A decade after fleeing the Congo for the United States, having endured rape, imprisonment, and torture in her homeland, Regina Bakala found herself locked in a U.S. prison facing deportation to almost certain death. This harrowing true story of an asylum seeker and young mother of two tells how her husband, a feisty nun, a pit bull lawyer, and a group of volunteers set aside political differences to galvanize a movement to save Regina. Their struggle reveals the vast underbelly of injustice in America’s harsh detention and deportation system and frighteningly arbitrary asylum process. The book uncovers the very real dangers faced by asylum seekers in the United States, not only from the country they left behind, but also from the country they thought would keep them safe.
"This may be the rare book that the staunchest progressive and the most devout Catholic could read together. Arresting and inspiring—a must-read for people of faith, immigration activists and anyone concerned with social justice." -Kirkus Reviews
"Flynn's eye-opening and detailed account of what it took to win asylum for Regina Bakala . . . offers an inside look at the formidable and convoluted system faced by asylum seekers in the U.S." -Publishers Weekly
“[Sister Josephe] unfolds Regina’s story and her own story of friendship and faith within the broader context of the desperate need for immigration reform.”
“A story about inner strength, community power, and healing through selfless bravery. Sister Josephe . . . leaves her readers with outrage, courage, and the dignity to dig deep, take risks, and fight for human rights.” -Sarnata Reynolds, Advocacy and Policy Director, Refugee and Migrants Rights, Amnesty International USA
“Rescuing Regina is moving, informative, and clearly written. It makes the complex US immigration system understandable. The Bakalas’ story is the story of so many others in our country, and it brought me to tears. Sister Josephe inspires us to fight the impossible fight. She makes us realize that a community fighting for justice can and does make a huge difference. By saving one family, she and the Save Regina team provide a model for us all.” -Anna Marie Gallagher, immigration attorney, Maggio + Kattar, and President, International Detention Coalition
Some have called me a hero for my fight against the death penalty. If
anything, I’d call myself a reluctant hero, someone who simply cannot
turn away from cruelty and injustice. The same could be said of Sister
Josephe Marie Flynn, who, after years of shying away from anything
remotely resembling advocacy, found herself in the forefront of the
struggle to save from deportation Regina Bakala, a Congolese torture
survivor in the United States.
Rescuing Regina: The Battle to Save a Friend from Deportation and
Death is a chilling look into the dysfunctional US asylum system and our
byzantine detention and deportation system. Regina, a wife and mother
of two young children living in Milwaukee, fled persecution in the
Democratic Republic of Congo, where she had been sexually tortured,
as had her husband, David. One early evening, as she walked out of the
shower in her pajamas, she was picked up by Immigration and Customs
Enforcement and whisked away—to a destination unknown. In a panic,
David called their good friend and supporter Josephe.
Josephe—aided by the hastily assembled Save Regina group—
quickly learns how difficult it is to work with a nameless, faceless, inhumane
bureaucracy reachable only through lawyers or elected officials.
Immigrants are presumed guilty, not innocent. The system is harsh,
making no distinction between immigrants and convicted criminals.
The lawyers tell Josephe this is a dead-end case.
x F o r e w o r d
Rescuing Regina describes how Josephe and the Save Regina troops
create a media campaign to spotlight Regina’s plight. The book portrays
Regina’s fierce determination to keep her children from being orphaned
as she had been. The story of friendship between the reluctant advocate
and the tenacious mother will both warm your heart and outrage you. It
is a powerful book.
Someone recently asked me, “So, how did you get involved in advocacy
“Me?” I laughed. “Most of my life, I avoided the very thought!”
Marinated in fear from childhood on, I remember my mother, an
avid John Birch Society member, warning me in my early twenties that
a covert Communist plot was already poised to take over the United
States by 1976. I quickly became squinty-eyed about everything politically
controversial. In fact, it wasn’t until my thirties that I finally mustered
enough courage to take a graduate course in social justice. When
the teacher required three major papers—“See,” “Judge,” “Act”—my
stomach clenched. Ambushed by my own panic, I sheepishly took her
aside, begging for an alternate assignment or at least an exemption from
the paper on social action.
That I would one day lead a major advocacy effort was unthinkable.
Thirty years later, as adult and family minister in St. Mary’s large
parish in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, I found myself sitting across from
a beautiful Congolese couple, Regina and David Bakala, each of them
torture survivors seeking asylum in our country. They welcomed me into
their journey, and years later, when their lives veered again into terror,
they turned to me. While pulling out all the stops to help them, I found
myself also being healed.
This is a story that needs to be told.