In April, we started a new program for immigrants detained at Cibola County Correctional Facility, working in conjunction with the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center.

Photo by Kerry Sherck

Photo by Kerry Sherck

Joel was a gospel singer and IT technician in the Democratic Republic of Congo who was detained at Cibola. Several weeks ago, we won his political asylum case and he was released.

“I can’t go back to my country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, because I was tortured by the police from the party in power because I expressed my political opinion against the bad government in place right now.

I’m a musician and composer and I felt an obligation to make my fellow countrymen aware of what was happening using art as my language. I expressed my opinion through a song where I criticized the current government that is killing, persecuting, and raping people, and that doesn’t respect human rights or the rights in the constitution of our republic. It was my duty and political right. Because of the song I recorded, I was stopped on the street, locked in a cell, and tortured, beaten and threatened with death.

I escaped, despite all my injuries, and everything I had endured through torture. My studio was ransacked, and my computer with the music clip was taken.  I knew if they caught me, I would be killed, and I was forced to leave the country in 2014.

Once I arrived in the US I was transferred to Cibola County Detention Center. I didn’t have a lawyer initially so I started my own process. I had friends help me since I don’t speak English. Then someone told me about the pro bono lawyers who came to the prison to help. Thank God for those lawyers. They took on my case and it was with their help that I won my asylum case. Without their help, I ask myself the question… would I have gained asylum?

It’s very difficult for a detainee to gain asylum on his own, because it’s so hard. There are so many immigrants at Cibola and the majority are people who don’t speak English.

Thank God for the pro bono lawyers. They’re saving human lives. They support and encourage the people who are there in very difficult and precarious conditions. People who are are suffering. The lawyers’ presence gave us strength. They do work that comes from the heart. They’ve accepted to put their lives in the service of helping others. I can only say thank you, and that this work can’t stop. Because if it ever did stop, there are a lot of lives that would perish.

- Joel

Check out his music video here!