The Holy Family Searches for an Inn
As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, I have experienced the realities of a migrant life in the US. There are no gold-paved streets where I live. There are no shiny coins on my father’s weather beaten, cut, and coarse fingers. My father put food on our table, a roof over our heads, and gave my brothers and I the legacy of an education. And yet to thousands of people, who are not aware of their government’s complicity in creating the conditions that result in the exodus of the most marginalized people in other countries, my parents are nothing more than “Mexican illegals”. They believe that they don’t deserve dignity, or to have dreams, or survive. That they should be denied health, security, and happiness.
When we think about immigration, we sometimes perceive it as a new issue of our times. But migration is as old as the world, with humankind needing to be on the move for a variety of reasons, from survival to plain curiosity. In the last few months, as anti-immigrant rhetoric has become not only more pronounced but even normalized in our political life, it is important to be aware of what our US inhumane immigration policies mean for the most marginalized people around the world. I was recently on a human rights delegation in Mexico with the National Lawyer’s Guild. We visited La 72, a migrant shelter near the Mexico- Guatemala border that is run by Franciscan friars in Tabasco, Mexico. The impact of US policies reach and infiltrate even the most remote, jungled villages there. Migrants are viewed as an industry, in a land where foreign policy has created a depletion of jobs, economy, and liberty. As they travel north to the U.S., migrants buy survival necessities like, water and food, from locals, they pay “guides” to cross them from one place to the other, they pay bribes to the immigration authorities and drug cartels, and when there’s nothing else to take from them, their bodies are held for ransom, killed and organs sold for thousands.
This is the reality of a country that has allowed the commodification of migrant bodies, and who has found a lucrative industry from it. This is exemplified by the story of one particular young man, a 19 year old Salvadoran who was staying at the shelter. The bus he was taking to the next checkpoint was stopped by a drug cartel, and he and the rest of the passengers were held for ransom for 30 days, before they were able to escape. They were stripped, given only water and threatened that if in 60 days their families didn’t pay their ransom, they would kill them and sell their organs, a more lucrative endeavor. This is a direct result of US immigration policy, as the US provides funding to Mexico’s immigration system to stem the flow of migrants into the US before they even get to the US border.
In the US, the anti-immigrant rhetoric separates families. Mixed status families are in fear of being separated, as undocumented parents are subject to deportation for even the smallest infractions. Those who came to the US as children and were raised alongside American peers, going to American schools and participating in American life, are now anxious about the possibilities of being sent to countries that they do not consider theirs, often to be in danger of violence and poverty. Immigrants leave their families behind for decades, without being able to return to visit for fear of being unable to return to the US, where many of them have children and social ties. Already, immigrants, from all ethnic and religious backgrounds, are facing a rising wave of violence and discrimination.
One of the major facets of Jesus’s life was his family’s experience as a people in movement. The Holy Family searches for an inn when Mary expects the birth of Jesus and they are getting the door closed on them time and again as we sometimes do to our migrant brothers and sisters today. Jesus lived the experience millions of people live day to day all around the world, a migrant as he preached the gospel. As we are called to see Jesus in our lives, we are called to see the suffering of Jesus in our brothers and sisters, who suffer the same poverty, alienation, and oppression he once did.
Stephanie Bello is an immigration advocate and the Executive Assistant at the Migrant Center at the Church of St Francis of Assisi. She is a first generation Mexican-American who will be pursuing a J.D. from the University of Dayton as of May 2017. Stephanie will be returning to continue to serve her community in the Northern New Jersey/metropolitan New York area.
LET US PRAY
Most High, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me true faith,
certain hope and perfect charity,
sense and knowledge, Lord,
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command. Amen
Lord, we pray for the power to be gentle;
the strength to be forgiving;
the patience to be understanding;
and the endurance to accept the consequences
of holding to what we believe to be right.
May we put our trust in the power of good
to overcome evil and the power of love to overcome hatred.
We pray for the vision to see
and the faith to believe in a world emancipated from violence,
a new world where fear shall no longer lead human beings to commit injustice,
nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others.
Help us to devote our whole life and thought and energy
to the task of making peace,
praying always for the inspiration and the power
to fulfill the destiny for which we and your entire creation were created. Amen
Hail Mary …
Our Father …
Glory be …