I am going to take you on journey. It is a long difficult journey. A path that has been travelled a thousand times over. A story told on the backs of long suffering immigrants again and again. You may cry and lose hope along the way. You may want to quit in disgust, or disbelief. You will be tempted to stop and turn around, you will want to stop and never return -but please, hang in there. You need to take this trip. You need to know.- – –
You live in a small three bedroom home with your three young children, and two other families. It is located in a gang infested, corrupt area of Central America. It is the fifth place you’ve called home in the last three months. Your sons are already vulnerable to gangs. If they join they are guaranteed a life of violence, crime, and most likely an early death. If they don’t join, they are targeted and brutalized. You try to protect them but you’re threatened with violence and rape. You have seen this evil first hand. Yout best friends daughter sits mute every day, still traumatized by the gang members who raped her last year. Fearing the same for your daughter you work long hours, you scrimp and save toward a better life Somehow you find someone you can afford to help your family escape to that better life.
After what seems like a long nightmare of anxiety and fear, the day arrives for you to pack your meager belongings and begin your family’s journey to safety. The road is long one – more than 1600 miles. You walk most of the way. You’ve spent most of your money to pay the coyotes to help you. But you have to feed your family doing things you feel only God can forgive. But you keep going; for six long weeks, carrying your baby girl and cajoling your two young sons to keep moving; walking through conditions most of us will never experience- extreme heat during the day, cold nights, murderers and thieves all around you.
Can you imagine the anxiety? Not knowing what is ahead, but knowing that behind you lies a wasteland of hatred, shame, destruction, and death.
Finally, the day arrives and you have reached the border of what you have come to know as “the greatest country in the world”- the United States of America!
You fall to your knees and thank the Lord above for His kindness and mercy. Then you stand up, join hands with your family and join the line of desperate people just like you. You look around at the faces of those around you and wonder if you look half as scared and traumatized as they do. So you force a smile and try to understand what will happen next.
Suddenly your children are being taken away from you. You are told that they are going to be fed and bathed and will be returned to you. Atleast that is what you think the border agents told you. The children are crying and struggling as you try your best to reassure them you will see them soon.
Six days later, you wake from your nightmares to find yourself still in one. Your arms ache for your children as you pull yourself from the floor to stand in line for a bologna sandwich and a cup of warm water. It isn’t much but you are thankful for even the smallest kindness. Your engorged breasts ache to feed your baby. The smell of unwashed bodies and fear stings your nostrils and the tears come again, tears that lay just under those you’ve been crying for more days than you can remember. Your mouth is dry, your skin burns and itches from filth and dehydration, but somehow the tears are there. They’ve been falling for so long that you no longer taste them or feel them burning your skin.
Days blend into nights, you’ve prayed to every Saint, the Virgin Mother, Jesus Himself, and yes you’ve even “bothered”God with your endless entreaties. Is He listening? Is this His answer? Am I no longer worthy of God’s mercy? Are my children? God please save my children!
Two weeks later you find yourself in front of a judge. You try to tell your story. The trauma and the shame and the fear have taken its toll and you are barely able to speak. It is a story the judge has heard over and over again. She looks at you with what feels like indifference. She has formed a callous around her conscience so she can get through each day without her heart breaking over and over again. The judge tries to explain to you that your children have been sent to foster care hundreds of miles away. She further explains that you have to prove that you meet the requirements for asylum, so that you can stay in this country.
Days later you are given a chance to request asylum. But the fear of violence, rape and death at the hands of gangs does not meet the standards for asylum today. Living in a war zone where you were forced to move five times in three months is not enough of a reason. Living in a nightmare of gang violence doesn’t quite convince the powers that be. They’ve heard it all before. Next!
You are sent back from whence you came. Now you are faced with a dilemma. Do you leave empty handed and leave your children to the care of strangers, hoping against hope they will be better off here in this strange land? The tears come once again as you realize that during all those nights of prayer begging God, his Son, and Saintly friends to keep your family safe, you never once asked to keep you all together. You were so focused on their health, happiness, state of mind, and future, that you forgot about your own place in it. You can’t provide a life of safety, joy, and peace for your children. You can’t even pray properly, you don’t deserve to be a mother anymore. All you had to give them was love. It was not enough. So you give them one last act of love and leave them.
As you come to terms with the hardest decision on the worst day of your life, you replay in your mind how this all came to be.
You met a man, you fell in love. Together you built a life. Life was difficult and dangerous. But it was all you knew. You struggled and sacrificed but you had each other, and you had your little family. A father, a mother, two sons and a daughter. You had love.
When your youngest, your baby girl, was just a few months old, she was being carried by her father as your family walked to a friends home in a neighboring town. Just a few miles into your walk, a car sped by and several shots were fired from its back window. The shooter was aiming for a house along the path you were walking, and stray bullets hit your husband and daughter. Your baby girl was hit in the hip but she survived. The only evidence of the trauma will be a slight limp when she walks. But your husband was not as fortunate. He was hit in the neck. He lingered between life and death for several days, fighting for his life, before he lost the battle to a horrible infection.
Not only was this loss more than you thought you could bear, it began an even bigger nightmare affecting the lives of your whole family. Without your husband you were vulnerable to the evils that surround you.
Wrenching yourself from the memories of that horrible time, you are slapped in the face with the realization that you have now lost it all. You fall to the ground in despair. You find yourself on your knees, a few miles from the spot where you fell to your knees in thankful prayer on that fateful day that seems like a lifetime ago. Chin up, you pull your hands together and raise them to the heavens in earnest prayer. A slight wind whistles around you as dust twirls around your head. You hear your children’s happiest noises reverberate in your ears. You can almost see them running toward you. This is a mother’s hope on her darkest day. A weaker woman would give up. She would just lay down. But you aren’t a weak woman. God shined his light on you and kept you all alive. You had faith and it took you this far. So you will keep riding that ripple of faith and go back. You will work, and struggle, and keep your head down. You will earn enough money to find a lawyer to help you try again to seek asylum. You will find a way to earn enough money to pay that lawyer AND pay the $750 fee to become a citizen. You will take the test and do the work to become a US citizen. You will work some more and make a new home for your family. You will find your children no matter the cost, and bring them back under one roof with you. When you left Guatemala, the only home you’ve ever known, to come to the US, your oldest son was 6, your youngest son was 3, and your baby girl was ten months old. It may take you years to get them back, but they will still be your babies, and they will remember you. They will remember their brave mother who sacrificed her health, her morals, her very happiness to keep them safe. They will remember that you gave them love and it was enough.