We were driven in the van for almost an hour, in our green jumpsuits, cuffed. We pulled up to a building whose details I don’t recall anymore, as it happened so fast. All I remember are emotions: scared, uncertain, anxious.
We were taken into a building with bright white lights hitting our eyes and blinding us due to it’s intensity. We were processed, patted down and escorted down a large hallway. My eyes still adjusting from the heavy fluorescent light. I could hear shouting, whistling and clanking as we approached a large cell with disgruntled, tattooed men, wearing orange jumpsuits, who were lined at the front howling and hooting at us, “Hey sweeeeeetheart <whistle>”. I pissed my pants because these were hard criminals. My mind kept repeating, “Please don’t let me get raped, please don’t let me get raped. Pllllllleaaaassseeeee.” I wasn’t prepared for this, but instead of the officer stopping, he kept walking and we passed by this area until we approached another cell where several inmates in green jumpsuits were just lounging around. They opened the gate and told us to go in.
It was a large rectangular room with smaller individual cells spread throughout two levels lining the back wall. A control center that was 10 feet above the ground on another, enclosed with bullet proof glass from which you could see the officers overlooking the entire room. They had computers, monitors and other devices at their disposal, to keep track of what we did. The last two walls had a TV, as well as a few pay phones. The center of the room had several circular tables with chairs attached that were reminiscent of my high school lunchroom. The inmates were hanging out on these tables, some playing board games, others watching TV.
I was still a bit apprehensive, but not as much since these guys were all here due to immigration purposes and many due to the registration process that I was involved with. I refrained from speaking to anyone and just focused on the fact that it was approximately 10 pm and that I had about 16 hours before I would be bailed out of jail.
I called my family. My brother stated that he was going to be at the bail office as soon as they opened and that he would come get me from jail once the bail was posted. Then I called my, then, wife and informed her of the situation as well. Of course all of the calls had to be collect, allowing prisoners and their families to line the pockets of phone companies.
At 11pm an officer from the control room announced, over the speaker, that we had to get to our individual cells and had to stand outside of them in view of the officers. The cells were all open. Once we all lined up she directed us to step inside and face outwards. The cells then closed electronically. We were instructed to go to bed and soon thereafter the lights in the entire room went dark. Click.
I laid in my bed, and was trying to get accustomed to this foreign environment. It was the worst night of my life. I couldn’t sleep, and when I did start getting sleepy, my eyes would slightly droop and I would wake back up. I ended up half asleep, where I would wake up every so often, but I didn’t know how often because my cell didn’t have a clock. I didn’t know how long I was awake, or how long I slept. All I knew is that it was a very long restless night and all I wanted was for time to go as fast as it could so that I could get the hell out of here.
A buzzing sound occurred, the lights flashed on and I jumped up to an awake state. Adrenaline jolted through my body as if I had just downed 10 espresso shots. It was probably 7 am or so and it was time to wake up. Another officer was at the intercom now and he stated it was time to get up and that the cells would open up shortly. We had some time to ourselves to brush, wash up, etc. Then he asked everyone to stand at the front, facing the main cell. The gates opened and the inmates were asked to step out. We were then asked to come get food and we all had to get in a line. One by one we were in front of the main cell as we were handed a tray of food through a rectangular spacing in the steel bars. The food was bland and just enough to keep you fed.
After breakfast, we were allowed free time to hang out and so I called my brother again and asked what the deal was. The bail office was going to open up soon, he would be there first thing and that I should just wait. Hours went by, it was now afternoon. What was taking so long? So I called him again and apparently they don’t just let people out once your bail is posted. They get everyone out at the end of the day all at once, around 5. So I waited and waited. I sat and watched the clock on the wall as the second hand moved as slow as I’ve ever seen it move. I had nothing else to do but pay attention to time passing, which is the worst way to have time pass.
Finally it was around 6 and they called me and another guy to come to the front. We were cuffed and taken to another room where we were given all of our stuff. They uncuffed me, I put my clothes on, grabbed my other valuables, and then an officer had me sign some paperwork and escorted me out. My brother was waiting in his car in the parking lot. I was free and no longer a hamster in captivity.
In hindsight it wasn’t a horrible place, at least not in the immigration cell, but it was a very uncertain one. You got food, water, games, TV, phones, health care, moderate exercise, but you didn’t have freedom. I didn’t want to be in a cage. Not then, not ever.
That was the last I had to deal with being inside a jail and next up was going through a court process which lasted 3 years. We had to push every court date back until my wife and I had an interview with INS, which was a standard process. Since we had been dating a long time prior to the marriage we were able to prove that we had been together and got approved for a green card. The last thing that was necessary was going to court and talking to the immigration judge to explain the entire situation and that the US should allow us to stay within this country. He approved wholeheartedly and asked the prosecutor if she wanted to appeal his decision. If so, there would be a trial. She didn’t choose to appeal, congratulated me and as of then I was an official green card holder. I had five years before I could apply for a citizenship, which I did and received in 2012 (Read: Before I’m American and After I’m American).
My story ended well, but many others didn’t, so for me it became even more important to be vocal about my cause. Yeah, I was here illegally, and I was a kid when I came here. I didn’t understand what being illegal was. I grew up thinking I was American, just like many of my friends. Most people thought I was American, and were shocked when I told them of the process.
Illegal immigration is one thing, but to single out one group of people out of the 12 million illegal immigrants (though there could be anywhere from 7-20 million, since it’s difficult to measure this) may not be in the best interest of our ideals. As an official American, I feel that to further our state I must be able to push our ideals, and to also inform others not only about this topic, but all topics that affect people. Not only the people in the US, but people. Humans. Humanity. Humanism. I have ideas and a voice to communicate it. I intend to use that power.
I understand that people who attacked the US were Muslims, but not all Muslims are terrorists. If 90% of Muslims were terrorists, or 70% or 40% or 10%, I could understand the action taken, but it’s not even a percentage point or even a tenth of the entire Muslim population throughout the world. Furthermore, the 9/11 hijackers weren’t even from here, they were from abroad. 15 of the 19 were from Saudia Arabia, which America doesn’t mind cozying up with because of our addiction to oil.
Before we turn to reactionary actions due to fear, we should learn that we shouldn’t burn 1000s of acres of haystack just to find a needle.