Is visiting immigrants in detention one of your New Year’s resolutions?

As you’re making plans for the New Year, allow me to share a story about the recent successful toy drive for the children who are detained at the Karnes County Family Detention Center over the holidays. I hope it inspires you to make visiting one of your New Year’s resolutions.

The spirit of the Holiday season caused a sliver of ICE to melt when LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services) received permission to bring presents to the children in Detention in Karnes in time for Christmas.  The effort was coordinated by members of the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC) based in the San Antonio area, with support from clergy, congregants and immigrant rights activists in the region.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) approved purchase of certain gifts (small, cuddly animals, story books, coloring books, and crayons) and the gifts were directed to the Good Word Lutheran Church in San Antonio.  There, under the direction of Pastor Rosemarie Doucette, the packages were unwrapped and placed in clear plastic bags — to comply with the rules mandated by ICE and GEO — and organized for the 300 children in detention in Karnes.

Many members of the Hutto Visitation Program and TUFF contributed generously to this nationwide effort. Three hundred  presents were delivered to the children on Christmas Eve.  A friend of one of the women detained with her children in Karnes  reported that all of the children were delighted with their toys.

Others dropped gifts off to me and coordinating with Pastor Doucette, I was able to meet her and deliver some more toys and books from the Austin community.  These, along with the items that didn’t arrive in time for distribution at Christmas, will be brought to the children that are already in the new detention center in Dilley in time for Reyes — the traditional time for gift giving in many Latin American cultures.

Pastor Rosemarie and our friend, Paul Pfeifer, the coordinator of the visitation program at Karnes, went out and celebrated Christmas at Karnes with song and prayer.

However, we were dismayed that many of the little boys were playing with toy guns during the service.  

Toy guns were not allowed as part of the toy drive, though we know that GEO had provided some toys for the children.  

Perhaps they can’t see that these children and their mothers have come to the United States to get away from the guns and violence that is tearing apart their countries. Or, perhaps, GEO is deaf to the dissonance that such “gifts” elicit in those of us who visit and listen to the endless stories of suffering and cruelty.   It is this violence that has caused people to leave their homes and end up in the immigrant detention system – a system from which GEO and the other private prison corporations profit so richly.

The Hutto Visitation Program looks forward to further collaborations with our friends at the Interfaith Welcome Coalition.  For now, the time we spend visiting with those unjustly held in immigration detention is what we can give every day of the year, from 8 in the morning until 8 at night.  

I hope that finding more time to visit made it to your list of New Year’s resolutions.