Disciples News Service

A Disciple's story of immigration, tables and solidarity

Editor’s note: Samuels is a Jamaican immigrant who was raised by a single mother and recently graduated from a university. His congregation supported him throughout his ordeal.

From the Church World Service Fast Action press conference, Washington D.C., Monday, Sept. 9, 2014

Full audio

Good afternoon. My name is Al Samuels and I have been a member at Shepherd Park Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for four years here in Washington, DC.  I am originally from Jamaica and moved the U.S. as a child. I am also proud to have served in the United States Marine Corps on active duty for four years and on reserve duty for another four years.

From Nov. 15, 2012 to April 4 of this year, I was detained by US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in the Worcester County Detention Center in Salisbury, Md. For five months, I was separated from my loving wife and our three kids – all U.S. citizens – wondering whether I would be deported. I lived in fear and pain with my fellow immigrant brothers in detention wondering if my family would be split forever.

During this difficult time, the only thing I knew to do was to turn to God and to my fellow brothers in the detention facility. There were a couple religious groups within my block – but we were mostly split by race, ethnicity and language.  But we were all in the same situation.  In my particular block, we were 32 men of different backgrounds – but predominantly Latinos and Africans.  And it would be safe to say, the groups did not always get along.  We would fight over what we would call the three Ts – the tiny Television, the Telephone, and the Tables where we would sit around.

We had official worship services on Saturday mornings that were offered by local pastors, and we also had informal prayer meetings in individual cells. The Latino religious group would meet on Sunday mornings while the remaining detainees watched sports on the television.  We were separate. One day, I was talking with one of my Latino brothers and we came to the conclusion that our groups should start to pray and fast together, especially as the Easter season approached.  And over the course of two weeks, our whole block started to fast. We had 28 of 32 guys praying, singing, worshipping, fasting and skipping meals together.

The racial divide and tension immediately disappeared. We were no longer fighting over resources. We were unified in solidarity together through this spiritual action. The warden was shocked. The guards and watch commanders were shocked. They couldn’t believe the miracle that they saw in front of their eyes as we unified together. They said we needed to get more groups to do this in the facility.

I believe that the differences that we overcame in detention are no different than that of our American society – or the divisions in American politics.  I am living proof that when people of faith come together – and pray and fast in solidarity – that circumstances can change even when the odds are against you.  I believe that we can find peace, harmony, and reconciliation in America.  I believe this is what our country urgently needs.

I love this country, and I am proud to have served overseas in the US military.  And I feel blessed to have been given the chance to remain here in the US where I can continue to be a father to my kids and husband to my loving and supportive wife – but I know there are so many more in detention and millions who have been deported who were not so fortunate.

We don’t need more of the pain and suffering brought on by the detention and deportations of mothers and fathers.  I believe we need serious, compassionate reform to our nation and to our nation’s immigration system.  And that is why I am committing to pray and fast for the next 40 days. Thank you for the opportunity to share my story and I hope that it may bring hope and joy to many, but more importantly, to bring about change.