Immigration injustices aren’t new

Jun 26, 2018 by

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I clearly remember that cold winter morning in January 2007. I arrived at the airport at 3:30 a.m. to report for my job, as a supervisor for a major airline in Brownsville, Texas.

I walked to the ticket counter and noticed two Border Patrol agents standing with coffees in hand. I turned the corner and saw four small children curled up and shivering, holding each other for warmth. My motherly instincts kicked in. I knelt and asked, “Estan bien? (Are you all all right?)” Trembling, they responded, “Tenemos mucho frio (We are very cold).”

As other employees arrived, I told them to get blankets. I proceeded to ask the agents why these children were barefoot and their clothing still wet, and why didn’t they buy them items they needed? The only response the agents could provide was, “It’s not our job to do that. They just crossed the Rio Grande a few hours ago.”

To avoid causing a scene, I escorted them to our break room with the children. We made some hot chocolate for the children. I grabbed one of my agents and we quickly drove to our neighborhood Walmart, returning with clothes, backpacks, coloring books, snacks and other essential items. We got them dressed and ready for a full day of travel. As they boarded the plane, we hugged the children and told them, “Vayan con Dios (Go with God)” and gave them a sign of the cross as a blessing.

Eleven years later, as I fly out at least every two weeks to speak and educate on immigration issues through my work with Mennonite Central Committee, I travel among the same kind of children I encountered years ago. These are children who have migrated to the U.S. unaccompanied or have been separated from parents while entering the country. The difference is that today’s children travel with an escort that works for the Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter named Southwest Keys, which is located in the very same Walmart where I purchased clothes and necessities for those four children 11 years ago.

During my latest flight, I sat next to a gentleman escorting children to New York City. After children’s asylum cases have been processed, they are released and escorted to either a parent or sponsor somewhere in the U.S.

We talked the entire 45-minute flight to Houston. He shared how he loved his job because he could make a difference in children’s lives. “They have come a long way,” he said, “it’s a hard life they live in their countries, and parents send them because the violence has gotten so bad.” Parents fear gangs, violence and murders if they refuse to let their children join organized crime. Most of the children traveling to meet their sponsor family members, and have made the migration journey unaccompanied, hope to find safety and a way to someday bring their family from their home country as well.

These days my hometown of Browns­ville and my beautiful Rio Grande Valley have been all over the news, with heartbreaking images and stories of the horrors of being an immigrant: people stranded on the Hidalgo U.S.-Mexico bridge and the International Gateway Bridge, sleeping on the hot concrete with their children for days, walking into the hands of the Border Patrol and into the chain-link-fence jail La Perrera (The Dog Pound), where children were separated from their families.

Why did it take so long for Americans to become outraged by the inhumane treatment of immigrants? This has been the norm for decades.

During the Guatemalan refugee crisis in the 1980s, people slept in a field under cardboard boxes in the cold rain, with nowhere to go and no food. That’s when Iglesia del Cordero, a Mennonite congregation, opened its doors to welcome them and provide legal services, shelter and food. The media wanted nothing to do with this story until one man went to squat at our state representative’s office until he was heard.

In 2016, San Antonio Mennonite Fellowship opened its doors in the winter to receive mothers and children released from detention centers because a Texas judge declared the centers to be inhumane.

Today we have New Life Christian Center, a Mennonite congregation in San Benito, cooking and donating food to those stuck on the border bridges.

The ways immigrants have been abused and traumatized when they arrive are endless. Yet, as Americans, we are shocked by pictures on social media, television and print media. Why is America so uneducated when it comes to migration issues and immigration law?

This is a reality I have grown up with — seeing our government abuse its power and treat my brothers and sisters seeking safety and shelter with hate. This is not a new issue.

As Christians, we are called to uphold and follow the law of God, so when Attorney General Jeff Sessions used Romans 13 to justify the separation of families, I reread this scripture. I continued reading to Rom. 13:8-10.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

God’s divine law has precedent over civil law. Though some call the United States a Christian nation, we are not showing love to our neighbor. We are not loving at all.

Instead of fighting the president, why don’t we love him, pray for him every day and send him a good message on Twitter or social media instead of reacting in hatred or despair?

This should be our response as a church: Love everyone! Let’s welcome the stranger, our immigrants, our neighbor who may not share the same views as we do, and our president, who is a stranger to the world of politics.

These past weeks have awakened memories of all the Mennonite Latino churches have done and continue to do. They have also made me realize that life on the border has not changed. Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry and following God’s divine law of loving our neighbor is the norm in our community. We are familia. Our local churches help the only way they know how, by sharing God’s blessings with their brothers and sisters.

My hope for our immigrant familia is that as brothers and sisters in Christ we will open our hearts to share God’s love. We will continue to welcome you in our country, our churches and our homes.

My hope for our nation is that we will remember to pray for our president and our leaders and share the radical love that Jesus showed while he walked this Earth.

Ana Alicia Hinojosa is immigration education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Central States.


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