The Pain of Separation

As a parent, and a widow, I know how painful it is to be separated from those I love. Maybe you know this pain, too. A child off to college, or even summer camp, can cause that lonely feeling to creep in. Even though we hold those we love in our hearts, we miss their physical presence. And we can barely wait until we see them again.

But what about when you don’t know when you’re going to see your child again?

What about when you have to choose between staying together as a family and going off to a job that means living apart? When that choice means whether or not you can provide food and basic necessities for your loved ones, it doesn’t seem like much of a choice, does it?

And sometimes there is no choice at all. When an undocumented immigrant is deported (or relocated, or whatever the nicer-sounding word is that’s used these days), it can happen unannounced and unexpectedly, with no time to say goodbye.

On Saturday I spoke with Sr. Fran—the nun with whom I’ll be staying while serving on the border next year. We tossed around ideas of how and where I might best be of service. Because my Spanish is limited and my heart filled with compassion for the little ones, her suggestion that I could work with the children in the detention facilities especially attracted me.

These are children apprehended at the border. Some are accompanied by their parents. Some are not. Either way, whether they come with their parents or not, they will be separated from their family for a while. There are no detention facilities that allow families to stay together.

Unaccompanied youth, some as young as 2-years old, get sent to a detention facility or transitional foster care center as they await their plight. Their parents, who came to the U.S. months or even years earlier to seek work, have paid guides or “coyotes” $2,000 to $3,000 to bring their children across the border. They did this because they realize they can’t go back home. And they miss their children. It’s a risky situation, to say the least. But so is going back home where either there is no work, or they are barely surviving. For some, living in their country is too dangerous. I’ll say more about this in future blogs.

For now, I simply want to acknowledge that the separation of families is one of the most painful realities of immigration. Thanks to my experience on the border, I am being shown the harsh reality of why some parents have to make that choice.  Or have it made for them.

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