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Monday, June 02, 2008

Leaving Home . . . Part One

I recently read Edwidge Danticat’s latest book, Brother, I’m Dying, the story about the treatment her Uncle Joseph (her “second father”) received at the hands of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, resulting in his death, sick and alone, while in detention. Danticat is a gifted writer and this poignant, shocking story is even more so in her hands.

From the time as a very young girl when she was placed in her Uncle Joseph’s care, when her parents left troubled Haiti to try to establish a better life in the United States, she was gathered into his family with warmth and deep regard. Joseph was a man who “knew all the verses for love.”

Although Edwidge, her brothers, and her parents, would eventually be reunited in New York City, Uncle Joseph stayed on to minister to his family on the island and to his church congregation. As political conditions deteriorated even further, the Danticat’s fears for those remaining in Haiti grew. Late in 2004, after a life-threatening situation instigated by a violent gang, 81-year-old Joseph escaped to the United States. Traveling on an official visa, he no doubt felt when he boarded the plane that he would arrive in Miami, be met by family, and finally be safe for the first time in a long while. Instead, he was detained by the Department of Homeland Security, imprisoned and abused, refused his medications even though he repeatedly said to authorities, “Brother, I’m dying.” Within days, he was dead.

Because Danticat has a platform through her writing, and the skills and contacts to gain access others might not have, she has been able to bring the plight of her uncle to light. Not so for thousands of others who fall victim to the far-less-than-transparent immigration services procedures. Many are locked up for months or even years awaiting determinations about their fate. Racial profiling is rampant. There are no first-amendment rights, no rights to due process or proper representation, and no regard for the human suffering caused families. If anyone were to read one of these stories under the misapprehension that it was another country being discussed, it would seem horrifying that “they” treat human beings in this manner. But the “they” in this case is US, our government, with the full complicity of this administration.

As reported recently in the New York Times, “no government body in these cases is required to keep track of deaths and publicly report them. No independent inquiry is mandated. And often relatives who try to investigate the treatment of those who died say they are stymied by fear of immigration authorities, lack of access to lawyers, or sheer distance.”

Leaving home, wherever it may be, is an event prompted as much by hope as by necessity. It is a voyage into not only an unknown future, but it is also one that often depends upon the kindness and humanity of those met along the way, especially if money is tight and language a barrier. It is filled with emotional conflict and takes enormous courage to undertake. Even those able to re-establish themselves in a new land carry deep sadness in their hearts—because you can never again go back. Oh, you might visit if political conditions permit, but you are then a visitor there, too. Time does not stand still and you are no longer a part of that community, you are an observer. Your memories become the only land you can visit that remains, however bittersweet, as it was before you became a traveler, an immigrant, a voyager of new cultural seas.

This is the first of a several part series on immigration and the experience of leaving home. Please check back for future discussions and add your own stories to the mix.



Click on the start arrow to watch Edwidge Danticat talk about her book --
video

5 comments:

Lys Anzia said...

Thank you so much for sharing Edwidge Danticat family's searing story of US immigration.

Why do we allow ourselves our own chance to "improve our life" in this country without extending this same priviledge to ALL individuals coming into the US today from other countries?

All our ancestors in the US were at one time immigrants traveling far, vulnerable and scared, to make a new life. This even includes the migration of Native Americans as they crossed the plains of Mongolia and the Bering Sea so long ago.

Looking forward very much to reading more on this topic.

- Lys Anzia, Director
Women News Network - WNN

sibylle said...

Yes, the US immigration service can be a nightmare. My cousins in German won't visit the US anymore due to the extreme hassles involved.
A British couple that I met in Spain, whose son lives in the US (works in Silicon Valley) told me the same thing: they won't set foot in this country.
I've experience more problems flying from Denver to Boston than between Germany, Barcelona, or Delhi.

Jerrie Hurd said...

Wonderful info. Heart moving story. You were going to see about getting her for Conference on World Affairs. How's that going?
Jerrie Hurd

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