Stop Separating Families

Last night I walked a labyrinth with my friend Ana. We were in a dark church hall, lit only by candles. Ana wept as she saw her daughter’s name YESICA written lovingly along a curve of the path. The youth of Lake Street Church, where Ana’s family lives, had created an Easter labyrinth.

Yesica’s name was part of the labyrinth, surrounded by candles, and Ana walks the labyrinth and places her candle there, too. Yesica, twenty-two years old, has been imprisoned for two years – or three, if you count the year in El Salvador hiding from the gangs that killed her father as he tried to protect her from them, and that now want to kill her. Today, after making the perilous journey through El Salvador and Mexico alone, then sitting in a Texas prison for 2 years while trying to navigate the immigration court system Yesica received our government’s final answer to her appeal: Denied. The Immigration Court system acknowledges that Yesica was tortured and has grounds to fear for her life — but it maintains that she could be safein El Salvador. So, we will deport her.

Despite the fact that Yesica’s surviving family is in asylum proceedings in Chicago, desperate for her to join them in an Alternatives to Detention program. Despite the fact that a single young woman in El Salvador separated from the protection of family will be targeted for rape, torture, and murder. Despite the fact that Yesica’s imprisonment and deportation violate both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980.

Accompanying Yesica and her family through the labyrinth of the U.S. immigration system, receiving news of one denial after another, no matter how many or how competent our lawyers are, I see that this is a maze perfectly designed to block, delay, confuse, exhaust, humiliate, abuse, torment.  It is a long, cruel way to a dead end.  The immigration system that has met Yesica has nothing to do with freedom and justice, the heart of our country’s values. The detention and deportation machine is a betrayal of all we hold dear.

Last night we walked a labyrinth of sorrow, mystery, and prayer.  Our hearts hurt. But Yesica, Ana — and the hundreds of people in Texas and Illinois and across the country who have walked lovingly with this immigrant family — know that in America we can prevail even in the most awful times.

We will not give up.

Here’s a petition for Yesica’s release.  Please join me in demanding that our elected officials stop our government’s practice of separating families NOW.

Shanti Elliott
Chicago Women Take Action, Steering Committee
Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, Board Member
Chicago Religious Leadership Network Organizing, Committee member