Jeremías Estrada Aguilar will soon be deported to Guatemala. He spent fifteen months in detention, at the James Musick Detention Center, in Orange County, California. He had been fighting for asylum after fleeing a country where he had been blacklisted, where he had been threatened death at gunpoint. And it’s to this country that he’s returning.
He had sponsors here in the U.S., a pro bono lawyer, a community in Riverside that were ready to support him. But this nation’s asylum system is a cruel, inhumane machine that subjects people to indefinite detention, to the whims of a single judge and lengthy appeals. And there is no dignity in these conditions: Jeremías faced the humiliation of eating spoiled food, of being forced to share underwear, of being prohibited from even touching another person.
In Guatemala, Jeremías will be reunited with his wife and their two sons. The four of them had joined a migrant caravan in early 2017 in the hopes of gaining safe passage to the United States. When they presented themselves at the San Ysidro Border, in May of last year, Customs and Border Protection agents told Jeremías that if he attempted to bring in his sons, who are U.S. Citizens, they would be put into foster care; that they would be adopted and he would never see them again. Sound familiar?
At which point Jeremías chose to fight asylum himself, to make himself the thin end of the wedge towards the family’s life in the United States. For more than a year, his wife and sons have waited in a shelter, away from their family, their older son no longer enrolled in school, waiting for Jeremías to win asylum.
While detained, Jeremías taught English to other immigrant detainees, he lead Bible study. He learned the baroque nonsense of immigration law and won another detainee’s asylum case for him. He wrote a love letter so compelling that a detainee’s ex-girlfriend paid his bond right then and there. He published an op-ed in the Voice of O.C.
, a local paper. To entertain the other detainees he hosted an imaginary radio program, Radio 362LA. He wrote and recited poetry. Perhaps what is lost in the every-day, every-hour, every-minute stories about detention are the ways in which people like Jeremias have persevered. In which they have made human circumstances that are anything but.
Equipo Jeremías is two people that met him through an immigrants’ rights advocacy group. Through weekly visits to Jeremias and his letters and phone calls, we have been witnesses to the crippling isolation, the tremendous uncertainty, fear, and privation that haunt detention. Equipo Jeremías is unequivocal in its belief that his community in Riverside is worse off without him, that this country is worse off without him.
His return to Guatemala marks the end of his year-long separation from his family, but also marks the opening of new challenges.
What we’re asking for is a pledge of any amount to support his transition. To offset the wages lost from fifteen months not working and ease the financial burden of reestablishing a home. To anyone that donates $25 or more, we will send a chapbook of Jeremías’s poems. “El quetzal canta en el cautiverio” (The Quetzal Sings in Captivity) is a 34-page collection of his inspiraciones; they are defiant and searing, angry and desperate, but also tender and despairing: the flame at risk of being snuffed.