Conversations With Friends with a simple vision: to provide a compassionate witness to the humanity of those detained in immigration custody. CWF visitors have been visiting detained immigrants at the Ramsey County Adult Detention Center (ADC) since March 2011 and at the Freeborn County ADC since October 2015.

Today dozens of trained volunteers visit and correspond with people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Minnesota.

This mission was born of an understanding of the fundamental injustice of the immigration detention system, which today holds more than 30,000 people every single day in hundreds of jails and prisons around the United States.

They share stories. They joke. Sometimes they even sing.

Visitors aren’t there to proselytize. The program welcomes visitors of all faiths and of no faith who seek to engage in conversation and share in an hour of human interaction.

They’re not there to provide legal advice or counselling either. People with professional backgrounds are welcome to participate, but they “check their license at the door” and enter simply as compassionate visitors.

It’s a small step toward ending the isolation faced by people awaiting deportation hearings or facing removal from the United States.