Maria, 7, and Lupe, 3, are our next-door neighbors. For some reason, they have decided they like coming to our house. I'm not exactly sure why, we have nothing that I would consider appealing to a 3- and 7-year-old, but they come ... almost daily. Because of this, and our history with their family over the past few years, we have gotten to know their story quite intimately. Maria, Lupe, and their older brother, Jaun, were all born here to their American-citizen dad and their non-citizen, Mexican-born mom.
When their parents first married they sought to legalize the status of the new bride. It seemed like a no-brainer: If you marry an American citizen, you should get your papers. Unfortunately, this is not as true or as easy as it used to be. When the couple was first married, she was told to go back to her country in order to return legally. As she left the U.S., thinking she was doing everything right, her leave was incorrectly marked as a deportation, even though this was not what she was told. For those of you who know anything about immigration, you know that a deportation on your record makes it practically impossible to ever receive residency or citizenship. In order to be with her husband and ensure her future children would have opportunities as American citizens, she crossed the border and started their family.
Fast forward to today. After thousands of dollars spent on lawyers and years of struggling through the difficult choice of "follow the laws of the land," or be with one's children, the family has found themselves in a tough spot. Their mom has returned to Mexico to try and legalize her status once again, but was told she must "wait in line" for at least 10 years before she can legally return to the United States. Ten years. Her kids will be 13, 17, and 22 by that time.
The thought of a mother being away from her children for 10 years is unfathomable. As a friend, I personally can't imagine missing these children grow up, so thinking about what it must be like for their mom breaks my heart.
The kids often talk about their mom and how much they miss her. They don't really understand the complexity of the situation and often ask why their mother isn't here. These conversations have become especially heart-wrenching as the holiday season is upon us. In many ways, December 25 is just another day these children are separated from their mom; the normal sentiments of hope and joy are far fetched dreams for my young friends. The highlight of this Christmas won't be any presents they find underneath the tree, as there probably won't be too many of those. It will most likely be the phone conversation they have with the one person they long to hug and kiss.
After spending any amount of time with my little neighbors, I find myself with one of two responses: I will sit and cry wondering how many more significant days their mom will miss due to a broken set of laws, or I get on a soap box and begin preaching to the choir (my husband) about how injustice is alive and well ... and then I sit and cry. I feel so helpless; so hopeless. All I can do is love them like crazy while they are in our home, tell their story, and fight for reform.
Bethany Anderson is a Christ follower, wife, foster mom, activist, and neighbor. She is blessed to be all of these things in the context of her Christ community and a nonprofit organization, called Solidarity (www.solidarityrising.org). Bethany dreams of loving kids who are hurting, traveling to every corner of the world, the church actually being the church, and seeing people truly fall in love with Jesus Christ. She is passionate about soccer, youth, family, food, the ocean, and justice for her neighbors.