The crops are all in and the peaches are rotting,
The oranges are piled in their creosote dumps;
They’re flying ’em back to the Mexico border
To pay all their money to wade back again
Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees”
(Lyrics to “Deportee”by Woody Guthrie
A report with staggering numbers was released on February 1, 2013. It reported that between the years 1892 to 1997, a total of 2.1 million people were deported from the United States. Admittedly comparing these numbers to today’s numbers is somewhat like comparing apples and oranges, but it is important to put into historical context today’s numbers, which are actually more stunning, with the numbers from the past. President Obama already has deported a record number of people, over 400,000 last year alone. And if these numbers continue, by the end of 2014, Obama will have deported more than two million people, as many in six years as we deported in the 100 years leading up to 1997.
And we are separating more families than ever before. Between the years 2010 and 2012, the United States deported 204,810 mothers and fathers who have U.S. citizen children. Approximately 5,100 of these children have ended up in state funded foster care.
For most people in the United States, these “deportees” are nothing more than people who have broken the law and whose punishment is being sent back to their country of origin. But who are they…. Who are they really?
Half of the estimated 11 million undocumented persons in the United States have resided in the US more than 10 years. They have kids in schools, attend church, work, support the local economy with their purchases and are likely to be as much a member of their community as anyone.
Half of the 11 million undocumented people have children under 18 years old. Many of these children may be US citizens, and may or may not speak Spanish.
Half of the undocumented families own homes.
Many individuals are detained because after being stopped for a minor traffic violation, it is discovered that they are in the country illegally. Sometimes they are picked up at a worksite raid. Mom and Dad never come home from work that day and the kids are left with relatives, if they have any, or like thousands of others, have become wards of the state.
Soon they find themselves on the way to the border. A Mexican migrant may be deported at any one of a number Mexican border towns, or even flown to Mexico City, all at our, taxpayers, expense.
When returned to a town along the border, the migrant becomes a homeless person. Here in Nogales, Sonora, over 100 people are dumped every day. The other day I saw a woman in wheelchair, still wearing her hospital gown, being deported on a morning with snow on the ground. A few cities may have shelters or other services for migrants, deportees, homeless persons, most would not.
Unfortunately, there are often people and criminal organizations ready to take advantage of the migrant. He or she is likely to be approached and asked if they want to pay their bill for a smuggler to take them back across the border by carrying drugs.
Another way that criminal elements seek to prey on migrants is the offer of a phone call home. Migrants are anxious to call their families in Mexico or in the United States to let people know how they are doing. Someone may approach them on the street, offer to allow them to use their phone to call their families. Now the person with the phone has the phone number of the migrant’s relatives and may use that number call them once again, this time claiming to be holding the migrant for ransom. They family has no way of knowing what is the truth and may end up paying a ransom as a way to ensure that their loved one is okay.
Those of us who encounter the deported migrant daily have heard story after story of separated families. People who have been in the USA for not just years but for decades are ripped away from their lives and are now in a country that they do not know.
Here is one story that is all too typical:
Manuel, 38, speaks quietly on the sidewalk outside of the comedor (soup kitchen) in Nogales on a cold January day. He talks about his experiences of the past week.
“That is my country. I love my country. I never take from my country. I pay my taxes. I work. My kids are born over there in the hospital.” He nods in the direction of the border wall, about a mile from where we stand.
A week ago, Manuel lived with his wife and children in Las Vegas where he worked construction. His kids, a boy, 9, and a girl, 5, attend school there. He lived an uneventful, satisfying life. That changed when Manuel drove down to the courthouse to pay a $75.00 traffic ticket. As he recalls the events that led to his deportation, he cries openly.
“My mind is just . . . for my mind this is just too much,” he says.
When authorities at the courthouse in Las Vegas checked Manuel’s background, they learned quickly that he is not a U.S. citizen and that his wife is not a U.S. citizen. Within a week, Manuel was arrested, deported, and homeless. He was told that if refused to sign a confession that they will fast-track his deportation, then his wife would be arrested and his children left as wards of the state. He signed the confession.
Manuel had lived in the United States since he was nine-years-old. He attended school and adopted the language and the culture as his own. He met his wife there and felt at home there. Now he wonders when he will see his family again and how they will survive without him.
I often say that the debate going on about immigrants and immigration policy is NOT about the immigrant. It is about us, we U.S. citizens. It is about what kind of country, what kind of society, what kind of community do we want to be. Will we live up to our best values, recognizing that immigrants and immigration have always and will continue to do so, define us and make us strong. And we know that from a faith perspective, there is no clearer teaching in our faith tradition than the need to welcome the stranger.
The United States is a nation of immigrants, yet we are still searching for a way to treat fairly the new immigrants amongst us. Immigration Reform is finally on the table. It will finally get a hearing in Washington, DC. It is time for all good citizens to step up and get involved. Who better than the faith community to bring the moral perspective to the debate. Who better than followers of Jesus, himself a refugee and who told us that he has no place to lay his head, to take the lead in demanding justice for our immigrant brothers and sisters.
Keep checking our website to get up to date information on Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Please send your comments and questions regarding anything posted on our blog to: firstname.lastname@example.org