Is This Who We Want to Be?

I simply am a mother who fights for her children, who fights to give them the best. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos


NY Times, February 8, 2017:

Ms. [Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos] Rayos was 14 when she left Acambaro, a city in an impoverished corner of the Mexican state of Guanajuato, and sneaked across the border into Nogales, Ariz., a three-hour drive from Phoenix. She married — her husband is also undocumented, and thus did not want his name published —and gave birth to a boy and a girl, who are now in their teens [American citizens].

Ms. Rayos was working at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, when Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies swooped in on Dec. 16, 2008, arresting her and several other employees on charges of suspicion of identity theft and using forged documents to obtain employment.

She spent three months in a county jail, followed by three months in immigration detention, she told a reporter. In 2013, an immigration court ordered that she be sent back to Mexico, but her case had been on hold since the federal authorities — under the Obama administration — decided not to act on the deportation order.

Her son, Angel, still remembers the evening of her arrest — the knock on the door, the flashlight on the darkened living room, the sight of handcuffs on his mother’s wrists.

“I was in second grade,” he said. “I never forgot that night, and I’ve lived in fear of losing my mother every night since then.”

Ms. Rayos had a routine annual check-in with immigration officers in Phoenix scheduled for last Wednesday (2/8/17). She feared going. She knew what might happen under President Trump’s recent executive order—said to target criminals. She could skip the meeting or go into hiding. But she didn’t. She was arrested after more than 20 years in America, after she spent six months in jail, after she lived in uncertainty for five years before she was ordered deported and then four more years until she was deported to Mexico. I imagine she lived a fear and anxiety filled life.

To some Americans, Ms. Rayos threatens the safety of America—she is a criminal—maybe a terrorist. Really? A teenager when she came to America, she made her way. She faked a Social Security number so she could work. She married and had two children. She is not a criminal or terrorist.

I believe a system that leaves a humble woman–who sought only freedom and a better life–living in uncertainty as long as it left Ms. Rayos is fundamentally cruel and unfair—even violent criminals have a statue-of-limitations.

We should be better than this.

Jewish theologian Martin Buber wrote of I-It and I-Thou relationships. I-It relationships relate to Ms. Rayos as an object, whose only value is extrinsic—she serves our food, cleans our homes, landscapes our yards or raises our children. In an I-It relationship we value Ms. Rayos only insofar as she serves our purposes. To many Americans, immigrants are not human beings but “things” they use and, since Trump, fear.

In I-Thou relationships, we see our shared humanity in others and are conscious of our often wrong assumptions about others. We realize that “crossers” are human beings just like us and “but for the grace of God, there goes I.” Almost all immigrants who come to America from Mexico and South America come from extreme poverty and helplessness and are in search of a better life for themselves and their children. Often their lives are in danger in their home countries. I am in awe of their courage.

Our local, state and national leaders have failed to formulate an immigration policy and system: A tough-love, compassion based approach to immigration that protects our borders, delivers swift justice, uses modern technology to keep track of people who come into and go out of the United States with rules and procedures that are true to America’s heritage as an immigrant nation. A system where accountability is balanced with compassion and fundamental human respect and decency.

I used to write that we live in a dark time. Now I say that we live in a time of madness. We must not become desensitized to those who use political power to harm the spirits of others. We must resist fiercely.

As we do, we must not become what appalls us and lose our humanity: In the face of this we pray. In the face of this we love. In the face of this we forgive. Because the vast majority of water protectors know this is the greatest battle of all: to keep our hearts intact.

 (Lyla June Johnston, young Native leader to Timothy Egan (NY Times, Dec. 2, 2016) at the North Dakota prairie camp where the Standing Rock Sioux are making a stand to keep an oil pipeline away from water that is a source of life for them.}