What I have gained from helping immigrant and refugee mothers

We all know how fierce the will of mothers can be when fighting for the well-being of their children. We see that behavior not only in humans, but in the entire animal kingdom. Birds flying back and forth to feed their newly hatched chicks. Cats nursing orphaned puppies. Random animals being kind to others unlike themselves. You know what I’m talking about. The videos are all over the internet. They go viral. They get shared. They, for an instant, warm the heart.

So, I ask — why can’t everyone tap into that same part of their heart when it pertains to humans? When it pertains to fellow humans asking, begging, for protection? I cannot rationalize it. I cannot process it. I cannot understand it. I cannot believe it.

Once per week — sometimes more, sometimes less, I work with a group that is committed to welcoming the stranger to our country. Specifically, welcoming mothers and their children to America after they have experienced a grueling journey to get here. After they have been incarcerated and vetted and released by ICE. After they have travelled thousands of miles overcoming thirst, hunger, exhaustion, violence, rape, assault, and injuries. After overcoming racism by our Border Patrol. After being dehumanized by withstanding time in the hielera (the ice box) followed by the perrera (the dog pound) followed by incarceration in a jail ICE likes to call the family center. And finally by being dumped at local bus stations or airports with GPS trackers on their ankles and nothing but a clear trash bag or grocery bag that holds a few items of clothing, chips, and lots of water bottles. Always lots of water. You see these women had to survive with their children for weeks walking through jungles and deserts. So it’s not strange that upon their release, they choose to fill those bags with items basic to survival. The basic instincts that mothers have to protect and feed their children at all cost.

Yet after all that, you would think that these women would be harsh and disenchanted. On the contrary. They are grateful. They are hopeful. They are also very scared. Confused. Stressed. But once we bridge the atrocities that they left behind with heartfelt love and kindness of a welcoming American hand, they relax a bit. And there is absolutely nothing more rewarding to my heart when I am able to shine, if only for a few hours, a glimmer of brightness into their day. When I see their protective wall drop and they smile. When the gloss in their eyes turns into a shimmer. When their children run towards me with open arms for a hug.

Once per week is all I can handle physically and emotionally. You see, I choose not to lock the stories that these women share with me into a box and throw away the key. I choose not to be numbed by the details or normalize the struggles that they have faced. I choose, instead, to remember them with a prayer each time I walk into my comfortable home or reach for a snack in my fridge or pour myself a glass of cold water or jump into my crisp bed.

I’ve gained so much from helping these mothers. Too much to list but there is one thing that stands out — I’ve gained a deeper understanding of faith.

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