Advent from the Perspective of Immigrant Women who are Detained
December 9, 2016
By Sister Kathleen Erickson
“The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9). This year, as we await the coming of the light of Christ, we invite you to reflect on the meaning of Advent through diverse perspectives in our Mercy family. Read other reflections in our 2016 Advent series.
I am so privileged to be able to visit immigrant women who are detained in a county jail. Some have been there a short time, but most spend months there before being deported back to their country of origin. It is a form of psychological torture to wait for weeks without anyone from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) speaking with them. They have no idea when or even if they will be leaving the jail. Most do not receive asylum despite having fled threats, death of family members and violence. I see them individually on a weekly basis, and when I asked if they would like to share their thoughts about Advent being a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Christ, these were some of their responses.
I am appealing because I was denied asylum. In less than two months I will have been in jail two years. One of my sons in Honduras disappeared over three years ago, and we don’t know what happened to him. My nieces are raped and terrorized. I am depressed, and they treat me as a criminal. I will come back if I’m deported because what is life without my children and grandchildren? I have a son in the U.S. military. I remind myself that at least I am still alive, and I would rather be alive in this jail than return to Honduras and be killed. I will be here for Christmas, I’m sure. I sleep all day.
All we have to do is wait. For us being an immigrant, this is a hard time, waiting for a year different from this one, realizing what’s important, thinking about immaterial things. You shouldn’t have to be in jail to wake up and realize what you have, and what you wasted in your life outside, even how you wasted food. We have so little here. I want to use this time like gold and learn to be a better person.
We’re like people in purgatory. We’re judged here for what we’ve done by coming here without papers, or for who we are. We didn’t do anything bad but come here, and we’ll be different when we leave. I hope my heart is cleaned here; I didn’t have time for God outside, but here I’ve had the time. I want to leave like a new person, with a different attitude. I know God is with me.
For me all the days are the same, not just here, but before. There was nothing to look forward to. We were so poor. When you want something it costs too much, so I don’t want anything. This isn’t depression; it’s just looking at the truth. I have lost so much and was so angry. My son was shot and is in a coma, like a vegetable. I cry every day. But God has given me patience and I will survive.
Advent is a time when we as
Christians wait on the birth of Jesus Christ,
a time of joy and patience.
As immigrants, especially here in jail,
Advent is a passing, quick moment
We may think of Advent, but most of the time
we are reminded of our deepest fears other than the birth of Jesus.
We are reminded of our sorrow,
our mistakes perhaps, our long ways from home.
We are reminded of war, injustices and
even more so our captivity in jail,
our seclusion from the world out there
who are gladly waiting on the birth of Jesus.
Even though we face these pains deep in our hearts
we still wait on the birth of Jesus.
Advent, waiting, hope and despair, all have taken on a more nuanced meaning for me as I spend time with detained immigrants, both men and women. I learn from their courage and resiliency. In this increasingly fraught world, they embody aspects of humanity I might not ever have known. I tell them often they are not alone, and that many people are struggling on their behalf. They enrich my life, and along with them, I ask your reflection, prayer and active involvement in changing unjust systems such as the one that holds them captives.