“According to the Shattered Families Report, of the 396,906 persons deported in 2011, 22 percent were the parents of children who are American citizens. More than 5,000 of those American citizen children have been placed in foster care as a result…Some children have even been put up for adoption…[M]any of the people being deported do not speak English and lack legal representation, making it difficult for them to make a case…” –Dale Hanson Bourke in Immigration: Tough Questions, Direct Answers
“They’re standing right at the border, preparing to re-enter a system that traumatized their families months earlier. It says a lot about what they’re fleeing, and what they lost.” — Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” — Proverbs 22:6
After one of many nights where I could feel the stress hormone pumping through my veins, I remember sending correspondences to Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of Homeland Security, asking that children be freed from the cages they were being held in and returned to their families. “We don’t use cages for children,” Nielson said, in a conversation with top Democrats. In the midst of the back and forth argument I thought of Shakespear’s words in Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” Except in my mind the words were, “A thorn by any other name would still hurt and draw blood.” Whether the chainlink pens are referred to as “holding cells” or something else, the fact remains, innocent children have been systematically stripped from their parents by a policy of our government, and left to sleep on concrete floors on thin pads, under thin blankets.
Sure, this policy has been overturned, but the trauma it caused the parents and children remains, along with the trauma that it has potentially brought to millions of people in our immigrant communities, nationwide. I am not even an immigrant, and I feel traumatized vicariously, watching this unfold. Recently, psychologists have discovered that vicarious post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD if you prefer, is a wide-ranging mental illness in our country, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. If you have seen high schoolers and college aged students become crippled with anxiety, amidst near-constant gun violence, this is the same phenomenon. Whatever the reasons are, politically, the fact remains that we have scores of young people in unstable families that are ailing. What are we to do?
On a grand scale, we can struggle for better laws. But this is a Lenten devotion, and so it is primarily about your relationship with Jesus and your neighbors around you. You may have heard the Proverb, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” This is often used as an encouragement to bring your own children up in a Holy Way, loving and serving God. But it is not just a blanket description for all children. Rather, the original Hebrew means that we should bring up each individual child in the way that specific child should be raised. When we think of a group of every child, we think about how everyone needs to raise their own. When we think of a group of immigrant children being encaged, we think about more generalities. However, when we think about individual children being raised, we think of each individual’s needs.
You may not be able to touch the masses of children who have been traumatized by being separated from their parents. But there might be one child in your community that you can get to know. You might be able to support one single parent, whose spouse has been deported, so they can train up their child in the way their specific child should be raised, in the love of Jesus. When we look at the whole picture, it is overwhelming. When we look at it, on a smaller scale, we find something we can do.
Consider: Look at these pictures, and consider the individual families that were separated, many of them still being separated. Think about their stories and how these pictures might affect those who look like them. Now imagine what God might call you to do, to reach out to them.
Pray: Dear Lord, please help me to consider the children of families that have been separated. It is hard to think of these and other families that are separated for a whole host of reasons. Loneliness is plague on the soul. Please help us to be engulfed in loving community. Please surround us in your love, so that we can connect to others who are lonely. And when we are lonely, bridge our alone hearts with others, so that, where two or three are gathered, there you will be in our midst. Amen.