Breaking Open at an Immigration Detention Center

On June 18, 2018 in Sheridan, Oregon, hundreds of Americans, descendants of immigrants, came together outside the former Sheridan Federal Prison to let 123 immigrant men know they are not alone. As we, the people, arrived for an evening vigil, men from India, Pakistan, Mexico, Guatemala and other countries stood in prison garb, in the sun, watching us through barbed wire. Some waved as signs in English and Spanish were displayed sharing messages of protest and hope.

As guards replaced detainees outside, faces appeared in the windows trying to receive what we came to offer.

One prayer of connection asked us only to breathe. With each inhale, we connected to the humanity we share with these immigrant families; the shared air, the shared earth, the shared energy of life itself. With each exhale, we connected with another aspect of what it means to be an immigrant today, whatever came to our own minds. 20 breaths, each recognizing 100 children of the 2,000 separated from their families so far.

The only sound was the counting by 100s in between each breath. My thoughts broke my heart, deeper, wider and more open, knowing that it is only by facing, recognizing and feeling the truth that we have the chance to heal our shadows, personal and collective, and create genuine change.

Inhale. Exhale.

Children screaming, crying and acting out in search of their parents.

100 families recognized.

Inhale. Exhale.

Americans, just like me, looking parents in the eye, lying, telling them their children are being taken to be photographed or bathed, never to return. 200 families recognized.

Inhale. Exhale.

Children as young as 15 DAYS Old taken from their parents. Children caged. Children without a common language to comprehend what’s happening. 300.

Inhale. Exhale.

No distinction being made between families entering legally or illegally. ALL children taken from their parents’ arms.


The US is the only country in the world that separates families at the border. We are surrounded by humane immigration examples we choose to ignore.


There is NO LAW — human or divine — that requires separation of families. The UN has deemed it a crime against humanity. We ignore them too.


Detainees are fleeing religious persecution, civil war, poverty, famine, and death threats. They seek safety, religious freedom, and the opportunity to pursue happiness — just like our own ancestors.


Asylum seekers are put in prisons, forced to wear prison uniforms, held in cells, locked down for 23 hours a day, denied medical care, denied phone calls, denied due process, surrounded by people they cannot communicate with and forced to sign documents they do not understand. Yet, they have committed no crime.


The average length of time in holding before the first hearing is 404 days. US citizens accused of murder are treated better. Is crossing a border seeking a better life worse than that?


Removing causes for asylum while separating families increases unaccompanied minors and adult detainees, and lengthens the average detainment period. It serves no one except the private prison industry seeking trillions to build new prisons. How long will we allow corruption to destroy lives for profit?


This is not the first time in our country’s history that we are guilty of separating families. Slavery. Indigenous tribes. Japanese-Americans. We deemed it legal then too.


History remembers cruelty as atrocity — regardless of laws. Where is our moral center?


The current administration uses a twisted interpretation of religion to justify persecution of others while deeming itself ordained. Our religious founding fathers saw fit to separate church and state for a reason.


Our president has a choice, and is choosing to use children as a bargaining chip. Is this the kind of leader we choose to follow?


Innocent children are being traumatized. Trauma affects the brain’s development for life. Is this how we want the next generation shaped?


The adults assigned to these traumatized children are handling as many or more children than teachers in a classroom, but with only about one week’s worth of training. How can we expect any tired, stressed, ill-equipped human being to manage this effectively?


The agencies responsible for finding guardians for these children are losing a significant portion. Children are missing.


Immigrants are among the most vulnerable human beings on the planet. American authorities are destroying evidence of abuse, blackmail, and assault against detainees of all ages. Where is the human decency?


Parents are being deported without their children. As a parent, I can’t even begin to imagine the not knowing.


The 123 immigrant faces in the windows of the Sheridan Federal Prison reflect the soul of our nation. And we, the people, are the nation.


Inhale. Exhale.

The numbers keep rising as we live our lives, safely pursuing our own happiness while denying the basic human rights of others. We must ask: what is ours to do?

This is our history. This is our present. It does not need to be our future.

Sign petitions. Call your representatives. Connect with a local agency that is actively involved. Write letters. Speak up. Protest. Vote.

We know better. It’s time to do better.

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