Editor’s Note: The unexpected consequence of the 2016 presidential election is the way that it coalesced America in resistance to moral outrage and awareness of principles on which the nation was built:
Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
–From “The New Colossus,” Emma Lazarus, 1883.
Taking the message of “Indivisble” to heart (links available in the American Identity Issue), Alicia Ostriker shows us how to be mindful and make a difference in the world around us. About Ostriker, the author Joyce Carol Oates writes, “[She] has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves.”
This morning I spent with some New Sanctuary Movement people accompanying a woman named Iris, pronounced Eeris, with her twelve-year-old son Estefan, to her court hearing. All I knew about her was that she was undocumented, that this was her second hearing, that she did not have a lawyer, that she lives in the Bronx, and that her case was in some unexplained way “complicated.” She spoke only Spanish and had probably been apprehended at the border.
She was slated for deportation, as were all the undocumented people there.
Our task was to give her moral support, simply by being there, accompanying her. In our training session, we were warned not to be in any way confrontational, even if she or we met with hostile behavior. And we were warned that much of our time would be spent waiting.
That was the case. The building, devoted to processing immigrants, felt like a hospital. There were a dozen of us. We introduced ourselves to each other, and our leaders, and Iris, who shook our hands or hugged us. We went through security and up to the 12th floor, where we all hung out in a hall outside judge’s chambers, and then in a waiting room. There we waited two hours.
It was altogether different from what I expected. Guards were courteous. I watched one guard squat down in the hall to persuade a small boy who’d thrown himself on the floor to be a big boy and get up. Both laughing. The door in the waiting room was open to Judge Brennan’s chambers, and we listened to her berate—not the immigrant whose hearing it was—but a lawyer, for not providing more mitigating facts, such as the danger his client’s little girl might be in if he could not afford to send her to school or get medical care. This was rather astonishing. A little later, she berated a different immigrant for not co-operating with his lawyer. It was clear she saw her job as doing whatever she could that was legal to delay deportations.
When she came out she let us know that she was familiar with the New Sanctuary Movement organization.
The judge hearing cases of people without lawyers was also a woman. Each case had an interpreter. The judge ascertained through the interpreter that she had the person’s name, address, child’s name and age correctly. She smiled rather often, especially at children. At some point, she doffed her black judge’s robe and was wearing a sleeveless grey dress underneath. Everyone received a change of address form in case they were to change their address, and a form listing places they could look for pro bono lawyers, and the instruction to come back November 14.
That was it. There are, of course, not enough lawyers. And they will take only cases they think they can win, which is very few. The order of the day, at least in New York, seems to be delay, delay, delay–and the job of the New Sanctuary Movement is to keep figuring out ways of playing the system.
I can learn more if I go to the organization’s meetings. And of course, it would be better if I knew Spanish.
You can look up the New Sanctuary Movement. It is a coalition rooted in synagogues and churches but is happy to use anyone’s help. It exists in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, and presumably other cities as well. Go to https://newsanctuarynyc.wordpress.com/about/