Letter: A lonely Christmas for ICE detainees in McHenry County

To the Editor:

Christmas was lonely this year. We put up as many Christmas lights as we could, but things were pretty dark. It’s hard to keep up hope these days, even with the vaccine coming.

So, on the 23rd of December, it felt both an acknowledgement of the darkness and a desire for hope to visit the McHenry County Jail’s ICE detainees. I bundled up the kids and we drove to the hospital-like building with its strips of window-slits.

Way across the parking lot, we joined a group sharing battery candles, cocoa, and Christmas music. It was a vigil for prisoners to share our concern for their exile.

We knew things were hard for them: separation from family, risk of disease, and lack of resources. We didn’t know if prisoners could see us, but we waved our candles, trying to hope.

And then someone squinting saw what looked like waving – and then a light in a window flickered. The group moved closer to see – halfway across, then closer.

And more arms waved, and more and more room lights turned on, off. And then we were crying out, waving: Feliz Navidad! You aren’t forgotten! We are with you!

It was moving.

Of course, after an hour, we headed home to family, gifts, communities. The immigrants and refugees were left there.

I urge the county to halt our county’s implication in the suffering of ICE detainees: end the detainment contract. Instead, let us work to make sure that the gifts that immigrants and refugees bring are received in our communities. This would help our economies flourish through fuller participation.

As a path to this, we could work toward the Welcoming Standard, a certification program for local governments (and non-profits) to help create flourishing communities of newer and older citizens (welcomingamerica.org).

It is difficult to end a contract creating income for the county. But there are more just ways to develop. And the Welcoming Standard has the added benefit of bringing more peace on earth – something we could use here in McHenryCounty – ”A beam in darkness. Let it grow” (Tennyson).

Tiffany Eberle Kriner