One of the many benefits of having written a blog for the past seven years is that it gives me access to the living rooms of hundreds of people I’d otherwise not have had. And today I will use that privilege and trust you will welcome it.
Every now and again we are given an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. We might pay for their groceries when they find their credit card denied. We might simply hold open a door. We might raise our voice to injustice, and stand up to right a wrong. We might make a phone call, write a letter, or hold up a sign and march. These things matter.
For the past many months I’ve been involved in different ways with the refugee crisis at our borders. More recently, I’ve been writing to a few detainees at a detention center in Texas.
First let me explain who these people are. Prior to being sent to one of our many detention centers (a kinder term than prison, though prisons are what they’ve become: profit-making, private prisons that have multiplied like cases of CoViD over the past few years; but that’s a post for another day) undergo a Credible Fear Interview (CFI) by a Border Patrol officer, to ascertain whether their story of fearing for their life is credible.
A lucky few have friends or family already settled here who are eager to take them in, both financially and physically, but are unable to pass the financial responsibility test (known as sponsorship) and/or they do not qualify as sponsors because they are neither U.S. citizens nor Green Card holders. So the detainees spend their days, months, or years waiting for what may never come.
Pro bono lawyers and citizen groups help the detainees file their application for asylum — hence the term asylum seeker — connect with any family members who may already be in the US, and offer them a friendly face. CoViD put a sudden stop to much of that work.
I’ve been working with a group called Angry Tias y Abuelas (Angry Aunts and Grandmothers) of the Rio Grande Valley. If you’d like to know more about their work, I urge you to visit their website.
The process that once grimly took years (the backlog is great), is now taking on an even grimmer face. As you might imagine, the process has become politicized over these past few years and applications and appeals are being denied with no explanation.
Still with me? Great.
One young man has come to my attention and I want to share his story with you.
Steven Tendo, in a detention center in Los Fresnos, Texas, is a pastor from Uganda where he organized community support projects providing food, health services, and educational assistance to the needy. Here’s the website of this work.
As government repression and corruption grew in his homeland, Steven began a human rights campaign as well, assisting political prisoners and leading a voting rights effort. He was apprehended and tortured, involving the amputation of two of his fingers.
As attacks against him and his followers worsened, he fled Uganda and lawfully walked across the international bridge to the Brownsville, Texas Port of Entry in December 2018.
My friend Nancy has been Steven’s pen pal since last November. Here’s what she has to say about him:
I can’t say enough about this man and what he means to so many guys in detention. He has held nightly prayer services for many months, he has helped them with their cases and their appeals, he has helped people find documents, he has held their hands and supported them. He speaks truth to power, and therein lies the problem.
I consider him my own personal pastor and he has helped me through some tough moments…Now we must help him. I think this is very urgent . . . . Please call now if you can. And please send this to anyone else you think might care.
When word got back to Ugandan officials that the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) had denied Steven’s appeal, they mistakenly assumed he’d returned home. Unable to find him, they beat his sister so badly she was hospitalized with head injuries. A barrage of threats and intimidation against his family and friends followed.
One Ugandan official has risked their own safety to confirm that as soon as he steps off the plane in Uganda, he will be taken away by security officers and killed. He would never arrive at the customs gate at all.
Steven’s attorneys have filed all the appropriate things with the BIA and the Fifth Circuit (court of appeals). With one appeal still pending and all other motions denied, ICE has decreed Steven is subject to immediate deportation. The United Nation’s High Commission for Refugees has been contacted but time is running out.
According to ICE officials, Steven is now subject to imminent removal to Uganda, though his final appeal to the Fifth Circuit has not been decided.
The scenario laid out for Steven’s future brings back memories of another assassination at an airport, that of Philippines’ opposition leader Benign Aquino Jr, in 1983. These things happen. And today we have a chance to spend fifteen minutes helping make sure it does not happen to Steven Tendo.
I’m asking you to think about what you are willing to do. Will you make a phone call or write a letter on Steven’s behalf. Can you do that? If you are a member of a faith based community, would you share this with them?
Remember that poster from two weeks’ ago?
Remember #4: Be willing to change your life to end it. I’ve been thinking alot about that last one. You don’t need me to help you make the connection between racism and the refugee crisis.
Here’s something we can all do — make a call or write a letter — to help someone only because we can, we have the means, and we know it’s the right thing to do.
Those organizing the effort to save Steven Tendo say, “We urgently need as many calls as possible to go to ICE.”
Joseph M. Correa Sr., Field Office Director for the San Antonio Field Office of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
1777 NE Loop 410, Suite 1500,
San Antonio, Texas 78217
Correa’s office needs to know the extent of public opposition.
Also, we know the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Black Caucus, and Senator Corey Booker’s office have shown both the compassion and the commitment to human rights to prevent this unconscionable act.
Here are those Congressional Contacts. [You may have problems getting through to D.C. by phone, thanks to the Covid-19 shut down. Try the local office first, or send a letter to either address.]
HISPANIC CAUCUS, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, Chairperson
Phone 210-348 8216
727 E. Caesar Blvd. Suite B128
San Antonio Texas 78206
2241 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington D.C. 20515
THE CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS, U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, Chairperson
4929 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 650
Los Angeles, California 90010
2059 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington D.C. 20515
US SENATOR COREY BOOKER, D-NJ
One Gateway Center, 23rd Floor
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Phone 202-224- 3224
717 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510
TALKING POINTS: Here is some guidance.
Begin by thanking the Congresspersons for their strong human rights advocacy, especially in support of asylum seekers during the Trump administration.
State that you are calling about the imminent deportation of Pastor Steven Tendo back to Uganda. Explain that he was a human-rights and voting rights leader in Uganda and has already been tortured there. During one session, two of his fingers were amputated.
ICE states that his deportation is imminent even though his case is on appeal. If deported, he will not survive.
A Ugandan official has already signed a declaration confirming that Pastor Steven will be turned over to the security forces as soon as his plane lands. He will promptly be tortured and killed. Ugandan officials have already sent thugs to his family’s home and attacked a relative, leaving her in a hospital with severe head injuries. Evidently they thought he had returned and that she was hiding him.
Pastor Steven is diabetic and has been detained for a year and a half at Port Isabel. Thanks to the terrible medical care there his health is now broken, and he is going blind.
He has never committed a crime.
PASTOR STEVEN CANNOT RETURN TO UGANDA. Please prevent his deportation!
For more information on the case of Steven Tendo, contact Jennifer Harbury, firstname.lastname@example.org 512-751-5852 a retired attorney in Texas who is spearheading this campaign and will become his official sponsor once he is released.
As this information is shared in ever widening circles, think how many we could reach! When you know you’ve taken a step to make a difference, the reward is incalculable.
How about you? What motivates you to take an action step like this; what keeps you from doing so?