Earlier this month, I have visited the Krome Detention Center near Miami, Florida. As a part of tour group, Friends of Miami Dade Detainees, my fellow YAV mate Michelle and I visited the facility to learn about the center and meet the detainees. Krome Detention center or Krome Service Processing Center is one of the many immigration detention centers in the United States where people who have violated the immigration law are held. They are not serving time for a crime. Many of them are detained, waiting for a removal process or court hearings, purely for “administrative purposes” we were told. We were background checked and went through security procedures. After we entered, an officer gave a brief presentation about what they do and what we will be seeing. Then, we toured the facility. There are 600 beds that are filled with detainees for some sort of conflict with immigration law.
I thought about what I should share about the visit. Honestly I am not sure what I can share. Because I can tell you about the frustration that detainees face as they struggle to navigate unfamiliar system with little knowledge of their rights and very little English; their incredible effort to understand the law and way to freedom, contacting unresponsive free legal aid numbers. I can also share their fear in isolation from their family and friends, disrespect and humiliation in being forced to sign their own deportation paper without being fully informed in language they understand. I can share that many of them have lived here long enough to call it their home and there is no other home outside of here. I can share that, for some, returning to their country of origin is not an option, and might be deported to a third country of no relation. However, as important as those stories are, I thought I would face a wall that I always encounter in sharing any stories of undocumented immigrants: That they deserve what they face because they have broken the law.
I have thought great deal about and struggled with two very polarizing sides to immigration issue in this country. It seems logical or even natural when a law is broken, then there should be consequences. On the other hand, I struggled to deal with the fact that ordinary people that I see and meet everyday have to bear the consequences of breaking the law. Because once I put myself in a place of a friend, family member, or loved one of the detainees, the perspective changes completely. The whole thing seems so unsettling that all they hoped for was to have a better life for their family or to flee from a life of violence and poverty, yet it seems also “logical” as there are consequences to any violation of the law and all people have to face them when the laws are broken. However, more than anything, it has been difficult for me to see the coldness, indifference, disrespect toward the detainees or undocumented immigrants, especially when the contempt comes from people of faith, people I call my brothers and sisters because we share the same faith in Jesus.
Thinking about immigration, I tried not to be partial. I tried to be objective. And, the most compromising place I came to was that as people of faith we should have compassion, regardless of people’s choices and status. But, the more I think about it, the angrier I get about the realities of our lives and the comments like “illegal aliens should return to their own community to develop their own countries so that their only export aren’t drugs and its people”. There are big gaps between lives of people. While I have privileges and luxury to consider my option, pursue my dream, and live more comfortably than many others, there are people whose choices for better life, no matter how hard they try, start with overcoming poverty and violence. While there are incredible amount of food to be wasted from one part of the world, there are not enough to feed in the other. While there is so much wealth in one part of the neighborhood, there is so much poverty in the other. Numerous people are in situations where crime is the way to live, way to survive – a violation of law seem necessary to pursue the life they hope for. I have been told that this is how life is and we have to learn to deal with it. We just have to work harder to overcome the obstacles. That there is no excuse for any choices we make, no matter whether I have more and some others have less to begin with. I become angry that we are taught to accept things as they are and to feel indifferent because they are just how it is. I am angry that that is often the attitude I have, excusing my responsibility in taking part in this world.
I am not complaining that I have privileges I am grateful for the the privileges allowed in my life. I am also sure that many hard-working people are grateful for the opportunities to earn what they have. And, I am in no way promoting law breaking or saying that there aren’t people who overcome these difficulties in life, without breaking the law. Yet, many people fail to realize the fact that not everyone hold certain privileges. But, there is a show of contempt and absolute insistence that those who break the law are undeserving of compassion and dignity. And, I am infuriated by people’s willful negligence to care about state of people who seem “deserving” of what they suffer. When Christians, undeserving people, were redeemed by the Grace that was so freely given, many, including myself, are so hesitant in giving mercy and grace as we have received them. There is a sense of entitlements and self-righteousness that I detest in myself and even in those who recognize great privileges that we hold. Empathy and understanding are not a sign of weaknesses. Amnesty, not just giving excuses for a poor behavior, but a sign of compassion. And, I believe these apply to every aspect of our lives, not just immigration.
I do not wish to shame people or point fingers, even though often times I sound like it. If I did, I would be pointing fingers at myself also. Because I am guilty of forgetting my privileges and choosing not to care. I understand being subject of critique without love which stirs up resentments rather than giving reason to love and care more. But, I am reminded by this opportunity that no matter how much I am tempted to carry on with my own life, pursue my own comfort and happiness only, I always have to consciously choose to care. To pursue what is right. To show compassion. To work against injustice. Because people, with fewer privileges than I, have to overcome greater challenges than I could ever face. And, in all circumstances, I would want to be respected and remembered as a human being worthy of dignity, not just as a labeled outcast.
It is a battle within me, but I am probably not the only one who fights this battle. So, I wanted to share this with my family in Christ after my visit to the Krome. That we should care. That we should remember that awareness of suffering no matter the cause is a beginning of our realization of having responsibility to share the burden. It is not the end of our goal in our pursuit of what is right nor a license to demonize other parties who do not share the same sense of responsibility. But, it is Christians’ responsibility to care about all, even those who seem “undeserving” – whether those who break the law or who look away from the world’s suffering, because we have been shown grace and love that are unconditional. And, we should encourage each other to remember that grace and love that were so freely given. It is not a call for only some, but for all of us who profess to love Jesus.