It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I visited Francesca in the detention center where she had been for almost a year. Her mother died at an early age and her father abandoned her and her siblings when he remarried. So she has grown up essentially an orphan, responsible for her younger siblings. And now she is isolated even from them – alone in a detention center full of other people who fled violence and poverty.
Her one request for Christmas was that I send her a picture of me with my family in the midst of our celebrations. I did not realize how important that photo of us in front of our tree would mean to her.
“I felt like it was my family,” she said as she thanked me, “I know I don’t know your parents, but I felt connected to them, as if I were their daughter.”
I was overwhelmed by her response and the special circumstances of that Christmas season. Unbeknownst to Francesca, only a few weeks before Christmas, my mom had been touched by hearing about the situation of college youth who have aged out of the foster system and don’t have a family to go home to on break. She was able to invite some students through a friend at a local university, but they already had other plans to travel during break. Yet when I talked with Francesca about the picture, I realized that in a special and miraculous way, my mom’s invitation had echoed in her detention cell.
And Francesca was right in her bold proclamation: she is a part of my family. Through our shared faith she is my sister and through the miracle of God’s love she has a father who cares for her more deeply than her biological father ever would or could.
When we discuss immigration in our society, our concern for biological family is almost instinctive and the focus on family well-being is critical. That is what makes recent actions to stop the deportation of parents from their children so important and makes family detention centers so troubling.
As Christians, a special concern for other biological families is indispensable. But it is not enough. We must see beyond and be moved by our spiritual family. We at once understand the urgent need to defend families threatened by violence and deportation. But at the same time we must open our eyes and realize that it is our family that is migrating, our family in detention, our family being deported. People on the move that we interact with on a daily basis or hear about on the news are our brothers and sisters.
Family is a demanding reality. We are meant to seek the best for our family. We are meant to love radically.
Joanna Foote has been accompanying her migrant brothers and sisters in many places in the past several years: across Mexico, in the DC area, and on the US/Mexico border. This past year, after graduating from Georgetown University, she spent a year in Mexico with a Fulbright grant to research the reintegration of deported and return migrants. She now works in immigrant rights in Tucson, Arizona and with her free time visits detained immigrants and welcomes in immigrants recently released from detention. Her thoughts on migration, Mexico, and faith can be found on her blog: fromlafrontera.wordpress.com.
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