Free at Last

A Kenyan Refugee Recalls Nearly Three Years in INS Detention

At about the same time, the INS put an end to one of the few programs that offered some solace to detainees, when Quarantillo abruptly canceled Bible study and English language classes that had been conducted by Jesuit Refugee Services for two and a half years, after objecting to a passage from Matthew being part of the lesson plan. It states: "I was a stranger and you invited me in. . . . I was in prison and you came to visit me." Pastoral visits were also suspended. "The Newark District of the INS has no objection to Matthew 25 or any other Bible passage and does not seek to censor them," said district director Quarantillo in a statement released in late December. "We only request that detention issues should not be included in the lesson plans." Durko explains that JRS volunteers "aren't qualified to talk about detention and therefore are passing misinformation. That builds up hopes and then frustrates people."

Abraham Zuma, for one, places the blame for his frustrations in detention on the sluggish system and harsh conditions, not on the visitors who offered him the sympathy he thought America would extend to any refugee. "They were helping me so much," he says, "just because they feel for the people."

"I’m still not believing it," says Abraham Zuma, holding flowers from his liberators.
photo: Annie Chia
"I’m still not believing it," says Abraham Zuma, holding flowers from his liberators.

On March 9, a new Bible study course began, offered by several Episcopalian groups, which had to agree not to discuss detention issues. That's not a problem for Reverend Joe Parrish, who runs the program. "We have no reason to discuss detention," he says. "We don't have a clue or inkling of the law or of how the process works."

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