How Can I Forget Those Frightened Faces

Families torn apart by a broken immigration system

8/13/2014, 1:05 p.m.
Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo speaks on immigration, " As a religious leader, I am deeply saddened by the family separations ...
Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo

I can’t get them out of my mind. Even when I’m not watching the news, I still see those frightened faces of children with tears streaming down their cheeks. How can I forget? Their skin and their eyes are the same color as mine. We speak the same language and share a common understanding of family.

We know family that extends far beyond a mom and dad, or a sister and brother. We know family to be grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and some who live near-by who may not even related by blood. Even if our skin and eyes did not match, I still consider these children my family.

These past few weeks have presented but a glimpse at the cruel truth that we must take personally. Families are being torn apart by our broken immigration system. I have to take it personally because just like most of you, I am an immigrant.

You see my grandfather, many generations removed, was born in 1601 in the New Mexico Territory. Yes, before the Plymouth Rock landing. Yes before 1776. It was further back than many American History books account for. It was more than 400 years ago when the land inhabited by our Native American ancestors, was part of Mexico before being claimed by the United States.

The truth is that my grandparents and many of my family did not cross the border. The border crossed us. Even with my family’s history on this land, like most of you, I am an immigrant.

I am proud to claim my ancestry and refuse to be accused of being a problem to American society. Mass deportations have not created public safety. On the contrary, they have created terror and fear of law enforcement officials.

When local police are forced to serve as immigration authorities, people are afraid to report crime, more people are victimized, and public safety is sacrificed. As families are torn apart, neighborhoods suffer.

The separation of families must stop. Every day that the Administration and Congress delay, another 1,100 aspiring Americans are deported.

As a person of faith, I am outraged that record levels of deportations continue. As a religious leader, I am deeply saddened by the family separations that deportations create across our country. I respect the law of the land; however, I respond to a higher moral law. Our faith traditions must hold us to a greater calling where we put God’s law to love our neighbor above and beyond any unjust human law.

For these reasons, I stood with my brothers and sisters on the grounds of the White House and was arrested, to call on President Obama to stop the deportations that are breaking our families apart.

Most Americans acknowledge that our immigration system is broken and over 70 percent of us agree that the unaccompanied minor children should be treated as refugees. Our elected leaders must stop deporting kids, moms, dads, grandparents, workers, and the members of our congregations. It defies human dignity and denies our rich history as a nation of immigrants.

President Obama and Congress not only have the authority to fix this problem now, they have the moral obligation to do so. They must take it personally, because like us, most of them are immigrants, too.

The Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo is executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries for the United Church of Christ.