Editor’s Note: Matthew provided an update on this story about six weeks after this blog was first posted that he calls “Frustration, Anger, Hope & Gratitude.”
Yesterday afternoon, after church, I went to jail.
Last Thursday, on the way to the pediatrician with his four-week-old son, one of my neighbors was pulled over by the sheriff. Apparently, the plastic license plate holder on his car was obstructing the view of his license plate, or at least that’s the reason that they cited for pulling him over. Once stopped, though, they found that my neighbor also was driving without a valid license, and they took him to jail. There, under the terms of the “Secure Communities” program, they ran his fingerprints and determined that he may be an undocumented immigrant.
I went with my neighbor’s wife and four of his six children—aged 15, 10, 8, 4, and their infant, who has spent half of his short life in the hospital with a serious infection—to try to visit their husband and father, but they were denied: his pastor and another relative had already visited this week, and he would not be allowed to have further visitors until next Sunday—if he is still here next Sunday. What often happens in these cases is that Immigration & Customs Enforcement officers will visit the county jail and transfer him to one of their facilities, where he might be released or he might be held for weeks or months pending a deportation hearing—while taxpayers pay either a county jail leasing space or a private “corrections corporation” an average of $122 per night to keep him away from his family.
While, in the midst of a financial crisis, it seems rather absurd to me that we’d spend so much money as a society to detain someone whose only offense—beyond his quotidian traffic violation—was being present and working to support his family unlawfully, I’m much more concerned at this point about his kids.
There are a lot of families in my neighborhood where kids grow up without fathers. Many were born out-of-wedlock to fathers who seemingly do not care enough to be active parts of their kids’ lives. A few have fathers who are imprisoned; others’ fathers died because of violence or disease in the poverty and conflict-torn countries from which they fled as refugees. I’ve seen the devastating personal impact on a young man or woman who grows up without his or her father—and the statistics suggest that fatherlessness carries with it enormous societal and economic costs: kids growing up without fathers are far more likely than those with two parents at home to live in poverty, to drop out of school, to commit suicide, and to become violent criminals.
It’s too soon to tell what will happen to my neighbors. Even if the father of that family is released temporarily as we hope, though, he’ll likely face a deportation hearing, where, though he’s been working in the US for ten years, has five U.S. citizen kids, and has never had any problems with the police beyond traffic offenses, he is very unlikely to be allowed to stay in the U.S. His family will need to decide whether they move together to a country where the educational prospects for their kids and the opportunity for work for the parents are dim, or if, as tends to happen in this case, they decide to let the kids grow up in the U.S., with a mother who loves them but without a father.
I wish that I had something hopeful to offer these young neighbors, in particular, but I’m not sure that there’s anything I can do to keep their father here with them. My solace is in the fact that my concern for them is dwarfed by the concern of their Heavenly Father. One of Scripture’s most oft-repeated refrains is of God’s special concern for the “alien, the fatherless and the widow” (Deut. 10:18, Deut. 14:29, Deut. 16:11, Deut. 26:12, Psalm 146:9, Jer. 7:6, Jer. 22:3, Ezek. 22:7), and these vulnerable kids are thus of concern to God on multiple counts. I can pray with and for these kids—and for all the fatherless in my community, whether as the result of paternal irresponsibility or unjust systems— reminding them that, whatever happens to their earthly father and as cruel as policies might seem, they have a Heavenly Father who promises, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you” (John 14:18).
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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