Undocumented Refugees

I want you to imagine that you have just put your ten year old daughter on a bus, bound for sleep-away camp.

You’ve packed her some snacks for the ride.  You’ve covered her in kisses and sent hearty prayers towards the sky, hoping that your love will build an armor that shields her from anything that could happen when you’re not there to help her.

You tell yourself that this is the right decision.  She’s ready.  You need to learn to let go.  It is for her own good, for her own growth.

And then you watch the bus drive away.

Your daughter’s bus arrived in San Diego this morning, and it was not met by a welcoming, kind-faced group of adults.  Her bus was welcomed by angry, chanting, grown-ups.  Adults who were yelling towards her in a language that she didn’t understand.  Your daughter would never make it to the place that you had envisioned for her.  These mothers were not sending their children to camp.  They were traveling with strangers across the border, in hopes of a better life.  Someone’s daughter arrived on US soil from Central America or Mexico today, carrying with her the hopes that her mother has for a better, safer life.  Armed only with the shield of their mother’s love, these children are being housed in “camps” across the Southern part of the United States, as our immigration system decides what to do with them.

So now I want you to take the anxiety that bubbles up in your throat when you send your kindergartner off on his very first field-trip, and think about the mothers who leave their homes in the dead of night with their children.  I want you to think about your teenage son, who has the body of a young man, and the heart of a little boy.  I want you to imagine that he is suddenly on his own, among thousands of young people who are equally alone, waiting and wondering if any of the adults around him can be trusted.  I want you to think about the predators, the ones who hide in the shadows, watching our children and waiting to prey on the most vulnerable ones.  I want you to think about how crappy your kids feel when they’re sick.  How whiny and needy and clingy they get when they have fevers.  How you beg them to drink water and juice and force-feed them crackers.  Another mother’s child is here, in your community, sick and alone.  They are refugees of the truest form.  They are in need of Pedialyte, and diapers, and formula, and food.  They need your compassion.  They need a higher ratio of love per child, more than a few well-intentioned customs agents can give.  They are asking if there is any humanity left in this world.

It is estimated that 60,000-80,000 children will cross the border illegally each year, without their parents.

If you are a parent, you know that only an act of terrible, terrifying desperation would cause you to send your children out into the world unaccompanied.  I am not here to debate that desperation.  I am not here to talk about immigration law, or taxes or the state of affairs in other countries.

I want to talk to you about your children.

Because the thousands of children who are spending their days packed into shelters like prisoners, belong to us.  The children who are sleeping on thin pads on cement floors, covered only by foil blankets, are our children.  Regardless of what you think about how they got here, they are here.  Regardless of where they came from, what they left behind, or what they thought they were running toward, they are here.

I am a mother.  And while I do not know their mothers, I know their mothers.  I know their mothers because I know a mother’s love for her children can not be altered by distance or time.  I know that a mother’s worry can not be stopped until her children are safely back in her arms.  I know that a mother’s regret can make life unbearable, and a mother’s determination can cause her to make decisions that are not always understood.

If you are a mother, then these are your children.

If you have sent a child off to his first day of school, and wondered if they were being taken care of, then this story is important to you.  If you have wondered if your daughter is eating her lunch, or sleeping soundly at a slumber party, or brushing her teeth when you are away on business, then this story is about you.  If you have watched at the playground while another mother became preoccupied, and rushed to her daughter to help her down from the slide until her mom returned, then this is about you.

It doesn’t matter how they got here.  This is our playground.  This is our community.  And these children, these families, are guests here.  They’re here now.  And as a country, as mothers, we should be ashamed that our neighbors are meeting their busses with angry yells and unwelcoming signs.

Hundreds of families, hundreds of children, are arriving in to our communities.  Perhaps they will be here for a few days, or a few months, or for the rest of their lives.  What lessons shall we teach them about America?  That we are a compassionate, respectful, brave nation of helpers and leaders?  Or that we are a selfish, overwhelmed, isolationist nation that only embraces those in need when it is trendy?  This isn’t easy.  It’s easy to watch an infomercial about kids “over there”, and send a few bucks a month to a land far away.  They are here now.  It’s easy to talk in your churches and temples about how you “have a heart for” children in need.  It’s not so easy to take action, to give time and money and service.  To stand up and say “Not on my watch.  I will take care of you if no one else will.”  It’s easy to tell your children to be leaders.  It’s hard to show them how to be leaders. The children that we are housing like prisoners of war will grow up to be adults.  Their potential is great, their determination solid.  We are shaping the trajectory of their lives, with both our shame and our compassion.  What lesson will you be responsible for teaching them?  That they can be treated fairly and with love, and go on to be helpers and problem-solvers and change-makers?  Or that they are unwelcome, unappreciated, and uncared for?  We all know what happens to children who grow up with that message.

There will be time to debate how they got here.  You will have the opportunity to vote your opinion, to write letters to your representatives, to demand change on a larger level.   You have that right.  But screaming hateful things to terrified, exhausted, confused mothers and children only makes the point that we are not a country who cares about human rights.  Your children are watching.  They are watching you teach them what it means to be a good citizen, a good neighbor, a decent human being.  Put your money where your mouth is.  Be the adult that you would hope for should your own child ever need someone to come to their rescue.  Watch over these children as if they belonged to your community.  Today, they do.  We all do.  And the greatest lesson that you can teach them, is that grown-ups will always provide a safe place to land.  That your America, is truly the land of the free and the home of the brave.

If you are ready to help the families who are currently being held in immigration shelters, please contact Border Angels to learn more about their needs.

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