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Davenport Diocese Bishop accompanies refugee to ICE check-in in Cedar Rapids

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KWWL) — In an ongoing effort to accompany refugees to their ICE check-ins, a bishop of the Davenport Diocese joined alongside the catholic worker house to escort a Mexican refugee to his first meeting.

The morning started with a roundtable discussion at the Iowa City Catholic Worker House. Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Davenport Diocese heard about the journeys of the refugee families that live there.

Alejandro Guzman, 29, a Mexican refugee seeking asylum here in the United States is among them. Guzman has a similar story of leaving his home country to escape violence.

“I’m from Tijuana, Mexico. I was detained in Ayudante prison for 14 months. Part of the reason I stayed in prison for so long was because of my mom. She was very afraid as well if I returned. She motivated me to stay there and wait for something better,” Guzman said, translated by Iowa City Catholic Worker House Advocate and Interpreter, Emily Sinnwell.

Bishop Zinkula said he’s aware of what’s happening in the immigration system. While he’s never attended an ICE check-in, the circumstances are familiar.

“I was around for the raid in Mount Pleasant. So I went there the next Sunday after that to have a prayer service,” Zinkula said.

The refugees at IC Catholic Worker House say they’re familiar with being taken away but for them, it can happen unexpectedly during one of their routine ICE check-ins.

“They invited me to come along to this check-in and I have never experienced that. So I kind of wanted to experience what that’s like but also my role as the Bishop is to support, in this case, Alejandro but in extension everyone that’s in this process,” said Zinkula.

It’s also Guzman’s first check-in since arriving in Iowa. One by one, a group of supporters followed him into the Homeland Security Building in Cedar Rapids.

After hearing the stories just an hour before from other refugees, Guzman said he couldn’t help but feel unsure.

“When he entered he was a little nervous because he feared he might be detained,” said Guzman, translated by Father, Guillermo Trevino.

However, after a short meeting in a back-office Guzman was released. The whole group of supporters was overjoyed to find out the authorities even removed his ankle monitor, which are routinely used to track refugees in this process.

“He feels very happy and very fortunate to be with all of you,” Guzman said, translated by Father Trevino. “He feels like a very important person with all of the support.”

Now Guzman has 6 months to work on his asylum case before his next check-in. He’s currently in an appeal process. During that time Guzman also said he’ll be looking for work.

While immigration and the issues surrounding those seeking asylum can be controversial, Zinkula says he’s motivated by his religion.

“For whatever reason they’re here, whether they deserve asylum or to be here, all that, that’s secondary. They are here, and they are vulnerable and they have needs and we need to be there for them. How can we just ignore that?,” Zinkula said.

This is part of an on-going effort to accompany refugees to their ICE check-ins.

Earlier this month, Presidental Candidate Julian Castro also escorted another refugee to his meeting. You can read about that here. 

To learn more about the stories of refugees at the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, visit these previous stories.

Refugees seeking asylum plead to Congressman Loebsack to help reunite families, end ICE in Iowa

Honduras family find shelter in Iowa City after traveling in the migrant caravan. 


Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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