by Nicole Ramos

Photo credit: Nicole Ramos

We walk single file through the port-of-entry: 14 asylum seekers, 3 attorneys, and a cadre of human rights observers. A Mexican official, who never quite identifies himself, begins to take video of us as we walk, surveying us for a reason that I still do not understand.

Quietly we descend the spiraling ramp down to the gate of the United States, a walkway everyone calls the caracol, its metal bordered pathway twisting itself like a snail shell. I briefly consider waving for the official’s camera but decide against it. This is serious business, and no time to be cheeky.

We are a series of silhouettes stepping toward a place that, for me, feels like the belly of the beast, a black hole into which the asylum seekers will disappear, where there is no contact with attorneys, because the powers-that-be have determined there is no right to one here. It is a place where people are housed in cells so cold they’re known as the iceboxes, where the official response to someone crying is often “we did not invite you here, you can always leave.”

I take special care to warn each of them, “You are going to be in a very cold place for several days. But they can’t keep you there forever, so you have to withstand it, no matter what they say.” A young man from Guinea asks me, through the volunteer interpreter, his French like the kind of sad song that makes me tear up when it blares from the radio…

“But how long will we be there, in the cold place, do you know?”

“Three to seven days” I tell him in a matter-of-fact way that makes me hate the sound of my own voice, which at times feels as cold as I imagine the cells to be.

Tonight marks 24 hours that the Viacrucis Catorce have been detained. There are mothers and fathers and babies incarcerated inside, wide eyed young men that walked through miles of jungle, and along roads where it was “illegal” to give them a ride, walking so much with so little, that some of them almost died from thirst just to get here.

Please join them tonight with your prayers and your good thoughts, let your well wishes be the warm blanket that awaits them. Light a candle in your mind and hold it up to the night, and know that 14 brave people, some of them so young they cannot even spell the word, are waiting out their fate inside that unbearably cold place, hopefully withstanding all efforts to break them.