Before the longest nights of 2018, I heard about the exodus of Latinx had reached the Mexican northern border. During the dark of the moon I was obsessed with the drama and the heroism. I saw the poetry in streams of people fleeing in groups of 80 or of 45 or of 15. Central Americans banding together for safety, to share the load, to give tips on what to expect, to keep warm during the night, and to pray with at sunrise. Short or lean; well-dressed or thread bare; boots or flipflops; parents leaving children behind or children in tow. Two stories shook me up. I shivered when I first heard them.
My impulse is to run to the Rio Grande or to Tijuana to welcome the thousands of people at the wall. I would hand them a bottle of water and thank them. Curling up under covers when I hear a news flash doesn’t help. Listening to our president’s obstinance on paying our tax money to build a $6 billion wall, turns me into a zombie. Trump’s thrumming the price tag of the wall and shutting down the government distracts us from “how do we cooperate with our neighbors? What way do we care for refugees?”
Maybe Trump responds differently to angels who fly to Tijuana than the angels lifting up the poor family in Bethlehem. Maybe politicians toss parents with earth-toned faces away, declaring there’s no room at the inn. Does ICE, like Herod’s soldiers, smash poor children living in an oppressive empire? Mary, after her visit with the Holy speaks clearly to the emperors, “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…the Mighty One has scattered those who are proud and has brought down rulers from their thrones.” (Luke 1:51)
To convert my razor rant into something generative, I joined up with Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network, pronounced Beyond (BIJAN). I got a call from Rev Annie, asking if I can help Luya, a 33 year-old Guatemalan mother. She was picked up by the Border Control before eating a meal in this country. She spent 3-months in detention. Her uncle in LA, who she called “Papi,” bought her a cross-country bus ticket and called a Boston lawyer in the safety network. The lawyer called the Reverend who made calls to me, Niva, and others. Someone put together a coat and change of clothes. Niva pulled out her sofa and let Luya sleep in the living room.
I picked Luya up at Niva’s house to escort her to the bus station- I was the fourth stranger in 24 hours who helped Luya move from ICE detention to safety. For emergencies she memorized phone numbers (no cell phone) and carried una biblia en español. I brought her a bag of granola bars and boiled eggs for the 3 day journey. I gave her a few phrases in English like “where is the bathroom?” Luya called ‘Papi’ using my cell phone and stepped lightly onto the bus. We smiled and prayed. I left feeling lighter, as if Luya had taught me a new song.
The second story is about a trans female Honduran who came to the border in September with 30+ other queers from Central America. She is tall, with a bright smile and eyelashes to cut butter. We’ll call her Judi. Many of her family and friends were murdered over the years in rural Honduras. Judi entered the US at Tijuana and was apprehended. She was clear that the guards ‘punished’ her that first week. She had to live in a refrigerated room 24-hours. Then she was transported, none too smoothly, to Cibola, about 150 kilometers west of Albuquerque. This detention facility houses the greatest percentage of asylum seekers in the nation and is the only immigrant detention center in the country with a designated wing for transgender women. Find out more about the efficacy of this prison at Cibola Detention Center.
Three of us from BIJAN accompanied Judi to JFK federal courthouse. Judi has a big dream—she hopes for asylum and longs for a work permit. The judge extended her stay until October 2019, but with little hope of a work visa. Ten months sounds like time to put down roots. Judi was relieved and quite frustrated. She wants to pay her way, without relying on charity. She is ready to do her part. Are we offering temporary portage to these refugees? Is there a way to accept them as neighbors, without such a tax on our court system? We are living in seismic times.
Jesus lived under the imperial, sometimes cruel, Roman rule. Jesus, the refugee, escaped to Egypt and the family thrived. Two thousand years later Luya and Judi are valiantly struggling in a rich land with harsh laws. It’s a dark time of year. And the prophet says, for those who walk in deep darkness, a great light will shine.