La Lucha Sigue Y Sigue: Connecting Struggles and Welcoming Refugees

The following blog post, calling in JVP members at this critical moment in fighting for justice and safety and dignity for immigrants and refugees, is from Elaine Cohen, JVP member in Austin, Texas.  

A few years ago a group of Texans United for Families (TUFF) members visited the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas.  Texans United for Families began in 2005 to end the practice of Family Detention.  A lawsuit was initiated by the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of Texas, the ACLU and Grassroots Leadership.  In one of the best moments of the early Obama Administration, Family Detention at Hutto was ended in 2009.  Within weeks, however, the prison had morphed into what was to be the first All Woman Detention Center in the vast Immigrant Detention network that runs across the country.

I became involved with the Hutto Visitation Program that began after the transformation and by the time I went on the tour I had visited Hutto dozens of times.  I have lived in both Spain and Mexico and my ability to speak Spanish enabled me to listen and offer solace to the women from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who were the majority of the women there.  During the tour, one of the Medical Officers (in military uniform) turned around, looked right at me and asked, “Why do you care about these women?  You’re not a Latina.”  Her badge had her name in large letters.  It was a long, multi-syllabic name easily identifiable as Southern European in origin.

“I am the granddaughter of immigrants.”  I had to exercise tremendous control to not add, “… just like you.”  It was at that moment that I began to comprehend the amnesia of most Americans with regard to their own family’s immigrant past.

Subsequently I have stayed in contact with a number of the women I visited after they won their asylum cases.  Austin is fortunate to have Casa Marianella, which has been a refuge for immigrants for 30 years.  Single men and single women, often just released from Detention or having landed in Austin with no family or friends have found Casa Marianella to be a place where they can live, eat and receive the kind of services that enable them to rebuild their lives.  Some years ago it became apparent that there was a need for a place to house mothers and children.  Often the women were fleeing from violent domestic situations or had been victimized by state or cartel violence in their home countries.  They and their children needed protection – and Posada Esperanza came into being.

Posada Esperanza now has grown to four houses which at this moment house 15 mothers and 20 children.  It is there that I have been spending a lot of my time since one of the women I visited at the Karnes Detention Facility moved there with her 9 year old son.  I started visiting Karnes in April of 2015, after the last woman I visited at Hutto was finally released.

Yes, “Family Detention” had returned to the United States.   The great numbers of women and children who came across the Southern border in the summer of 2014 were held primarily in two Detention Camps in South Texas.  The first was Karnes, operated by GEO, the second largest private prison corporation.  The second was Dilley, operated by the CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) the largest private prison corporation.  Each is situated at least two hours south of San Antonio, one southeast and the other southwest. [It should be noted that Family Detention never really ended and has continued in a small facility in Berks County, Pennsylvania.]

A woman I knew from the Hutto Visitation program became interested in visiting at Karnes.  We started visiting weekly, sometimes bringing another person or two with us.  But mostly it was Felicia and I, making the 5 hour round trip and who began to visit 6 women.  We were each only allowed to visit one woman at a time and for one hour.   Sometimes we would be there for three hours, visiting one, then another of the women – and their children.  I have written extensively about Detention but the sight of children locked in these Immigration Prisons was one of the most terrible things I have confronted in my life.

One woman and her son were able to get provisional release and invited to come live at Posada Esperanza.  That is where Felicia and I took them last July – after 11 months in Detention.  The transition has not been easy.  Like almost all the women I have met from Central America, she was the victim of terrible violence and threats against the lives of both her and her son.  While her case is still being fought, she now lives in fear of deportation as she and her son entered the U.S. during the summer of 2014.  This is the group that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has decided it is time to deport.

They made the announcement on December 24; I am not the only person who was astonished at the terribly irony in this.  In the last days immigration attorneys, advocates and immigrant rights groups have been working non-stop to block this attack on human rights and U.S. law.  Sadly, President Obama seems to be willing to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of women and children to appear as tough on Immigration as the morally challenged who swarm on the far right.

As many of us have come to realize that one can’t call oneself a Progressive Jew and ignore the violence and cruelties that Palestinians have suffered all these years – I believe that it is imperative that we not turn our backs on the women and children who have fled domestic violence, corrupt armed forces and the terror of the cartels that have ravaged Central America.

My involvement began with visiting immigrants in Detention – and has transformed now into post-release support.  The struggle for immigrant rights is a multi-faith endeavor; I would like to see more Jews involved in visiting the Detention Camps and joining Inter-faith actions that protest our terribly wrong-hearted immigration system.  I’ve been writing about various aspects of the struggle (in Spanish: la lucha) for over a year.  My blogs can be found at theragblog.com.  They reflect varying degrees of outrage.  This new round of deportations, however, brought me to a new level of despair.  Yet in the last days I have watched the women at Posada envelope my friend and her son in compassion and support.  This morning I awakened to the news that a Federal judge had ordered the deportations stopped – at least for now.  So I still have the strength to stand with my friend – and all the others.

I believe that the principle work of Jewish Voice for Peace, that of Peace and Justice for Palestine and the Palestinians is closely related for the struggle for immigrant rights in the United States.  In Spanish the words for first cousin is primo hermano – cousin brother.  I think these struggles are primos hermanos – or to place it in the feminine, primas hermanas.  I welcome correspondence with anyone wishing to know how/where they might connect.

La lucha sigue y sigue.

~Elaine Cohen, JVP Austin





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