By Samuel Paramore
Undocumented immigrants in detention are always fearful of being forgotten. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) thrives on this isolation, using the hell of a cold cell block floor and windowless walls without sunlight piercing through to coerce them into early voluntary deportation agreements. It can be hard to confront a family member, a friend, or a neighbor in such dehumanizing straits. It’s even harder when there’s the thinnest line separating undocumented visitors from becoming future detainees–a state of mind that allies like me will likely never experience.
Conditions inside the Theo Lacy detention center in Orange, as well as any similar facility, are nearly indistinguishable from a prison, save for prisons may actually do better in maintaining an inmate’s connection with the outside world. Undocumented detainees are subject to constant mental and physical abuse, such as when Felix Alvarado, a Honduran national at Theo Lacy, alleged in a 2015 lawsuit that a deputy slammed his head against a wall. Along with the threat of brute force is sexual violence, solitary confinement, and simply being locked away from a real existence. Mental health conditions such as depression and bipolar disorder only make matters more insufferable.
But hope is a formidable force. Knowing those outside the walls are leading movements that are gaining strength despite constant surveillance, can mean the difference between life and death. The recent San Diego protest against Operation Streamline that echoed throughout California signaled a new stage for the anti-ICE movement whose goal is complete abolition.
Visit detainees. Tell them the news about the ongoing struggle for their freedom. Inform them they are far from oblivion, and that their everyday conditions continue to be felt in every effort pro-immigrant rights activists make. The conversation doesn’t even need to be what some would consider revolutionary. Talk to them about your day, go off on random tangents, and joke around. Anything conversational that doesn’t remind them of their current situation can be beneficial and healthy, even if it may not seem to register at the moment.
This is a potentially dangerous scenario, though, for undocumented folks to place themselves in. That’s why Orange County Immigrant Youth United also reaches out to allies to get involved in visiting those detained. People like myself are in no danger of being shackled at Theo Lacy or any other such place. We can use these visits to learn more about what undocumented people go through and understand what must be upended and stopped at a personal level.
Bring down the walls of separation by first walking through them.