Artesia1Only a few members of our Oregon chapter are able to stay on longer in Artesia at this time. I’m not one of them, and I’m feeling really guilty about leaving. I think it is amazing that our chapter has rallied behind the effort in Artesia and that people are making personal donations to support this cause. One of the hardest parts about being in Artesia (and there are many) is not being able to tell the women we worked with this past week whether anyone would be there to help them tomorrow. If there is additional funding available beyond what is needed to cover the travel costs of the members of team Oregon who are able to stay now, I hope the chapter would consider starting a fund to support sending a second team down the line.

The lack of justice, due process, and the gross infringement on basic human rights at Artesia is truly staggering. We need to keep fighting for these women and children long term. We need to send our members here to see and experience what is happening firsthand, so that they can shed light on this very dark place. I have no doubt that our own government is detaining these women and children–refugees–at Artesia for the sole purpose of deporting them as quickly as possible and discouraging others from coming. These are the most vulnerable people in the world, and our government is using them to send the message that America’s southern border is closed. As advocates, we can’t sit by and allow this voice of hate to be the loudest.

I am not the same person leaving Artesia as I was when I came. I thought after spending a year with the Florence Project and working with detainees every day at the Eloy Detention Center that I had a strong stomach, that I knew just how messed up our immigration system was. Those experiences were nothing compared to one week here in Artesia. I have been gutted by what I have seen here, and I am still trying to process this experience and find the best way to share it.

For now, I just want to share one image that still haunts me. I had my first bond hearing here. I knew going in that the only bond granted so far from Artesia was $25,000. So I was fortunate to be able to watch Philip Smith in a bond hearing just before mine. His hearing took over an hour. During that hearing, they never discussed the Respondent or her child. Instead, they spent that time discussing whether ALL of these women in Artesia should be categorically denied bond because they are a threat to national security. And I watched the Respondent’s three-year-old son swing his little feet back and forth, so far from touching the ground, and then spin his chair around in boredom.  Because he’s three and that’s what children do.

Thank you to everyone who has been or will be part of the effort to stop this. Artesia, I will be back.

Written by Eileen Sterlock, AILA member, Oregon Chapter