Tears of relief streamed down V’s face. She’s a ten-year-old who just accompanied her father, Rigoberto, and his lawyer into the Newark Federal Immigration Court building for a “Check-In with ICE.” A group of us – immigrant rights activists, volunteers, and clergy with Wind of the Spirit – WotS were waiting with his wife and two-year-old son to see if they would be let out. Since President 45’s arrival in Washington, these “Check-Ins” are far from routine, and people like Rigoberto who have lived and worked in this country for 27 years know all too well that their time and number may be up.
Not this time, not today. Our prayers are answered. But, Rigoberto leans over to me and shares that two others who came in with him today are not so lucky. They will not be returning home today, and he asks aloud, “Why are the handcuffs necessary? I mean, what would she be able to do with a courtroom so filled with guns ready to be trained on those who resist.” Common sense has nothing much to do with a day when humans are being sorted into wheat and chaff.
Rigoberto (who gave me permission to share his story) is given a date to return in three months, and he is warned that if his asylum case isn’t finished, then that may be the day he is separated from his wife, his five children, and his grandchild – as if he is in control over the outcome or the length of the proceedings. He shares his trust in God whatever the outcome, and he is aware it may not be a good one.
Rigoberto knows his life will be in danger if he is sent back to Honduras. He also shares another piece of his story. Rigoberto worries about his mother whose life is also threatened by extortionists. He sends money on a regular basis to pay off people who threaten to harm or kill his mother if he should ever stop.
I look across the street and think about all the Americans who are employed by his misery – the officers, the lawyers, the judges, the politicians – those who feel they are serving justice and those who are trying to help or to break a broken system that continues to churn out tears of relief and tears of terror.
We gather to talk about the future of this family and for others in our community. We confer about what needs to be in order for Rigoberto’s next Check-In and about getting people to show up for the training Wind of the Spirit will be sponsoring next week with the New Sanctuary Coalition.
The other pastor, Rev. Ruiz, and I connect briefly before we all go our separate ways. He works with the New Sanctuary Coalition in New York City and has joined us to lend his expertise. Not too long after Rigoberto is called inside for his appointment, Rev. Ruiz walks in. The pastor asks for Rigoberto to sign some documents for the church, mostly so those present in the courtroom see that Rigoberto is not alone. We talk about the difference it can make when the justice system is watched. Rigoberto and his daughter were not alone – a lawyer and a pastor were with him. Downstairs his wife is not alone, we are there with her and their little boy. The wait is made more bearable with companions, and yes, the outcome is sometimes more bearable as well.
The last sound as we depart is a gleeful “Goodbye!” from Rigoberto’s son. His sister’s tears and his laughter clutch at the heart. I wonder about the woman in handcuffs who is still upstairs: who cries and laughs for her plight and possibilities? What a bittersweet morning.