Just when it looked like “Ben,” the African asylum seeker whom we are sponsoring, might wait interminably in the processing center where he is being detained just on this side of the border in New Mexico, the logjam broke. This week he was given a court date for his bond hearing: January 7. Getting a court date was a major hurdle. The prospects look good for his imminent release, though that will be up to the judge.
During the last two months we tried to do our part as would-be sponsors by providing several rounds of documentation. It wasn’t always clear what was needed. We would sometimes get instructions second- or thirdhand, by phone or text, from members of organizations who are working his case along with many others. Sometimes the requests came from Ben himself, sometimes coached by a fellow detainee who has been through the process before, and we would usually pass the requests on to others who might know better what to do. Ben himself would get contradictory messages from his detainment officers. Yes, you’ll be released soon, no, you’re going to be deported.
All the helpers are busy and operating from different parts of the country. I am impressed with how hard they work and what they are trying to do. I spoke to a member of his pro bono legal team this week who is in San Francisco and obviously working from home with a noisy baby. I thanked her for her work.
But the whole communication process has been like playing the ear-to-ear whispering game “Telephone,” in which the message changes in the transmission. Not surprisingly, the actual phone connection from the detention center is often bad, although the nearly daily conversations we’ve had with Ben have provided a lifeline for him.
I was surprised when he first contacted us. I thought we’d wait at a silent distance until everything was sorted out, then welcome him and get to know him if and when he got here. Instead, we have developed a relationship. Ben has cheerfully drawn us into his daily routine—rice and beans, a little outdoor recreation, novel reading, and a chat with “Mum and Dad.” I don’t press him for a lot of detail about conditions—I don’t know who’s listening—and he seldom complains. Still, being in prison and not knowing how long your sentence will be—some refugees are held for years—has got to be difficult. We suffer in empathy.
So when the end is suddenly in sight, we rejoice with him. Ben is always cheerful but he was downright exuberant when he told us Wednesday evening about the court date.
Pray that the judge will let him go ASAP, if for no other reason than this: it is your tax money that is paying a private prison company somewhere around $100 a day to keep him from becoming a productive member of our society.