Image from 2016 documentary, Dear President Obama

The President. The White House. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20500.

Subject: Plea for mercy and an end to immigrant detention and deportation

Dear President Obama,

During your time in office, thousands of men, women, and children have been held in immigrant detention. Thousands have been deported, the most during any single presidency in US history. In these last days of your presidency I am asking you to discontinue these policies and to END detention and STOP deportations. End the 34,000 bed mandate which profits on the backs of the poor and marginalized.

I am a visitor volunteer at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama. During the past three years I have met many incredible men and have heard the heart breaking stories of their lives and families and of their experiences in US detention centers. These are prisons in every sense of the word where individuals are separated from families and friends for months and years. I have witnessed their pain and suffering and have admired their resiliency. I feel the void when they are deported.

I have met men who were brought here as children by their families and this is the only country they know. They have been educated in the US school system and are fully integrated as Americans.

I have met men who came on student or travel visas and overstayed their visas.

I have met fathers separated from their children whose sole goal in life is to be able to provide emotional and financial support to their families. They struggle daily with the physical separation and loss they experience.

I have met men who have served honorably in the US military. I have met men from Pakistan and Afghanistan who tell me they served the US military in some capacity during US military engagement in those countries.

I have met men who are paying the ultimate price for mistakes they have made; after serving time in the criminal justice system for often relatively minor non violent offenses they are immediately placed in immigrant detention and are subject to mandatory deportation regardless of mitigating factors, rehabilitation, or family circumstances.

I have met asylum seekers whose only “crime” is that they believed the American dream of freedom and justice and compassion. They come to our borders at great financial cost and personal risk seeking political asylum but are promptly placed in detention centers. They typically do not receive sympathetic hearings but are placed in prisons for months and years. Many fear and expect to be imprisoned or killed upon return to their countries of origin. During the past 6 -10 months I have watched multiple mass deportations of asylum seekers (including many I have visited and written) back to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and the nations of Africa.

I have met men who have suffered emotional and physical cruelty at the hands of sadistic ICE agents and guards and/or their contractors and who bear scars and resultant lifetime disabilities. I have heard stories of torture during the deportation process to include men placed in “body bags” and restrained for long journeys back to their native countries.

Political and economic upheaval is a sad reality across the globe and the United States bears some responsibility for the forces driving migration. I appeal to you as a father, as an American, and as President to end this system of detention and deportation. I encourage you to visit an immigrant detention center and speak to people there and learn for yourself of the trauma being experienced. I am horrified and embarrassed as an American citizen and tax payer at what is being done in my name. I know this does not reflect your values of compassion and justice and I hope you will show mercy and end this cruel system before you leave office.

With Respect,
Katherine Weathers
Huntsville, Alabama