June 19th, 2018
She was looking at possible jail time. That is never good. It was especially not good for this individual because that also put her at risk for deportation. The woman had come to America to escape the gang violence in Honduras. She may have been legal when she got here, but probably not any more.
This woman has not had an easy time of it since she came to the United States. Her partner was arrested for an offense, and then detained by I.C.E. agents. It is likely that she won’t see him again. The woman has a three-month-old boy, and she is the only parent available to care for him. The woman is currently jobless and homeless. She ran afoul of our state’s driving laws, and that put her in danger of losing her child, and anything she has in this world.
I drove the woman and her baby to her mandatory appointments. I also took another Honduran woman (maybe her sister?) along for the ride. The sister had her five-year-old daughter in tow. The woman needed to speak with her public defender in the morning. I picked the four of them up on the south side of Milwaukee, and we went out to Elkhorn, a tiny town in a distant county, in which the office of her lawyer was located.
The ride took almost an hour. We were all a bit nervous. It was unclear that the woman would be making the ride back home. Our conversation was limited. I speak almost no Spanish, and my passengers knew the same amount of English. The sister had an app on her phone that would translate English to Spanish and vice versa. It was a crude sort of tool. The app allowed us to understand each other in only a very basic sort of way. I think that at times it caused more confusion than anything else.
We arrived at the attorney’s office around 10:00 AM. We were there early, but the public defender was able to see the woman almost immediately. She left her baby in the care of her sister. After a while, I sat on the floor next to the child’s carrier. The boy had dark hair, dark eyes, and a dark complexion. His name was Taylor. The little boy looked up at my sixty-year-old face with curiosity. I leaned close to him, and he tugged on my long, tangled beard. Maybe it was the first one he had ever seen.
The boy grew restless in the absence of his mother. I picked him up and held him in my arms. I used to carry my kids like that many years ago. We went outside the office into the sunshine and the humid heat. Taylor was fascinated by the world around us. He looked at the sky and the clouds. He looked at the trees and the flowers. He listened intently to the sound of the traffic. He had that spontaneous sense of wonder that children have, and adults don’t. This is his new world, and his country. Taylor is an American by birth. He was starting life without a father, and was in danger of losing his mother. I held him close.
The woman’s meeting with her lawyer was brief. When she was done, I realized that we had four hours to kill before her court appearance at the Justice Center in Elkhorn. It was pointless to go back to Milwaukee, so I suggested that we all go to a local park/museum. We drove to the outdoor museum. It was rather large, and it had numerous displays of life in Wisconsin back in the 1800’s. There were people at the different sites who demonstrated old crafts and skills. We visited a blacksmith shop and a farm. Nobody there spoke Spanish, so we made extensive use of the sister’s phone app. After looking around for a while, we had lunch at the museum. Then we took a slow drive to the court house.
We arrived at the early at the court house. We were waiting for a number of other people to accompany the woman to her court appearance. She was not going in there alone. A group was coming at the behest of the New Sanctuary Movement to escort this woman in and out of the court house. We were concerned that she would be detained by I.C.E. She was worried about it too.
At a previous court date, the woman’s lawyer had remarked that it was extremely unlikely that she would be detained by immigration agents. He commented that only 1% of defendants were ever arrested by I.C.E. Statistically, that may be true. On the other hand, just last week, while I was escorting another undocumented person, agents clad in polo shirts and khakis grabbed some guy in a different court house. Overall, the rate of detention may only be 1%, but for that poor bastard it was 100%. We were not taking chances with this young woman.
It used to be, until recently, that escorting an undocumented person to court was a fairly simple process. I would drive the person to court. Go inside with him or her. They completed their legal affairs, and we left. Things are scarier now. People disappear. It is no longer sufficient for a an undocumented person to be accompanied by just one individual. Now we need to provide an entourage. It seems crazy, but that is where we are at.
About fifteen minutes before show time, we had gathered a gaggle of people outside the court house. One woman brought along signs protesting the treatment of immigrants. I told her to take the signs back to her car. We were not there demonstrate against government policy. We were there to get this woman in and out of this building without incident. The idea was to quietly and quickly take care of business. We did not want to draw any unnecessary attention to ourselves.
Everybody in the group had a job. Several people were designated as huggers. They stuck close to the Honduran woman, and essentially provided her with a human cocoon. A person was assigned to document any attempted arrest. Two trained people were responsible for interacting with the police and/or I.C.E. agents, if necessary. There were two people chosen to be lookouts inside the court house. One person was on the lookout for I.C.E. outside of the building. I was the wheel man. I was going to drive the getaway car.
If I.C.E. really wanted this woman, would we have been able to stop them? No. We could only make things complicated and uncomfortable for them. I.C.E. does not like publicity. I.C.E. likes things simple and silent.
I waited outside after the woman and her friends and family entered the court house. The air was thick. There was a cold front moving in. Grey, swirling clouds were on the horizon, and they slowly came nearer. I stood outside of my car and watched the sky. The clouds were low and became increasingly darker. The world turned black.
I got a signal from the lookout that the court appearance was over, and everybody was coming out. By this time the storm had broken, and it was pouring rain. I sat in the car as the wind whipped the rain across the parking lot. It took a bit longer than expected for the Hondurans to arrive at the door. The woman had to set up a payment plan for her fine. That always takes a while.
I was okay with waiting. The important thing was that woman had avoided jail time. Jail time and deportation go together. If she only got probation and a fine, she was in good shape. She would be safe for a while.
The woman also had to stop and give the State a DNA sample (mouth swab). That took a few more minutes. I would have preferred to have been on our way. Every minute at the court house is another minute for somebody to screw with you. The goal is to get things done, and then get far away.
We drove back to Milwaukee in the rain. The tension was gone. Everybody could take a deep breath and then exhale.
I dropped the woman and her family off at their house.
The woman looked intently at me and said, “Gracias, gracias, Frank.”