They are all I can see when I close my eyes. Little faces pressed up against the grated windows of prison buses. In the silence between us, I feel them plead for help, and there is nothing I can do. I realize where they are going, and I finally feel myself start to crack apart inside.
I watch the bus disappear into the distance, driving away from the tent city where they have been holding kids separated from their parents here at the Tornillo-Guadelupe Port of Entry, and a lump rises in my throat.
What could be worse than Tornillo? What could be worse than this piercing heat that roasts my skin, and this blinding brightness that makes it hard to see? What could be worse than watching preschool age children sit in rows of chairs under an awning waiting to be processed, knowing that it is 110 degrees in the shade?
What could be worse is two words: Indefinite and military.
First, Military because whatever happens there can be hidden. When the children and families are in some sense in our communities, even if behind bars, we have the possibility that visitation and support will some day be open to us. Once they are on military bases, there are different rules than in civilian land. There is less opportunity for transparency and accountability and support.
Second, Indefinite because the executive order that was signed to end family separation included the capacity to hold those reunited families indefinitely. The toll that takes on the psyche is astronomical. The toll that takes on the soul of our nation could be deadly. Indefinite is the kind of word used by dictators, used by tyrannies, used in places where rights have disappeared.
This should concern you greatly, because as my father the lawyer once told me, if any of our rights are violated all of our rights are violated. Rights only exist if they exist for everyone. If they exist selectively, they are privileges not rights. If you allow your neighbors rights to be violated, you have signed the death sentence on your own rights. We stand together, or we fall together. Privilege is not something you want to stake the safety of your family upon.
There is a bigger plan at work than we can see, although we can guess at it. Horrified at the cries of children torn from their mothers’ arms, will we once more permit entire families to be held in militarized internment camps. Will the outrage we felt in one moment tire us out enough that we will be docile and complacent in the next? Is this how they planned it all along?
We must stop crying out that this is not who we are, and face that it is who we have been, so that we can face the future declaring that it is who we will no longer be.
I close my eyes, and they are all I see. Little heads. Little faces. Pleading with me.
I want to be with someone who understands. I find myself sitting with Mary, at the feet of la Virgen, at Saint Mark’s Catholic Church in El Paso. I know she understands. We took her son away as well. I sit there all night in silence with her, until total darkness covers us like a blanket. I know it’s time to go. I get up and walk closer to her and raise my face so that the water from her fountain can splash on my dirty, sunburnt face. I leave the water there as I walk away, a welcome respite from the tears.
“Remember your baptism, and be thankful.” As the water drips down my face, I remember the words so often spoken in the church.
We remember the grace that we do not deserve and cannot earn. We remember the tenets of our faith, and the covenant we have made. We remember the commitment we have made to love and support one another.
This is what we have committed to:
On behalf of the whole Church, I ask you:
Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness,
reject the evil powers of this world,
and repent of your sin?
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior,
put your whole trust in his grace,
and promise to serve him as your Lord,
in union with the Church which Christ has opened
to people of all ages, nations, and races?
I reject the evil powers of this world. I commit to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. I promise to serve in the company of people of all ages, nations, and races.
I close my eyes, and they are all I see. Little faces. Little heads. Pleading for help.
And there is most certainly something that we can do.
There are many things that we can do.
Please read my friend Melanie’s suggestions for action, and add your own in the comments. I will be moderating comments.
To support folks here in El Paso:
Give to the Detained Immigrant Solidarity Committee here in El Paso, to bond people out so that they can fight for their families on the outside: https://www.fianzafund.org/donate.html
Help fund legal assistance locally to these families by donating to: https://www.facebook.com/lasamericasIAC/
Add your suggestions in the comments below!