The First Detainee I Ever Met

Published On: Donate

Mark Fenton is LIRS’ Story Production Associate. To contact him with a story, email here.

Abdinasir is the first person I have ever met who has been in immigration detention. He was able to make jokes about different parts of being a detainee while other times sharing things with such gravity that there was no response, no nodding or shaking of heads, nothing that could measure up in response to what he revealed.

I learned that Abdinasir, a young Somali journalist, had tried to protect children in his community from terrorist recruiters. The terrorists found him and tortured him for 7 days before he escaped. Soon after, the terrorists found Abdinasir’s family and killed his father.

Protecting children is one of the noblest things a person can do. But in return, our government greeted Abdinasir with shackles when he first arrived in the United States. The young journalist fled for his life and arrived on our shores, beaten and tortured only days earlier, still bloodied and bruised. Our government felt it was more prudent to interrogate him for over 16 hours than it was to seek immediate medical attention for the young man who had endured so much pain while protecting his community. Our government then decided Abdinasir needed to be imprisoned after failing to obtain permission to flee his home country.

Abdinasir didn’t see the open air and skies of freedom for 7 months. This is the price we exacted from him for trying to save children from abuse and death at the hands of terrorists. He did prison time for his act of moral integrity.

As this story has sunk in over the last week, I often wonder where our moral compass, as a nation, has gone. Where is justice? Has she dropped her scales and gone on vacation? No, I think we have tied her up in chains and stolen her scale so that we can weigh the rule of law how we see fit. We no longer weigh the question of morality, rather only questions of perceived financial and cultural security.

The issue of immigration detention is a moral one and the debate needs to hold that kind of weight. However, there should be no debate about the dignity and humanity that we must preserve for each human being in our nation, no matter how they get here, no matter what they have done. This is truly a matter of moral integrity, a matter of faith in the God who made us, the God who calls us to respond loudly to injustice.

Find out more about alternatives to detention at LIRS.org/dignity and take action at the LIRS Action Center.

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