From the September-October 2017 issue of News & Letters
San Francisco—On July 20 a remarkable collection of people from many faiths gathered in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices here to urge them to release Veronica Zepeda from Mesa Verde Detention Facility. Ms. Zepeda has a serious heart condition and the detention facility guards do not allow her to get medical care. She escaped death threats from gangs in her native El Salvador. In Mexico she was captured, beaten and starved when she refused sex for money.
Zepeda sent a greeting to the gathering:
…I am an abused woman, but I am here looking for the opportunity to move forward for my beautiful children whom I love so much.
…I’m afraid to lose my life here in the Mesa Verde Detention Center. During the past six months that I have been here, I have had three mild heart attacks and several fainting episodes. I’m afraid that one day my heart will stop. Nobody will do anything. Recently when I experienced a pang in my heart nobody listened to me. I just fainted. The officers here cannot take me to the hospital until they receive ICE authorization. If ICE says yes, then I can go to the hospital. If not…
When I came here, I was overweight. Now I am very skinny because the food here is horrible.
Being in detention is torture. I came here to this country to escape the violence of my past; to be able to provide better things for my children. I am hopeful that I will be able to stay because I am not a criminal; I am a hardworking person; I am honest.
…God bless you today and forever! I love all of you. I wish God will allow me to meet you in person soon.
A vigil organizer said that except for Zepeda’s lawyer, none of the people present had met her. Yet we are here because we know she is our sister, we will fight for her as one of our human family. The cross-denominational emphasis of the demonstration is a challenge to the narrow nationalism that seeks to divide us among race, religion, gender, etc.
At Zepeda’s hearing a week later, the prosecutor, wanting to discredit her supporters, who packed the courtroom, asked her, “Do you know any of these people?” She replied, “No, I don’t know them, but I know they love me.” The judge was moved enough that she released her from detention on her own recognizance.
Zepeda’s trials have not ended; she is still facing deportation hearings. But her spirit of fighting for all abused women means that her hard work is not just for her and her children, it is to change the whole society so no woman suffers what she did.