Sometimes when you are dealing with an asylum-seeker things happen very fast, sometimes very slowly, sometimes not at all. It’s stop-start rollercoaster stuff. Last week, for example, a friend of our guys who had been held for five months in a different detention center was suddenly sprung free on parole with no explanation. There is a welcome party for her tomorrow night at the Episcopal church. Miracles do happen.
Meanwhile, we and the other two sponsor couples we’ve teamed up with, because our guys are being detained together, have adjusted our sights to the long haul. Paroles from their center are on hold. Applying for asylum from prison seems to be their only choice. Asylum takes time. We’ve hired lawyers for them. One of the guys wants to learn computer programming so his sponsors are getting permission to send him textbooks. Another learns how to use a video-call app called, appropriately, “Getting Out” and takes a thrilling tour of his sponsors’ home. I’m encouraging Ben to start on his memoirs and giving him prompts to incorporate more about himself in letters.
Since I want him to write often and at length, I enclosed a strip of stamps in our last letter. Several days before that we had sent him privacy-waiver forms to sign so our congressional offices can start quizzing ICE about why this person, who is still suffering from injuries incurred during imprisonment a year ago in his own country, cannot be released on parole, at least?
The privacy waivers finally got to him yesterday, after a long delay, along with that last letter I sent. Both had been delayed and opened because they contained—gasp!—contraband. Stamps! Even the SASE I enclosed with the waivers was a no-no. Ben said that anything like stamps that can be purchased at the commissary must be purchased at the commissary. It means ordering and waiting a week or so. Ben persuaded them to return the stamps to us in the SASE that was meant for the waivers.
The commissary only charges 55 cents per stamp so they aren’t making a profit but who knows why they do it this way.
I sent him another batch of cash, this time noting the amount in the enclosure and asking him to let us know if he got it all. A friend suggested this. If they are opening letters, who is to say they aren’t helping themselves to some of the cash? He says, so far it has all come through. But checks are ok too.
A flurry of texts comes from the other sponsors this morning. There is an African restaurant in South Bend, run by Malawians! How did we not know about this? Not that I get that hungry for African food—I get enough of it in Congo to last me for a year at a time. I look up the menu and see they offer a familiar array of dishes. The couple who visited say the restaurant is small and “sketch” on the outside but clean and simple and the food is delicious. It is struggling a bit, after being open for 14 months. The problem no doubt is that it is home cooking, which Africans here pretty much do for themselves at home so why go to a restaurant? Still, we’ll give it some business for sure. If you live near South Bend, try the International Fuse Bar & Grill.
As I write this Ben may be in front of the video judge for his second appearance, or at least in the company of his attorney (“AT-tor-ney”). We are not waiting with bated breath for any miracles, only hoping that a delay will be granted as the attorney is requesting.
Ben was effervescent last night after reading our letter. He loved a picture I included of me in African garb with my brother and African women pastors.
He calls and says the video judge was friendlier this time and actually smiled at him. She granted a delay so his attorney could present a more complete case on February 13.
Later. I decided to look up Amtrak to DC for a visit to our friend Dawn, who has very limited mobility because of MS. I found a premium sleeper for two seniors for a very reasonable price. I am excited about this trip, which will kill many birds with one stone (a very bad metaphor, I know): something for me to look forward to, something for Dawn to look forward to, getting Vic and Dawn together for the first time in years, continuing Vic’s 75th birthday celebration, which begins this weekend, and avoiding the hazards and hassle of flying or driving in winter.
Still later. An excited phone call from Ben (third one today), which arrives along with an excited flurry of texts from the other sponsors (second flurry today), who have gotten similar phone calls from their guys. The guys have been visited by an ICE officer who tells them the parole ban at their detention center has been lifted and they can ask their deportation officers to review their parole applications. I call our attorney to report this to her and she says she’ll contact Ben’s officer.
I refuse to get my hopes up too high. Besides, we just scheduled that trip for week after next and I imagine that is just the time somebody could decide to spring Ben loose.
This is life not in the fast lane but the stop-start lane where anything can happen. Or not.