This past week, someone told me that “The problem is that most Americans don’t believe [or know] that the US deports parents from their children and breaks up families.”
Wherever you lie on the issue of immigration, what you hear when Scripture speaks about the topic (because it does), and however you feel when the topic comes up, I do not know. I have friends and acquaintances that land across the spectrum on the issue. What I do know is that this conversation looks different when the stats people whip out to support their position are given names, stories, and heartbeats.
When that “illegal alien” is instead a father of three girls who adore Frozen and watching baseball with their Daddy when he gets home from work.
When that “fence-hopper” is instead a woman with the kindest soul you’ve ever met, and a courageous spirit that has led her to leave everything behind to find work in America so that she can sustain her mother and keep her sons from having to join a gang to support the family.
And I was fortunate enough to meet some of these brave and lovely people on Monday outside the Denver Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center.
The Denver ICE Detention Center is a for-profit facility. This means they are owned by someone who knew if they built a facility, they would make money (from the government) based on the number of people they incarcerate. The people can be locked up for any reason if they are unable to present the proper paperwork, which for some is impossible to obtain. Most of these people who find themselves there have lived in the US for several years, have numerous family members also living in the US, and can be some of the most consistent tax-payers found in this country.
Humans with a heartbeat and a dream.
The first Monday of every month a diverse group of faithful people, led by the AFSC (American Friends Service Committee), gather for a prayer vigil outside the ICE Detention Center to pray and spread awareness about the Mothers, Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, Aunties, and Uncles that are detained inside.
And there I heard the stories of three amazingly brave people. Stories that allowed me to see past statistics and news headlines and capture the truth of these families’ experiences as undocumented people.
Like Louisa. A quiet but valiant spirit who timidly walked to the front of our vigil group to share that she was battling getting deported at any minute, which would separate her from her four children and her favorite role in her life which is being a loving, stay-at-home mama. She grew more secure and lively as she spoke about the first time she was detained in that ICE center. Her husband had been pulled over for going 8mph over the speed limit, and before she knew it, them were cuffed and put in the back of the car. For four days she was detained with no permission to use the phone and tell her children where she was. They had no idea what had happened to their parents.
Now Louisa is fighting to extend her visa and eventually become a citizen. If not, her and her husband and oldest child would be forced back to Mexico, while the other three would be left with family and friends in America. Her case is on hold indefinitely because there are not enough judges to hear the cases of the people currently locked up. The influx of immigrants over summer has flooded the system and made everything take much longer. (Though I don’t know how they’re all helping there but nothing is actually getting done.)
So Louisa lives in a constant state of uncertainty, not really knowing if the Christmas gifts she is starting to buy will be given to her kids by herself at Christmas or other family members. How do you plan for possibly being thousands of miles away from your children–usually within a days notice. She doesn’t know.
And then there is Sofia. You could tell she hadn’t been planning on speaking in front of the group until she had heard Louisa’s story. With the confidence of a young soul who has found people who are similar to herself, Sofia stepped up and spoke with deep gratitude about her journey on this topic. She was born in America and now attends a local, Denver University–living a rather normal twenty-something life–but over her summer break, instead of driving to beaches or napping all day, she spent the whole thing researching how to help her father become a US citizen. Making lists of the money that is needed, the piles of paperwork, and the homework that comes before the test, Sofia spoke very hopefully of how important it was for their family. As the only breadwinner of the family, with a child in college, she couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to her daddy without an idea of when she would ever see him next. And she is reminded of this every time she passes the detention center. She lives a few blocks away.
These are people who have loved ones. Who are needed. Who you probably pass each day without realizing it. (Yes, it is a good idea to throw out the out of date stereotype about what undocumented people do and what they look like.) They are human beings made in the image of God and created to do something beautiful in the world.
And the best way to remind yourself of the humanity of a people who are constantly stripped of it by media and ignorant folk is to spend time with them. There is great power in listening and watching. How many times have you been wrong about someone until you heard their whole story or their reason behind something?
I can only believe that as Jesus dined with all those different outcasts, he was handing them back their humanity and reminding them of their life-giving heartbeats through his deep listening. And now we are called to do the same.
“When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” –Leviticus 19:33-34
For more true stories from undocumented people and their loved ones –> http://afsc.org/video/immigration-stories
Click on: View More Immigration Videos
*All information used is from AFSC personnel
*First photo used by HuffingtonPost in “Immigration Detention: The Golden Goose for Private Prisons”