November 15, 2017

From Phi Nguyen. Phi, along with other advocates, community members, and lawyers, spent the last three days at Stewart Detention Center, speaking with Vietnamese Americans who have been detained by ICE, to see what relief, if any, may be available to them. Here is one of her reflections from her time with the folks who are facing deportation:

No day at Stewart is easy, but day 3 was particularly tough for me, most likely because of the cumulative effect of talking for three days to people who look like my dad, my cousins, and my uncles and who, despite being behind bars, still respectfully smile and say "Chao, Co" when they see an older Vietnamese woman. Today, I spoke to a young Vietnamese man who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 1975 when he was 1 year old. He didn't even know he wasn't a citizen until he was put in removal proceedings; and like me, his English is better than his Vietnamese. I also spoke to another Vietnamese man who owned a nail salon before ICE picked him up and jokingly asked if he could do my nails for me when I put my hands up to say goodbye (yeah, they are pretty busted). My heart breaks to know that my people with our history of war, trauma, and persecution are now being rounded up and told that they need to go back to the country that millions risked their lives to escape. But my heart is also uplifted by the resilience and scrappiness of our people and the unwillingness to go down without a fight. Over the last few days, we've heard from several detainees that the food at Stewart is terrible (potatoes all day everyday and chicken once a week) but that those who have the means to buy better meals at the commissary are sharing with their Vietnamese brothers. We also received some poems (penned in Vietnamese) from one of the detainees today. I can think of few other survival tactics that are more quintessentially Vietnamese than sharing food with our family and writing poetry.

And of course, I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of this fight with these brave, bighearted, and endlessly compassionate human beings.