First of all, birthday greetings to the Loquacious Pup! She is a little older than this blog, but not as much as you think. She is growing up into quite the young lady.
Last evening, through the group under whose auspices I visit other men held in our nation's hospitable immigration detention facilities, I had the opportunity of transporting a gentleman from an unnamed African country from immigration detention in New Jersey to a transitional housing arrangement in Manhattan. Unsurprisingly, after nearly 8 months in the custody of an ICE contractor, a day or so after winning his asylum case before an immigration judge, he was unceremoniously ushered out a side door of the private jail in a warehouse district near Newark Airport. I was told to have a coat for him, as it was unlikely he had one (and dead certain he wouldn't be provided one). And he was in shirt sleeves in the 30-something degree chill.
And so, we'll call him "R," got his first taste of freedom since his arrival at JFK last April by crossing a dark street, and putting on the coat and hat I provided him and getting in my car. I drove him for his first freedom meal, appropriately enough at a McDonald's (people who regularly visited him told me that he had lost around 6 sizes since his detention). Mostly, he expressed his awe at seeing things live that he had seen on t.v., or otherwise, at the thought that he was suddenly a free man again. (His release had been delayed a day by "paperwork," so he had good reason for suspicion.)
Like most people in immigration custody, he entered legally on a proper visa, but, in his case, was detained at a port of entry on suspicion of desiring to stay here. He requested asylum, and after over 7 months in detention, thanks presumably to excellent pro bono lawyering, obtained it. Most, of course, aren't so lucky. But for that time, this man who had done nothing but escape an African country where he reasonably feared persecution, was the prisoner of our nation for most of this year.
And so, after his quarter pounder and 10-piece McNuggets and fries and a medium Coke, and a brief traffic tie up on the NJ turnpike, we approached the Holland tunnel, where I could point out the N.Y.S. skyline and the Statue of Liberty, which, as I noted in my usual sardonic attempt at wit, he was seeing from behind, which really seemed appropriate given what he had just gone through. I offered to divert to Times Square, but he said he just wanted to get to his next stop, a facility run by a religious order that hosts a lot of refugees and asylum seekers. And so, with the gods of parking karma cooperating with a space across the street, I helped him shlep his bags upstairs (the bags he brought from Africa on what he assumed would be a visit here not involving a long jail stay), and he let his new circumstance sink in. We unsuccessfully tried his wife on the whatsapp application, but left the phone number of where he was staying.
Apparently, others had already donated stuff for him that was waiting, as were several notes from people who would provide him the services necessary to transition to American life as a legally recognized refugee. He noted that it would be very unlikely that he would get much sleep last night, a sentiment I seconded (and btw, I found it very difficult to sleep after this experience either).
The majority of people seeking asylum in the U.S. are, of course, denied it, though not necessarily because they are not entitled to it. It's just a long, painful process, often involving long times in detention. And having an attorney, and a good attorney, makes a huge difference.
In any event, there are still people who believe in this country and what it has to offer. They could teach the rest of us a thing or two.