The court date that wasn’t

Yesterday was the much-awaited court date for “Ben,” the asylum-seeker in detention whom we are prepared to sponsor, that is, vouch for and support if he can be paroled to us during the asylum-application process.

The court appearance turned out to consist of interacting with a judge on a TV screen in a room at the detention center. It turned out not to be a bond or parole hearing but, rather, a routine “calendar hearing” at which a date was set for the next such appearance, some two weeks hence. And it turned out that the judge pressured our guy and his two friends to apply then and there for asylum, from the detention center, which would be almost certain to turn out badly for them. So not much happened and what did happen was discouraging.

Trying to figure out exactly what is happening, from a distance, is very difficult. I have problems dealing with layers of abstraction, like some gigantic mathematical equation. I get foggy. The bits of information I get from various sources, including Ben himself, are incomplete and often contradictory. As the suspense (his and ours) was building toward this “court date” I was feeling at sea, isolated. I learned from Ben that his two pals in detention, fellow countrymen, also have sponsors waiting for them. These would-be sponsors are in our city and they talk to each other because they are part of the same faith group. I realized that is one thing Vic and I are missing: someone to talk to. So I got phone numbers and got the six of us—three couples—together for coffee last Friday.

This turned out to be a very good thing. For one, we all had different bits of information and putting them together was helpful, if not particularly encouraging, because one key piece of information was that this January 7 appearance before a judge (on a TV screen) was not likely to be decisive. Indeed, this turned out to be the case.

More important by far was the beginning of a social network for those of us who are in the same situation: sponsors-in-waiting. Although a local network exists for sponsors who are already hosting refugees, we have not been part of that.  The challenges of hosting refugees are quite different from the challenges of getting them here in the first place.

So, as the six of us heard from our guys one by one yesterday about the court appearance (phone calls can go out but they can’t go in) it was helpful to have new friends with whom to share and process the bad news. Moreover, the other couples—young, brilliant academics—are not prone to sit by and wait for someone to tell them what is going on, which can be my inclination. They, instead, spring into action, research, and phone calls. Which inspires us to do our part as well, although it looks like our primary role in this network may be to get everybody together face-to-face and talk. The text streams can get really long. I’ve invited everybody to lunch at the Pink Lady tomorrow, along with Heather, who is the linchpin of this whole refugee-sponsorship operation, and who has more pieces of the puzzle than we do, although all of us have, by now, something to add.

I have the same problem with too many texts that I have with distant and mysterious bureaucracies: too many layers of abstraction. I look forward to talking over soup tomorrow–developing plans of action and, as the case may be, acknowledging our shared love and frustration. As I lay awake around midnight mulling over the insane arbitrariness of ICE parole decisions, the “ping” of an arriving text giving the last yes to the Thursday lunch date felt like something, at least, had been achieved. It was enough to sleep on.

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