I can 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 their coffees in hand. I turned the corner and saw four small children (ages 4 – 8 years old) curled up in little balls, shivering, holding each other to keep themselves warm. My motherly instincts kicked in, and I knelt and asked the children, “Estan bien? (are you all alright?)”. They responded in trembling voices, “Tenemos mucho frio (we are very cold).”
As the other employees arrived, I told them please go to the back and get some blankets for these children. I then asked the agents why these children were barefoot, in still wet clothing; and why did they not at the very least provide the basic items needed to keep these children warm? The only response the agents provided was,
"It’s not our job to do that. They just crossed the Rio Grande a few hours ago.”
- U.S. Border patrol agent
To avoid causing a scene I escorted the Border Patrol agents and the children to our breakroom. We made some fresh coffee and hot chocolate to give the children. I grabbed one of my staff members from the airline and said, “Let’s go buy the children some clothes and shoes.” We quickly drove to our neighborhood Walmart and returned with bags full of 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.
Fast forward eleven years … As I fly out of that same airport at least every two weeks to speak and educate on immigration issues through my work with Mennonite Central Committee, I travel alongside the same kind of children that I encountered many years ago—children that have migrated to the U.S. unaccompanied or have been separated from parents while entering the U.S. The difference is that today’s children travel with an escort that works for Southwest Keys, a shelter operated under the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, that is in the very same Walmart where I purchased clothes and necessities for those four children eleven years ago.
During my latest flight, I sat next to a gentleman who was escorting children to New York City. Normally, after a child’s asylum case has been processed, they are released and escorted to either a parent, family member, or other sponsor that lives somewhere in the United States. I talked with this man the entire 45-minute flight to Houston. He shared with me how he loved his job because he could make a difference in these 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 the gangs, violence, and the murders if they refuse to let their children become a part of the organized crime. Most of the children that travel daily to meet their sponsor family members—many of whom have made the migration journey unaccompanied—hope to find safety and someday a means to bring their family from their home country to the United States.
Recently, my home town of Brownsville, TX and my beautiful Rio Grande Valley (RGV) is on virtually every news outlet available, sharing horrific and heartbreaking images and stories of the horrors of being an immigrant that enters the United States: individuals stranded on the Hidalgo US/Mexico bridge and the International Gateway Bridge in Brownsville, sleeping on the hot concrete with their children in hand for days, then walking into the hands of the Border Patrol, into the chain link fence jail “La Perrera (The Dog Pound),” where children are being separated from their families. It has been an interesting two-weeks living in the nucleus of the American chaos.
Why did it take the extreme images that we have seen recently for Americans, the media, and I painfully say, evangelical and Anabaptist Christians to become so concerned and outraged by the inhumane treatment of immigrants?
This type of treatment has been the norm for immigrants coming into this country for decades. In the 1980’s, during the Guatemalan refugee crisis, people were sleeping in a field under cardboard boxes in the cold rain, without food or a place to go. That’s when local churches in RGV and other places stood in the gap for the moral failure of America. Iglesia del Cordero, a Mennonite congregation, opened its doors to welcome them and provide legal services, shelter, and food. The media, and thereby the rest of the American people, wanted nothing to do with this story, until one man went to squat at our state representative’s office until he was heard.
Likewise, in 2016, San Antonio Mennonite Church opened its doors during the cold month of December, to receive mothers and children being released from detention centers (Karnes and Dilley) because a Texas judge declared the centers to be inhumane.
Today, we have New Life Christian Center, a Mennonite congregation, cooking and donating food to those stuck on the Hidalgo Bridge at the U.S/Mexico border.
There are endless stories of how immigrants have been mistreated, abused, and traumatized when they arrive in the United States. Yet, as Americans, we are shocked by pictures we see on social media, television, and print media. Why is America so uneducated when it comes to migration issues and immigration law?
MCC photo/J Ron Byler
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. Painfully, the horrific violence of the images that we saw this week is not a NEW issue!
As Christians we are often called to uphold and follow the law of God. So when Jeff Sessions used Roman 13 to justify the separation of families, I reread this scripture. And I continued reading to Romans 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 any civil law. And that divine law depends on the simple precedent of love for God and one’s neighbor. As a “Christian Nation” we are not showing love to our neighbor; we are not showing love towards each other; in fact, we are NOT loving at all!
Instead of fighting the President, why don’t we try showing him love by praying for him every day. Perhaps we may send him a good message on Twitter or social media, instead of reacting in hatred or despair. Our response as a church is to LOVE ALL PEOPLE including welcoming the stranger, our immigrants and neighbors, also those who may not share our same views, and including the President.
The past few weeks have stirred memories of all that Latino Mennonite churches have done over the years—and continue to do—to confront, resist, and lovingly respond to the violence of this country’s immigration system. It has also made me realize that life on the border has not changed. Welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, following God’s divine law of love for our neighbor has been and continues to be the norm in our community. We are familia, which is why when we saw those children at the airport eleven years ago, we welcomed them and provided what little we could. It’s also why when I travel today, I give these children a smile and a blessing as we part ways at the airport, because that’s showing God’s love. It’s also why churches in the RGV help the only way they know how by sharing Gods’ blessings with their brothers and sisters no matter who they are or where they are from.
My one 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, in our churches, and in our homes, because we believe that God’s love and God’s familia crosses all borders.
My hope for this 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. Follow his words from Luke 6: 27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
MCC photo courtesy of Ana Alicia Hinojosa