While immigration detention is increasingly becoming a topic covered by mainstream media, the voices of those directly affected by detention often remain absent. In an effort to fill this void, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) is launching a series of blog posts called "Words Beyond Walls." In this series of posts, we will explore the reality of living in U.S. immigration detention centers through individuals who are in the best position to describe it. We hope to foster critical reflection about the values that inform the immigration detention system and our response to it.
Our first writer and artist is Sonia Elizabeth Hernandez, who is currently detained at the Karnes County Residential Center in Texas with her three children: Abi who is ten, Valentín who is nine, and Moises. Moises recently celebrated his third birthday behind bars, and Abi will be celebrating her 11th birthday soon. The family has been in U.S. immigration detention for over six months, and there is no end in sight.
This month, an immigration judge denied her children bond, even though the government has determined that Sonia and her children have a credible fear of persecution in their home country of El Salvador. If the government did release Sonia, she would have the full support of the community. In fact, an evangelical Christian pastor of La Voz de Cristo al Mundo in Maryland has offered to provide housing and hospitality for Sonia and her children while their asylum case is adjudicated in immigration court. So, why must Sonia and her children remain detained? This is a question she and her supporters continue to ask. These are Sonia's words beyond walls:
I have been in U.S. immigration detention for six months and 17 days. It has been very difficult for me and my three children, and I am desperate now. I ask for strength from God. It is difficult when the food they feed us is different from what I am used to cooking for my family, but you have to eat it because there is nothing else.
It hurts me when my children silently refuse to eat. And instead of gaining weight, I have to watch them lose pounds because I can't give them adequate food in here.
It breaks my heart when my children say to me, 'Mommy, when are we going to go? Everyone else is leaving and why aren't we?'
I say, 'It'll be soon, don't worry.'
It takes patience to survive in here. Time passes and it feels like years. Other women arrive and ask me how long I have been in here. I tell them it will soon be seven months, and I'm frightened because most women are in here with their children for less than two months. They say, 'Poor woman, why don't they let you out?'
I'll write more later because I feel sad, and I try to hide from my children my sorrow and my pain.
This is the first in a series of posts called "Words Beyond Walls." To support Sonia and her children, sign her petition and ask the U.S. government to release her. Check back in for more posts in this series in the coming months.