In my home state last week, the governor signed House Bill 87 or the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011, and I have such mixed emotions about it.
My emotions got a little more complicated yesterday.
Every few weeks, a Brazilian couple comes over to my home and helps us keep it clean. Over three years, my wife and I have gotten to know them a bit better and have heard their story. The woman has been through a lot and has fended for herself most of her life. While I don’t know all the details, I know that she was in an abusive home and that she has been on her own since she was a teenager. The man, though not her husband, is her partner in the housecleaning business. He believes in Jesus, but he has told me that she doesn’t like to hear about him or the church.
In recent years, I know that she has been wrestling with Grave’s Disease, which has caused her eyes to swell, so much so that she has had to seek complicated surgeries to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. In order to pay for them, she has had to work unceasingly, cleaning houses everyday in a declining economy. She drives around to any part of Atlanta where a house may be cleaned; she cannot afford to choose her clients. Her car bears all the scars from the commutes. One of the front headlights is held in place by blue painter’s tape and the tires are bald. Also, if you should look close enough at her passenger door, you see indentions all along the top as if someone had been trying to break in. It made me wonder how safe her apartment complex is.
Yesterday they came and cleaned like so many weeks before over the last three years. I thank them with the only Portuguese words I can say with credibility, “Obrigado~ moito obrigado. Tchau.”
They called me a few minutes after leaving. The neighborhood police had established checking everyone at a stop for licenses and identification. She had none. They took her to jail. He was frantic. We returned to my home so I could gather money for bail. Then all of his emotions came rushing out: How she pays for her family back home; how she needed to get care for her thyroid; how hard-hearted she had become over the years of working her fingers to the bone; how she felt Christians talked too much but were untrustworthy; how she felt all alone; how working with her had become so hard; how he had begged her to let him drive; how frightened they were of the immigration laws.
We visited the county jail next, where we were told by the police she would be held, with its concrete walls and metal doors. They don’t allow phones in the building any more. They make you take numbers even when no one is being served at the window. Nobody smiles inside. And we waited for almost forty-five minutes to speak to someone.
We went straight to the bonding center, passing the doors for domestic violence and theft. And we passed them on our way out because they couldn’t accept payment for a different municipality’s bond until that town’s office had closed for the day. So we went to the town’s city hall down the road and asked to pay the bond, but the paperwork hadn’t come in. The clerk told us that we could simply pay after the office closed at 5pm.
So we went back to the bonding center at 5, to be told that they wouldn’t accept our payment for the bond because her fingerprints hadn’t come back for identity verification. When would they come back, we asked. Within 24 hours, they said. How will we know it’s back, I asked. We’ll call you, they said.
They had not called this morning. So I called them. The fingerprints had come back, but now she was on “immigration hold.”
The man and I went back with an immigration lawyer once again to the jail’s bonding center. Pay the bond first in the town where she was arrested, we were told.
On the way there, I asked the lawyer what he thought about the passing of HB87, and he said, it was one of the saddest days he has ever seen in Georgia. He called it a travesty and a tragedy and a dark day.
After spending the day with him, I would have to agree. The days have grown darker here in Georgia.