Holding vigil at the NW Immigration Center
A few weeks ago, in honor of her birthday, Westside UUC member, Regina Brennan, invited us to hold vigil at the Northwest Immigration Detention Center in Tacoma. Holding vigil means non-violently standing in solidarity with those detained at the facility and with their loved ones who come to visit. It was a cold, clear day as we traveled on, Regina’s purple birthday cake in tow. What does it mean to give of ourselves in this way?
Several members of the Vashon UU congregation hold vigil one Sunday per month and we joined them. They were setting up a table with coffee, cookies, and snacks, while explaining to us that since no food or drink is allowed inside the facility, people might be hungry or thirsty when leaving. A congregation member also brings a bag of shirts, explaining if a visitor does not the proper dress (e.g. arms covered) the contact would be denied. We all ponder these simple and yet staggering things: a shirt, a cookie, a heartfelt greeting, a child’s smile. There was a synergistic effect of community, faith, and action, bound together with twine of caring.
Any standing in solidarity takes place outside, by the gate. We are not allowed inside past the tiny lobby where you are greeted by three guards. Instead we stood in the stark, winter sun, greeting people who came to see their loved ones. Individuals came, as well as families, children who appeared younger than four. They came, crossing the rough, grey asphalt, passing a sign that warns “all persons entering these premises are subject to a search of their person, property, and vehicle”. Their faces looked expectant. If they have arrived in proper dress and at the right time of day, they are granted one hour of “contact” through thickened plexiglass. One hour, through plexiglass, seemingly simultaneously intimate and removed. Some of us voice feeling helpless in making a difference.
One of the members of our group, greets a woman who is coming to visit. “We care about you and your loved one who is inside,” she states. These two women hold one another’s gaze for a moment but nothing more is said in that moment. While I cannot know for sure, what appeared to be happening in that moment was Judi giving an offering of her total self, silently communicating “take whatever warmth you are able from me…take whatever you need…I see you…I see your loved one…I see your need and I care.” Judi is laid open and the visiting woman is touched. “I appreciate that. I really do,” is all the visitor says. We all watch this brave, frightened woman crossing the parking lot and enter the building. Some of us have dropped into a silent moment of meditation that I label for myself as prayer. Prayer for healing, prayer for a miracle, prayer for a massive effort to happen in this country – to stop the madness of deporting loving people.
Former UUA President, Peter Morales, tells us that we are an incarnational faith. He means that our beliefs must be followed by tangible action. We came with open hearts, cookies and shirts. Simple and yet deeply profound gifts. We left with our hearts tender and filled with ongoing care. This experience was so moving for me, and others, this Sunday’s service is dedicated to giving testimony. We are not trying to convert, but to bring ourselves to holding vigil in both our hearts and to express fidelity through action. Join us.