It is an eye opening experience when a political issue materializes into a human story within your family circle. Suddenly the legislation that was so far removed becomes very personal.
I just learned last night that David has been at Stewart Detention Center for a month now. I don’t know David well, but I know his brother Cesar very well. Cesar married into my family a couple of years ago and went on our family cruise last Christmas. He and his wife just had an adorable baby daughter and I see Cesar at holidays and parties.
What I didn’t know about Cesar was that his brother is undocumented.
Cesar’s brother David is a DREAMer, a kid who went to high school in the US, and is now almost done with his bachelor’s degree in business management. Some would argue that obtaining that level of education does not make sense for a kid who doesn’t have work permission. But like so many other kids David dreamed big, ignored the barriers, and trusted the country that calls itself the ‘land of opportunity’ would not deny him a chance to work hard. So David kept pursuing the life of an ordinary intelligent American kid, innocently hoping that someday the broken immigration system would give him a chance to live like everyone else.
Now, I could bore you to sleep with my rants about how the detention center where David has spent the last month is owned by Corrections Corporation of America, and how rich that company is getting off of our tax-dollars. Or I could talk about the states like Georgia, Alabama and Arizona that are passing anti-immigrant laws, leaving their tomatoes rotting in the fields to score political points. Or the fact that so many Christians are supporting anti-immigrant legislation and I cannot imagine any behavior less Christ-like than disliking someone because of their legal status.
Those things bother me very much. But I want to tell you about what truly keeps me up at night. And that’s the people I love.
First, my heart breaks for my friends who are undocumented. I cannot imagine living my life in fear every single day. Not feeling safe enough to report a crime, worrying about family separation if someone is deported, being afraid to go to the hospital when they’re injured. And for the parents, like David’s, who shed tears knowing their son cannot pursue his career goals. I harbor great sadness for all of the lost potential in these bright young men and women. The most heart wrenching moments occur when I hold a sobbing friend who has a parent on their death bed, or lost a sibling in an accident, and they cannot travel back home to be with their family. One friend of mine just decided to go back to Mexico because he hadn’t touched his mother’s face in 8 years, and said he could not live one more day without doing so. Now, he’s with his family, but they’ve lost their only source of income because there are no jobs in his village (the jeans factory in their town moved to China).
But those tears don’t compare to the ones I shed over people that I love who harbor ill feelings toward the undocumented, or support laws that dehumanize them. Months ago, my uncle took to Facebook to write posts in support of the very law that locked up David, Georgia’s HB 87. Well, I cried for about a week and then wrote him many e-mail drafts that I never sent. The only thing I could bring myself to do was unfriend him on Facebook. Childish, maybe, but I love him very much and I figured Thanksgiving and Christmas would be more pleasant if we didn’t follow one another’s politics on the immigration debate. He’s certainly not the only person in my extended family with views contrary to mine on the subject. In fact, besides my mother being a big supporter of my work and a brother-in-law who farms and asks me questions about how he can help his workers, no one in my family inquires about my career choice at all. I try to not let it get to me, but I often feel great sadness. I know that my family is not unique, and that other families are divided on how to resolve our broken immigration system.
But it is also in my family that I see a way out of this immigration mess: relationships. My mom writes her representatives about DREAMer kids because she loves a child in her town that’s a straight-A student and undocumented. She’s angry that he cannot realize his dreams, and so she fights for him. My brother-in-law, the farmer, knows that his staff are hardworking, committed and loving people. He also wants their children to be fed, so he does what he can to help.
I know that if America is to change its views towards undocumented immigrants it will only occur through relationships like the ones my mother and brother-in-law have formed. I know that there is an inherent human kindness and empathy in all of us. Today, people are so deterred by fear and anger that they do not see the human being in the immigrant. Immigrants are a political issue, an abstract idea, a talking point, and a headline. If only we could sit people down to witness the humanity in these individuals, it would be more difficult to treat them as criminals.
And so tonight I keep coming back to Cesar’s brother David, who is wasting away in a detention facility while I sit in my warm bed and write this blog post. One question burns in my heart. Would my uncle have voted for HB 87 if, over a football game and some hot wings, he would have gotten to know David and his story?
Lauren Rymer has dedicated her career to serving immigrants and refugees on behalf of the church. She began her career with Lutheran Social Services of Northeast Florida and has been with LIRS for the past 8 years. She attends Breath of God Lutheran Church in Baltimore, MD.
Learn more about David’s story HERE.
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