On April 6, 2018 the horror began. The Trump administration passed a “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy. As a result, US Border Patrol began locking innocent children in cages, separating them from their parents.
Suddenly, the immigration battle was real.
The media went crazy, the public up in arms. The streets filled with protests, the people enraged.
Yet, separating children from their parents at the border is really nothing new. It’s something the US has done for years, without ever pausing long enough to let these families dry their tears.
When immigrants from Latin America embark on the long, treacherous journey across the border, they leave family behind.
They risk their lives in hopes of providing a better future for the ones they love. They come because there is no other way- no money, no jobs, no relief in sight, no line to stand in or paper to sign. Just a long, hard journey that leaves their lives on the line.
If coming to the US legally, safely, with the proper documentation in hand, were an option, they would choose it without a second thought. No one wants to embark on a treacherous journey with no guarantee of return.
Yet, the visa requirements are so steep that only the richest of the rich, those with resumes oozing with skills and accolades, dare apply. For those seeking blue-collar work or freedom from violence and abuse, the options are slim to none. The only escape in sight is to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a guide, or coyote, risk your life, and hope you make it to the other side.
They risk it all and leave behind those they hold most dear because their need is much greater than their fear. Fathers leave their children, sons leave their mothers, daughters leave their sisters…everyone leaves someone.
Granted, those left behind in their dilapidated shacks or tiny, cement apartments are not placed in inhumane cages, clinging to chilled, metal bars. Yet, those who cross the border find themselves trapped in an invisible jail with no escape. They trade their freedom for the future of their family struggling to survive back home.
These humble, brave men, women and children come to live in homes crammed with three or more families like theirs, just to afford the bills.
They accept job conditions most Americans would scorn. They work for pay you and I would never accept. Without complaint, they toil long hours, void of breaks. All to provide for those they left behind, to give their loved ones the liberty they themselves will never again find.
You see, once an immigrant crosses the border, they are trapped with no return. It is never the plan, but it happens none-the-less. “I will go for a year,” they say, “nothing more.” Little do they know, the land of opportunity has much more in store.
Once they reach the “promised land” reality pulverizes their dreams in one devastating blow.
Work comes in seasons. Life itself costs more. Living, without your family, is harder than it was before. Illness comes and no one rushes to care for you while you heal. There is not even health insurance to help you foot the bill.
Help is not easy to come by, especially when using a language that is not your own. One you haven’t had the time to study because you work longer hours than any of us have ever known.
Those who are brave enough to speak up and cry out for help, are generally welcomed with less than open arms, if not a resounding “no” followed by a request that they just go home.
Yet, home is now a theory, a place they will never again find. The home they left behind is not the home they would return to today and they are not the same people as when they went away. Never again will they have a place to truly call home. They will forever be an immigrant, searching for a place of their own.
Fear immobilizes and keeps many in the dark. They endure crimes, abuse, and discrimination without ever telling a soul. They fear that if they speak up, they may just lose it all. Those meant to help may send them back to a land of poverty, the very one they fled, to tell their family that they’ve failed, they will have to live in ruins once again.
Every day is a battleground, full of terrors unknown. A harsh, unexpected knock on the door sends even the most valiant running in fear.
Is it ICE? Or just an unexpected friend?
It’s better not to find out and hide until they go away instead.
Life is not as beautiful, as shiny as they’d dreamed. Yet, their family needs the money so here they must remain. One year becomes two, two becomes four, before they know it, they don’t even recognize their families anymore.
Children grow up without their fathers, just some video calls and a MoneyGram each week. Mother’s grow old without their sons, dying without him by her side, never again seeing her precious boy’s face or even getting to say goodbye.
The US has been separating families at the border for years now, it’s just what we do.
Yet, please remember, most immigrants do not want to be here, to stay here for good. They are trapped against their will, with no escape in sight.
They want to go home, to live alongside their family and friends. Yet, home is a place many will never see again.
They do not want your job, your money or your house. They want to provide for their families, that and nothing more.
Let them come and let them go, let them do just that. Don’t force them to stay here and pretend to love a land that doesn’t love them back.
Stand up and fight for immigrant rights, yes, but not just at the border.
Fight for the immigrant battling silently next door, diligently toiling away in the background while we squabble loudly in the streets.
You don’t have to join a march or collect children’s shoes. You can fight for immigrant rights just by loving those that surround you. Greet them with a smile, take the time to learn their names.
Don’t view them as a threat, a criminal or a crook. Instead, take a closer look.
They laugh and cry, hurt and heal, they are humans just like you. People who yearn for a better future, who desire a life of freedom instead of fear.
Instead of cowering in uncertainty, try welcoming them with open arms. Offer to help meet their needs, keep them safe, try to make them feel at home. Remember that many are alone here, feeling empty and afraid.
Life is not all about money, prosperity and success. What matters most are people, family, the very things they’ve left behind. The things money cannot buy and one can ever replace. Sometimes, all they need is just a friendly, smiling face.
Yes, immigrants need your support, now more than ever, it’s true. But not just in your marches, protests and shouts for justice in the streets. They need your support each day, every time you meet.
It’s the little things, the small acts of kindness that no one ever sees, that help make the world a better place and bring us one step closer to peace. Support immigrants with your actions, not just the things you say. Support immigrants with your love each and every day.