The Alien in My Guest Room: Part 12

Lilith Blackwell

Just Another Day in the Life of a Refugee Sponsor

Fernando at Ventura County Line beach in Malibu

Yesterday we went to the beach at Ventura County Line, made famous in the Beach Boys song Surfin’ USA. It was a glorious day, and Fernando longed to jump in the waves with the rest of us. He couldn’t, because of his ICE grillete. In the Collins Spanish-English online dictionary, grillete translates as “shackle.” Americans would identify it as an electronic ankle monitor, the type used on criminals who have been sentenced to house arrest.

Our 18-year-old niece, a fresh-faced music student who arrived yesterday on a visit from Spain (remember, Hermes is Spanish), was mystified as to who placed the grillete on him, and why. We explained who, but had less success clarifying why.

I have a clue, and it has everything to do with corporate profits. BI (I don’t know what it stands for, other than cruelty) is part of the GEO Group (a company that specializes in making money off the suffering of others through immigrant prisons and other equally pernicious ventures). They run ISAP (the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program) and scored the juicy contract to manage ankle bracelets in Trump’s America. Your tax dollars at work!

The grillete is bulky and uncomfortable. It is a badge of shame that suggests he is a dangerous criminal, so he doesn’t like to wear shorts, even in the middle of the southern California summer. It can’t be submerged, so no baths or swimming. It malfunctions frequently. Today, in the kitchen, it started squawking in Spanish, “You are about to leave the permitted area,” over and over again. The “permitted area” is approximately an 85-mile radius from where he was standing. Another time it screamed out repeated warning beeps for an hour, for no discernable reason, and stopped equally mysteriously. Once, it refused to charge — and running out of grillete juice can be punished by deportation. These problems are not unique to him; the devices are notoriously prone to malfunction. I want it off of him and out of my sight forever. I hate it. He likes it even less.

ICE will remove the anklet when Fernando hands over his passport. In theory, this will guarantee he does not leave the US. This poses a problem: Fernando doesn’t have a passport. He entered without one, and I assume he could figure out how to leave without one. Not to mention, if he were to leave, wouldn’t ICE think that’s a good thing? But don’t let logic stand in the way of policy.

From our side, we’re trying to jump through the hoops in as calm and compliant a manner as possible. It’s not easy.

First stop for a passport: the Honduran consulate in LA. They told us that he’s a minor in Honduras until the age of 21, and cannot get a passport until then without his parents’ consent. They said he’d need to bring a notarized letter from his mother to the consulate, along with an adult Honduran relation whose US papers have been settled.

Aside from the complications associated with getting a notarized letter from Honduras, Fernando has no relations of any sort in the US. How is he supposed to fulfill their requirements? Every question he or I asked came against an infuriating wall of compassion-free Orwellian bureaucrat-speak that in no way pointed to a solution.

We could probably manage to get his mother into the nearest city and to a lawyer-notary to sign and send a letter. But today, the consulate told us they want one from his father too. For those who haven’t been following the story, Fernando’s dad has tried to kill him repeatedly. It’s very unlikely that he’d do anything to help, and if he did, it would likely be for some nefarious purpose — get money out of the boy (or us), or send some associate to finish the job of killing him.

Flashback to Fernando’s first memory: He is three years old. He is under a mango tree with his father and his very pregnant mother. The fruit is ripe. Mom and Dad are screaming at each other. Dad is holding a razor-sharp machete to Fernando’s toddler throat.

I do not want this man to have my address.

Francisco Collazo of Immigrant Families Together (who generously paid Fernando’s bond to get out of detention), suggested we get several letters from respected community members such as teachers or attorneys in Honduras testifying that it would be a very bad idea to approach the father, and include those with the letter from Fernando’s mother. Fernando’s caseworker from Immigrant Law Defenders, who represent him pro-bono, said we might just need a letter from a relation or two. He also clarified that any adult Honduran in the US whose papers are in order can accompany Fernando to apply for the passport. It doesn’t have to be a family member.

We will continue trying to comb out this tangle, but I am worried that when we show up at the consulate door with all the signed, notarized letters in the world and a dozen certified Honduran adults (I’m sure we can find some somewhere) they’ll say that wasn’t quite what they wanted, we have to go back and start over. And in any case, if they finally do approve the passport application, it will be months before their red tape machine spits out the needed document.

I understand that the grillete is a relatively minor inconvenience compared with being imprisoned in a concentration camp (check out the dictionary definition — that’s exactly what it is) or having your child ripped from your arms to be sent to an unknown, assuredly unpleasant location for an indeterminate amount of time, perhaps never to be seen again. But still.

Next: Back to our previously scheduled programming — Chain Reaction

Lilith Blackwell

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Lilith Blackwell is a retired TV documentary writer, enjoying her 50s in Los Angeles.

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