Debbie Reed lives in Denver, Colorado and attends the First Mennonite Church. She retired from teaching in 2012 but continues to substitute teach when she is not playing in the beautiful Colorado mountains. Case de Paz is one of her many beloved volunteer obligations.
Juan, Carlos and Mazhar all walked out of the door of the three thousand-square-foot Aurora Detention Center squinting at the setting sun, looking a little nervous and disoriented. Each had a small plastic bag filled with paper files and a few personal belongings. I quickly tried to put them at ease by explaining I was there to drive them to Casa de Paz, a place where they could eat their next hot meal, contact their loved ones, spend the night and make arrangements for their next steps. They slowly relaxed but kept their guard up — to be expected after spending months in a variety of detention centers around the country. Each man had a different story of grief, survival and hope for the future.
Juan has lived in Washington state for over 10 years with his family — a wife and four children — who are waiting for him. Juan worked on an apple orchard without legal documentation, and his loyal boss sent the bond money for him to be released and attend his court date in a couple months. His evident excitement to call his family and be reunited was moving. Juan had been detained when crossing the border from Mexico after visiting his seriously ill mother. After a quick meal, we drove downtown where Juan boarded a Greyhound bus for a 50-plus hour ride to Washington.
Carlos is a small Guatemalan man who surprisingly speaks perfect English without any accent. In Guatemala, he worked at a call center, but wanted to attend college in the city where his brother lives in Wisconsin. He had been detained for several months, but was anxious and hopeful to further his education in the United States. Carlos’ plans were to fly to Wisconsin the next day after his brother confirmed his ticket.
Mazhar is a young man from Bangledash, detained for two years while seeking asylum. He began his journey to the United States through South America by walking north and working along the way. Impressively, he spoke perfect Spanish as well as Bengali — he craved communicating with others and learning more, even while he was in detention. Watching him Skype with his aunt and uncle in New York was a memorable celebration.
I have heard so many fascinating, soulful, unbelievable stories of our sisters and brothers who have sacrificed and survived long journeys. As a volunteer for Casa de Paz, I am humbled by their courage and persistence to find safety and a better home in the U.S.
The pulse of Casa de Paz beats loudly with the director, Sarah Jackson, and her house manager, Oliver, providing leadership. Sarah began Casa de Paz in 2012 after an emotional experience visiting the border wall in Arizona and witnessing the atrocities migrants face. Oliver was detained in Aurora while seeking asylum from Cameroon — yet another heart-wrenching story to be told. He was granted asylum but now waits for his wife and baby girl to join him one day soon. When released from detention, Casa de Paz was there for him, and eventually, Oliver returned to Denver where he works several jobs including house manager for Sarah. Casa de Paz originally was a small apartment, then it was a larger home infested with mold (unknown until Sarah became very ill), and finally it is now a five-bedroom home complete with two basement bedrooms with bunk beds, laundry room and a bathroom where hot showers are gleefully welcomed.
Dinners are served, smiles and hugs are shared, cell phones are consistently ringing, a variety of languages sing through the room, and the walls drip with love and compassion. It is here where the human spirit is rejuvenated.
So, what can we do with this immigration policy mess and help folks stay out of detention in the first place? For one, vote! Make sure you research candidates who really want a fair immigration reform policy. Second, call! Make sure your representatives know you want families to be together, asylum cases to be processed fairly, DREAMers to gain citizenship, and contributing immigrants gainfully employed to have a path to legal status.
In the meantime, check out the Casa de Paz website at: www.casadepazcolorado.org to donate or volunteer. At the last Volunteer Orientation there were three thousand people (usually there are four to five)! Love DOES trump hate.
This post is part of MC USA’s Immigration Justice: Learn, Pray, Join initiative.
With hope we pray for justice for immigrants seeking peace, wholeness and safety in the United States and around the world. We invite congregation to use Peace Sunday prayers and worship resources: “A renewed peace church welcomes the stranger,” created by Mennonite World Conference for worship on Sept. 23.
Consider ways you can actively support immigration justice:
1. Learn skills to help facilitate intercultural competency and/or undoing racism processes in congregations through the Intercultural Development Inventory or invite one of the 18 qualified administrators across MC USA to work with your congregation.
2. Advocate for just and humane immigration policies for immigrants and refugees by contacting your local, state and national elected officials.
3. Offer church facilities and volunteers for immigration documentation services, language classes, mental health support, cultural celebrations, after-school homework help and other ministries.
4. Engage in mutual aid to offer food, shelter, clothing, housing, transportation and other resources to immigrants regardless of their status.
5. Donate to MC USA to support congregations and projects working with immigration justice initiatives addressing family separation, detention centers, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and legal assistance.