As the immigration crisis continues to loom in the United States, I recently heard a heartbreaking story about a Mexican family forced to flee their homeland who are now being held at an American border crossing.
The mom, dad and their three kids lived all their lives in Juarez, a crime-ridden Mexican city near the Texas border, controlled by drug cartels and plagued by violent gangs of thugs who terrorize the city streets.
This family lived a quiet life in their residential home, doing their best to go to work, attend school, go to church, go shopping, visit with their neighbors- just like any one of us might do in an everyday, ordinary life. But somehow this family made it onto the "radar screen" of a local street gang, who barraged them with threats of violence and even death. Eventually this constant intimidation got so bad that, fearing for their lives, the family gathered up some of their belongings and in the middle of the night they snuck out of their home and made their way across the border.
They left everything behind- home, car, possessions, their native language and customs, their jobs and schools, their friends and neighbors. And now they wait in a holding center at a border crossing with no idea of what the future may bring - hoping that they will be treated with compassion here and allowed to stay with American cousins.
When I hear a heart-wrenching story like the one about that family from Juarez, I think about the thousands of other families who can tell the same story - people who crossed that border not because they wanted to make their fortunes in a new country "whose streets are paved with gold," but because they wanted to survive.
I think about all the many real-life stories of real-life human beings - hundreds and thousands of immigrants who left behind all that was comforting and familiar, crossing over into this strange new land, hoping and praying that they might be welcomed and embraced with some degree of compassion.
The immigration crisis in this country is far more than a policy issue to be debated by Washington politicians, it is a humanitarian crisis and spiritual issue of enormous proportions. A spiritual pathway always flows in the direction of compassion, and we cannot turn a blind eye or shun these fragile, vulnerable, fellow human beings who are reaching out for help.
I have been reading a newly published book that is now making its way up the New York Times' bestseller's list. In her novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, author Cristina Henriquez tells the tender life-stories of immigrants who have come into America from Mexico and Central America. While the book is a work of fiction, the stories she tells are based on real-life people, and I think maybe this book should be required reading for every American citizen.
In one very poignant passage in the book, a mom from Mexico expresses her fears and her hopes as she and her family settle on America soil:
Had we done the right thing by coming here? Of course I knew the answer, we did what we had to do. But we are so far away from anything familiar. Everything here - the sour air, the strange language, the muffled voices, the depth of darkness - is different. We had bundled up our old life and left it behind, and then hurtled into a new one with only a few of our things, each other and hope. Would that be enough?
We'll be fine, I told myself, We'll be fine. I repeated it like a prayer until I finally fell asleep.
That's my prayer today also. I pray that they will all be fine, and I pledge to do what I can to make it so.