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  • Writer's pictureHannah Telluselle

Marshallese Mama

"There is something comforting in the sound of a deck of cards being shuffled and flipped over. Again. And again.

On my first night at Honolulu Federal Detention Center, I shared cell with a woman from the Marshal Islands, Alice, who also was detained due to Immigration violations. She gave me toilet paper to blow my nose when I was crying, and a bag of mackerel to eat. It was the first thing I ate in three days. It was a good mackerel.

I lied on the top bunk and she sat below praying for herself, her family and for me. Her English was insufficient but somehow we understood each other anyway; one of the perks of being well traveled is the ability to read people's body language as much as their choice of words. With her long hair, brown skin tone and full figure, she definitely made the impression of being a real mother.

Alice had three children, with her youngest being only two years old. Her mother and her cousin also lived in Hawaii with their families. She couldn't recall even knowing anyone any longer at Marshal Islands because it had been more than ten years since she had been there. She couldn't understand why ICE wanted to deport her and frankly, neither could I. Upon showing me her papers and explaining her situation, I gathered as much that people from Marshal Island don’t need any visas to come and work in the US since it’s US territory, so how can they become deported?

The father of her children was not the man who was her boyfriend, and this was the reason of her arrest. Sounds weird, but at the end of the day that is what it comes down to. Her ex-boyfriend had moved out when he had found out that she had begun dating someone else, thus when she had to apply for welfare she put down that she was single, which she was. Alice shared that in her culture it’s always the women who handle all the money, since they’re responsible for the household. Whatever the man brings home in paychecks are always given in full to the woman. If there isn't a man or not enough, it’s the woman's duty to apply for financial aid. During the time she received welfare, her former boyfriend came back for a while to be with their kids, but sleeping on the couch. This in the eyes of the US Government, consisted fraud on Alice's part since they thought she should have written him as the co-habitant with her. She agreed to pay back whatever it was she owed, which she had done in full, as well as do a couple of months of time at the state correctional facility, but now ICE found that to be a good excuse to fulfill their quota of required deportations. With the help of her church, she had paid a lawyer some 5000 dollars to appeal her case, but it was too late to file it.

She shuffled the deck of cards and laid them out in a pattern on top of her bed, playing solitaire, except that she believed that if she could just get the lucky numbers to show up, maybe it would be a sign from God that she would be allowed to stay. She said that she had made a promise to God to get married if she just would be allowed to stay. I never told her that I had made the same promise.

At four o'clock in the morning a couple of months later, ICE deported her back to Marshal Islands after an hour to say goodbye to her children, who became left behind in Honolulu with her mother. The only visit Immigrants are allowed while detained, is the one meeting to say good-bye.

I thought of her inability to formulate professional court communication in English on her own the way I can, and how many more immigrants like her there must be in the US.

I began to realize the necessity to fight back."

(From the book "The Call for Divine Fathering" by Hannah Telluselle)

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