Two years ago, my 5-year-old foster daughter, Julia, and her biological mother, Lupe, were reunited in their home country of Honduras after they were separated by the border. It had been a long, hard fight to get them back together: we collaborated with social workers, translated between them and the Consulate workers, and kept Lupe up to date with any movement—and lack of movement—happening with Julia’s case.
My family never doubted that this was a moral fight, but when mother and daughter finally embraced after eight months apart, I realized the fight was also mutual.
Sheltered by my privilege, I didn’t know what I couldn’t see. Immigration issues entered my consciousness and my home the minute Julia and I locked eyes. That experience makes it impossible for me to look away now. Once we see injustice, we cannot unsee it.
Julia was neglected by her sponsorship family after she was processed through the Office of Refugee Resettlement. That neglect happened in the county I lived in. So when Julia, who spoke no English, was taken into custody by Child Protective Services, she stayed with my family—the only foster family in the county with two fluent Spanish speakers. After four months, my husband and I flew to Honduras with Julia to reunite her with her mother and brothers.
When Julia first came into our home in February of 2018, I could barely believe her story: how she traveled through Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, often in the back of crowded, dark, and smelly tractor trailer manned by smugglers with weapons and drugs, how she was separated from her mother who was taken hostage by the smugglers, and how she was then separated from her stepdad from Customs and Border Protection. About two months after Julia was living with my family, I read Attorney General Jeff Sessions Memorandum for Federal Prosecutors Along the Southern Border. I immediately dropped to the floor, wailing. This was not just Julia’s story. There were more. By the time the policy was court-ordered to end in June 2018, we knew of nearly 2,000 children that had been separated. By January 2019, we knew that 2,737 children had been separatedforcibly from their parents.
Two years ago, President Trump signed an executive order that should have put an end to family separation at the border. Reports show the policy began in June 2017 and continued until June 20, 2018, after pressure from the American people, many of them “church people” as Sessions said, and a federal judge’s injunction—the administration was pushed to stop the forced separations. Even so, reports show that even more children were forcibly separated from their families after June 20.
Two years feels like a lifetime ago to so many of us. But what many of the American people were enraged over then—what the UN called “government-sanctioned child abuse”—is back. Family separation is happening at the border, again. Additionally, hundreds of unaccompanied minors are being turned away at the border without safety protocols in place, which raises their likelihood of being trafficked, abused, or killed in Mexico.
Two years ago Stephon Clark was killed in his grandparents’ backyard after police mistook his cell phone for a gun. I’m wailing over the names of all the Black women and men who have died at the hands of police brutality—most recently George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—and I’m wailing over the unaccompanied minors whose names we may never know who are currently dying due to sadistic policies. And I’m wailing because so often it takes videos of murder and videos of forced separations to wake us up to our Christian calling to fight for the right to life itself.
We will not look away. We cannot look away. History is repeating itself. And it’s up to us to demand that our government stops abusing Black and Brown lives—including children who often have no one to advocate for them. It’s up to us to change the course of history both within the church and within our society. It’s up to us to prove our pro-life stance is as robust as the gospel itself. That life, at any age, in any body, on any land holds inherent value, imprinted with God’s own likeness giving us reason to fight for it. It’s up to us to remember, like Brenda Salter McNiel says, that our theology informs our anthropology; and if our anthropology is wrong, our theology mustchange.
In Exodus 1, we hear the story of the Israelite midwives, Shiphrah and Puah. Pharaoh asked them to kill the boys that are birthed in their presence. But the women refuse. “Now the two midwives respected God so they didn’t obey the Egyptian king’s order” (v. 17).
Two years ago, 3,000 Christian women joined the fight against forced family separation in solidarity with women at the border. We are here again. We are here, following from a long line of Christian women throughout time and history who have stood in between vulnerable children and those who intended to harm them. We add our voices and our actions to those of Shiphrah and Puah. Like them, we don’t accept the laws of the land. We will not abide by those laws, and we will not look away from the harm being inflicted on children who deserve to stay with their families and who deserve safety. Because like Shiphrah and Puah, we know that children don’t have to come from our womb to beourchildren.
We are family. Family sticks together. We mourn when each other mourns. We laugh when each other laughs. We fight for human rights for the very sake of each other. We fight for each other’s children because we see ourselves as connected.
Julia was not my child. But Julia is my child. Her mother has become like a sister to me, and I see Julia and her brothers as my niece and nephews. We don’t have to believe in the same atonement theory to do so, we simply have to believe that we are family. And what was not, suddenly is breathed into existence. Sister and brother are not cute, churchy ways of addressing each other. No they become ingrained in the very fibers of our family trees. When I call you brother, I mean I will fight for your right to life as if you were my brother. When you call me sister, stand up for my human rights. This is what Shiphrah and Puah did, and then it was Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter, then Deborah, Esther, Mary, Junia, and so many more. It was their weight of glory, the love they were known for.
Now it’s our turn. Will you join in the chorus of our ancestor warriors? Two years from now, we must not look back and say: nothing has changed.
Join with us by keeping up with the hashtags #DontLookAway #ForEveryChild and #FamiliesBelongTogether, as well as following @genaLthomas and @MarlenaGraves for daily actions.