It was only my second trip driving from from Silver Spring to Baltimore to bring undocumented immigrants to Immigration Court or to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building. Each time I learned a little bit more about an issue that is political in nature to many Americans and certainly to most Presidential hopefuls; but for me was something far more than the political rhetoric of our day. My experience was about human beings seeking safety from oppression, human beings struggling with systems that unnecessarily demeaned them and human beings trying to restore wholeness to broken family relationships.
One of those trips was with M., a 25 year old mother of three who lives an hour and a half away by bus from Silver Spring, where she and her young son were to meet me for the trip to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in downtown Baltimore. She was equipped with an electronic ankle monitor which reduces the cost for taxpayers of keeping the undocumented in jail. The technology is such that M.’s location is at all times monitored electronically. Yet, ICE places an almost impossible burden on her and others, by demanding that they appear at ICE every two weeks at an appointed time for hours of waiting for a simple check of the ankle monitor. Transportation by car is impossible for them as they are not licensed, nor do they own a car. Yet, every two weeks, M. goes to Baltimore ICE taking a total of 5hours round trip travel and up to four hours waiting for an ankle monitor review – a review which could be technologically monitored remotely. This has been going on for almost a year. A more humane treatment is possible (remote review of ankle monitor), while still complying with current law and the realities of the status of the undocumented, as she and others, plead their case before the Immigration Court.
Another trip that is seared into my mind is pictorial in nature. Seated in the back of my Prius was a 33 year-old mother, C. and her 16 year old daughter, A.. Each is seated as far from each other as possible, looking out the window for most of the trip, saying nothing to each other, only responding to my questions. One would not know from their behavior that they were mother and daughter who had been separated from each other for 14 years.
The mother came to the US in 2001 leaving A. with her grandmother. They spoke on the phone once a month for 14 years. When her daughter’s life became endangered by the Salvadoran gangs who prey upon young women to become gang members, the mother sent money for A. to make the treacherous journey through Mexico to come to the United States. I was bringing them to Immigration Court where the daughter’s case would be processed. But that picture of each of them almost clinging to the windows - so close after so long and yet so distant from each other emotionally remains with me. This s an oft repeated story for many undocumented young people who have great ambivalence toward an absent parent, who was only trying to make their life better – be it at a distance. The need for relationship building is as real as the need for trips to Immigration Court. Fortunately a local parish provides counseling help for families like M. and A.
Both of these stories – and they are not uncommon – speak of our need to stop using the term undocumented immigrant as though they were not human or do not have the right to be treated with compassion and dignity. They are undocumented women, men and children who, like our ancestors who came to these shores, seek a safe haven and a hopeful future for their families.
The least we can do as we strive to administer the laws of our Christian country is to listen to their stories, their struggles and seek to find solutions that will be life giving to them and be blessing for our country.