It is usually the week before Christmas in the season of Advent that I have the opportunity to pray and walk in a traditional procession with others, re-enacting Mary and Joseph seeking shelter for the time when their child would be born. "Posada" in Spanish means "inn." This seeking shelter, safety, security is expressed by the word "posada."
This year, posada began November 27, the first Sunday of Advent, and ended December 2, the 36th anniversary of the martyrdom of the North American women in El Salvador: Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Jean Donovan and Maura Clarke.
On my fifth trip to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, I worked with a dozen others to assist 1,700 moms with their children under the ages of 18 to pursue their rights and prepare them to tell their stories of past harm or fear of future persecution to pass what is known as a "credible fear" interview. If successful, they can get released from the detention center, also known as a mama/baby jail, and pursue their asylum claim elsewhere in the United States.
As one woman was recounting her story, she said, "Buscaba posada" — I sought shelter — "in the house of a friend to get away from the harm being inflicted upon me and my family." This got me reflecting upon my experience of posada. Not the prayerful, reflective, traditional procession that ends happily with a welcome and usually hot chocolate and pan dulce at the last stop. No, these were real, live women and children knocking on the door of the United States in 2016, fleeing violence and seeking safety with their children already born and among us.
It is a traumatic, painful, messy process. Sometimes it has a happy ending, and sometimes not. On the last afternoon that I was there, a woman and her daughter came in with some paperwork, asking what it was. Unfortunately, it was a negative "credible fear" interview, which meant that she had not established "credible fear" before the asylum officer. Fortunately, she has another chance to take her case before an immigration judge. That was hardly good news, considering her state at that moment. She sobbed uncontrollably and held on to me tightly as she poured out her pain and sorrow, saying, "I can't go back." Her daughter and I joined in the chorus of tears.
Who is knocking on our door in our interdependent globalized world this Advent season? Who are we willing to let in, to welcome? On whose door are we knocking to be let in to their world? Of whom are we seeking posada?
The Isaiah 11:1-10 reading from the Second Sunday of Advent could be paraphrased to fit this situation: The Central American refugees will be the guests of Americans in the United States; the Palestinians and Israelis will be neighbors; the Syrian and Middle Eastern refugees will be welcomed around the world; "together their young shall rest. . . . There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain."
I remember where I was, and the day and the hour, when I heard the news of the slaying of the American women in El Salvador in December 1980, nine months after Msgr. Oscar Romero was assassinated. Copious tears flowed then, too.
What is lacking in the human person who needs to dominate, kill and continue to perpetuate violence, especially violence against women and children? What posada do they need in their lives to make them whole? With all the progress in communication over the past three decades and the knowledge that we have gained for treatment of physical and mental health issues, how can we assure that everyone has what she or he needs to be whole? We know that we are all made from the same stardust. At our most basic level, we are one.
Another woman with a teenage daughter being recruited by a gang ended her time with me by saying, "I do not want my daughter to have the same life I had." The culture of impunity is appalling.
The CARA Pro Bono Project has now been operating for more than two years. Its mission is twofold: to provide legal services to get the women and children out of detention and to shut down family detention. (FYI: "Family detention" does not include the father of the family. If the father crosses with his children and their mother, he is separated from them.) Go to www.caraprobono.org for information and a chance to participate in posada.
On December 2, a Texas court ruled that the family detention centers in Dilley and Karnes, Texas, cannot be licensed by the state as child care agencies. Over the weekend, about 500 women and children were released from Dilley and Karnes into San Antonio. The state of Texas has appealed the court ruling but, hopefully, this is the beginning of the end of these jails being operated by the private prisons industry. Core Civic, previously known as Corrections Corporation of America, operates Dilley, and GEO operates Karnes. (A third family detention center is in Berks County, Pennsylvania.)
"On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from his roots a bud shall blossom" (Isaiah 11:1). Will the sprout of hope, the decision from the Texas court, blossom into the freeing of women and children from the Dilley and Karnes jails? That would be our hope. We also hope that for our sisters and their children in Berks County, which is government-run.
The policies and procedures of the government concerning family detention are so unpredictable and inconsistent that it is hard to predict what their next step will be. However, we can all be ready to offer posada to those who arrive in our communities. Stay alert! Call your president and congresspeople and tell them to end family detention.
[Bernadine Karge is a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa and an immigration lawyer in Chicago.]