Each year, I offer my Father’s Day greetings with photos and stories and life lessons from my father. This Father’s Day is different because I met a man who taught me about a father’s love in a way I’d never before considered.
In April of this year I took my first vacation in 7 years. My boss insisted I take some time off and though he’s long been a U.S. citizen, he was born and raised in Mexico, maintains a home there and generously offered it to me and my sister. This isn’t a tourist destination one would normally think of when going on holiday in Mexico – it’s in a subtropical jungle in the small village where his extended family still resides and it is simply a magical place that stole my heart. Now getting there is an adventure all on its own and it’s not a place where a pasty-faced white woman should be driving alone. As such, a young man from his village was hired to meet us at the border to make the challenging 8-9 hour drive and he got us there safely.
Funny thing about being locked up in a car with a perfect stranger, you get to know them and slowly their life unfolds before you. Once I reached their village, I understood his story. Manuel is a quiet and thoughtful man and getting him to talk took some time. This is a man who lives with a deep pain from which he can’t escape. This is his story, not mine.
This village is about 30 miles away from the nearest town where one can find any sort of substantive work. A very good job for a skilled worker will net them somewhere around $75 a week. Few people have automobiles so getting to work is a matter of walking some distance to a place where a pickup truck with racks will come, the workers will climb in the back and they will be taken to ‘town’. I saw many of these trucks packed with workers where it was 30 miles of standing room only as they hung on to the racks so they could spend the day toiling at whatever work they can find. At the end of the day, they meet up with their ride to make the 30 mile standing room only trek home where they walk the rest of the way to get back to their families. These are not lazy people. You see the faces of these men and women, so worn by simply trying to exist and they do it all without complaint. This is their life. Some of their homes are merely 3 walls a “roof” and dirt floors. Some don’t have electricity. They don’t really know a different life but they are deeply aware that 8 hours and a border separate them from a better life much like the one you live if you have access to reading this. Most live on less than $4,000 a year. As you can imagine, the U.S. border is akin to an industrial magnet for these people. Just a few years here can transform the lives of their entire family forever.
This was what made Manuel make the perilous journey across the desert to break the law and come to the United States some years ago. He met an American woman, made a home with her and had 3 children, but things became difficult. Manuel worked hard, provided a good home for his American family and his partner did not work. She also developed a drug habit and was not caring for their children. He found himself working from sun up to sundown, coming home to clean the house and care for the children and when he’d open the cupboards to make dinner, he’d find the food he purchased for his children was gone because she had been hosting her drug friends at the house as he worked the day away to be a good provider. Because he dared to challenge her and demand she straighten up for the sake of their children, a series of incidents ended up with him being turned into immigration authorities and he was summarily deported and told he had no chance to legally return to the United States for 20 years. The deportation process he described was disgusting but that’s a story for another time. Aside from crossing the border illegally, Manuel never broke the law while here. He paid state and federal taxes and paid into Social Security and our Medicare funds knowing he would never benefit from those programs and he did that willingly. He lived within the law. He was clean and sober and was not a domestic abuser. The day he was taken into custody was the last time he ever saw his children. That was 6 years ago.
For 6 years he has done everything in his power to find his children. He learned that his former partner’s behavior resulted in his children becoming wards of the state. Because Manuel is bi-lingual and skilled, he makes a better than average living than others who live in Mexico. He wants his children with him. They are entitled to enjoy dual citizenship and he can provide them a comparatively good life in Mexico. He weeps openly when he speaks of them. They have a large extended family that wants them and loves them and misses them. As he talks about his “babies”, the pain is palpable. I pretended to study the landscape out the car window as hot tears rolled down my cheeks. Some people are able to turn a blind eye to stories like this. I don’t have a blind eye.
On day eight of my ten-day stay, Manuel, who tries hard to stay cheerful and live his life, seemed particularly withdrawn. Not wishing to pry, I asked nothing. Long after dark, as we sat under the moonlight on the veranda, he quietly passed his cell phone to me. On it was a photo of three children, smiling and standing in front of two broadly grinning adults. I didn’t understand. Finally, through sobs, he explained that was an adoption photo a friend from the States had posted on Facebook. His babies had been adopted by an American couple, never knowing they have a father who loves them and wants them with him. All of his hopes of finding them and getting them had been killed with a single photo. It was as if he had never existed in their lives. He would never know where they were. He would never know their new names. His babies, never far from his immediate thoughts were lost to him forever. He is a broken man.
At this moment, those living through the horrors of the abject poverty and gang violence in Mexico and Central America are presenting themselves to border authorities seeking asylum because they live in imminent danger of losing their lives and the lives of their children. The current Administration has decided to ignore the traditional policy of granting these human beings asylum hearings. They are being immediately arrested and thrown into prisons, their children being ripped from them, including nursing babies literally being ripped from the breasts of their mothers. We are speaking of thousands of children who are now in the custody of this country. Authorities can’t or won’t tell us how many children. The Department of Health and Human Services can’t tell us where these children are. Hundreds are unaccounted for. This week we listened to the Attorney General use scripture to justify this policy. We’ve listened to Trump lie and blame Democrats for this atrocity even though his own party control the White House and both the House and Senate and could put a stop to this instantly. This policy has been renounced by the United Nations and the eyes of the world are upon us. This Administration is building Joe Arpaio-like tent cities in the desert where children are being held in temperatures of over 100 degrees because this country is not equipped to take in the volume of children they’re illegally taking from their parents. These are exactly like the Maricopa County prisons of Joe Arpaio without the pink underwear and striped prison garb. The “President” claims Democrats can stop this by fully funding his Great Wall of Bigotry and Xenophobia. He’s holding children hostage in concentration camps and has issued his ransom note to the Democrats.
I woke up this morning thinking of Manuel on this Father’s Day. What kind of Father’s Day is he having? I think of the asylum-seeking fathers whose children are in concentration camps and I know what kind of Father’s Day they’re having. Donald Trump and his criminal enterprise that include his children are no doubt having a fine Father’s Day and that speaks to their lack of a moral center or a soul.
Regardless of your view of illegal immigration, can we all agree that these children are being irreparably harmed? Here are a few Biblical quotes for you:
“When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God”
Exodus 22: 21 – “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
Deuteronomy 10:17-18 – “The Lord your God is the God of all gods and Lord of all lords, the great, mighty, and awesome God who doesn’t play favorites and doesn’t take bribes. He enacts justice for orphans and widows, and he loves immigrants, giving them food and clothing.”
Hebrews 13:2 – “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
As wrongfully imprisoned refugees weep for their children, as a man in a Mexican village weeps for the children he’ll never again see, as children held in concentration camps weep for their mothers and fathers.
We have the power to stop this. This coming November, we have an opportunity to find our souls and to once again make this a nation of which we can be proud. Help America to find its way back from the abyss. Vote to restore this nation’s moral center.
Daddy, you left us more than 45 years ago. I know this would have made you proud.
Happy Father’s Day. #RESIST
In loving memory of Edgar Rollock, a good Christian man who loved this Atheist because as he often told me, “Whether you like it or not, you are more Christ-like than most Christians.” We miss you, my brother. Deepest condolences to his large loving family and thousands of friends.