The word came in the night: Flee, they’re coming for you. So, they began packing. It wasn’t the first threat of violence, to be sure, but this time it was direct and personal. There was no choice but to run. Quickly, decisions were made; what to bring, what to leave behind. They strapped what little food they had to their donkey and slipped out in the night — hopeful they hadn’t tarried too long in leaving, praying the soldiers wouldn’t see them. Mary clutched Jesus closer to her breast, as she and Joseph vanished into the darkness.
I don’t know why Carlos Hernandez Vasquez decided to make the dangerous journey from Guatemala to the United States. The ProPublica report on his death from flu in a Wesalco detention center doesn’t mention the reasons he left. But I do know that the coup d’état the CIA orchestrated in 1954 helped topple Guatemala’s first democratically elected government — and how the U.S. supported a series of brutal dictators out of our economic self-interest — leaving the country torn by violence. I know how gangs have stepped into the power vacuum after the civil war ended in 1996, assuming defacto control in entire municipalities through murder and intimidation. I know how that violence has strangled economic growth, leaving 59.3 percent of people to live in poverty.
I’m sure that this bright, precocious boy had dreams for his new life when he set out at 16 years old. I know that God lived and moved in those dreams, accompanying Carlos as he traveled north. And I know how the detention center that refused him medical care — even as he lay dying — treated this wondrous child of God as if he were disposable.
A shriek pierces the war-torn landscape, the kind of blood-curdling howl that seems to stop the Earth on its axis. A woman falls to her knees, tearing at her garments — her body wracked by inconsolable sobs. Her companion tries to comfort her, but she thrusts her hand aside and buries her face into the dirt — as if she might be swallowed up and consumed to end her agony. She screams again for her children, but Rachel’s voice finds only stillness in the hot and humid night.
Thousands of mourners thronged into the streets when Carlos’ body was returned to Guatemala; his soccer teammates carried him the final length of his journey. ProPublica reported that they “taped his royal blue No. 9 soccer jersey to the top of his casket as they laid it to rest.” The Guatemalan government has called for a full investigation into Carlos’ death, but it seems unlikely that they will find compliance from an administration that talks about cruelty toward migrants as if it were a sign of valor.
However, the facts are damningly clear: He saw a nurse practitioner, complaining of a fever. The nurse determined he had the flu, and should be immediately taken to an emergency room if his symptoms persisted. Instead, CBP agents quarantined him in a cell and ignored him until he died. He is at least the seventh child to die in CBP custody this year.
There is absolutely no reason that Carlos, or any other child, should be jailed in a detention facility. Indeed, the fact that he was held for more than a week violates international law. Moreover, we have ample resources to care for sick people. Carlos should have received emergency medical care the moment he presented with the flu and a 103-degree fever. Instead, agents chose to move him from the McAllen detention where he was diagnosed to a quarantine cell in Wesalco. They left him there to die.
These choices are not coincidental. They are the logical consequences of a cruel and inhumane system orchestrated by Stephen Miller, the white supremacist who President Trump directed to turn venomous rhetoric into violent policy. Throughout this presidency, the administration has spoken and treated migrants as if they were a menacing evil, instead of people created in God’s image. No one should be shocked when this sinful worldview takes another life. They have shown, time and again, that they simply don’t care.
The situation seemed hopeless. Their husbands, both dead. Famine ravaged the land, leaving even the fortunate struggling to survive. What chance did two widows have? Still, they embraced; they had each other. A tear rolled down Ruth’s cheek, but she wiped it away with firm resolve. She turned to Naomi and said, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay … Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” Together, they set out for Judah.
Too often, we discuss immigration as if migrants were objects, not subjects in their own journey. Individual stories disappear into the rhetoric of “tens of thousands,” retreating into statistics’ deadening numb. Lost, too, is the depth of migrants’ faith; the courage to sojourn as a stranger in unknown lands, fueled by longing for a loving future. I wonder what Carlos dreamed of becoming: A musician? A doctor? A writer? Possibilities swirl, but the only certainty is that my country stole those dreams. We killed Carlos for the audacity of hoping.
The other thing that’s certain is that more children like Carlos leave each day, praying to find safety and promise in the country that ravaged and destabilized their own. But migration is not new; their stories echo dozens throughout the Bible. There are many variations, but the theme remains the same: God moves with migrants, yearns for their safety, nurses their wounds and stokes their dreams. And God gives powerful nations a choice: Will we welcome Christ into our midst or be destroyed?