By Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank
When it comes to any topic, it’s important to know the facts and statistics. On immigration, there are important numbers not just to know but to wrap our hearts around.
Almost two million of our neighbors have been deported under the Obama administration. 39,000 immigrants are currently in detention. 1,100 people are deported daily.
I say it is a matter of the heart because for me, these are not just numbers, but people, and in my state of Arizona, I hear their stories regularly. We are the epicenter of this crisis. As a pastor, I meet them daily, and their stories are cruelly sad and heart-wrenching.
I’ll never forget one August when a pastor friend told me that tomorrow is the “Day of the Numbers.” I knew the next day was the beginning of the school year, but I didn’t know what he meant. When I questioned him for an explanation, he told me that parents send their children to school with a phone number in their backpacks, and important instructions. “My child, keep this number safe. If you ever come home and mom or dad are not here, call this number, and they will take care of you.” These little children know the realities of family members that disappear, and they live with that insecurity daily.
But among the sorrowful stories, I found a new element when I met Herminia this week: courage. She (along with Anselma, Jose, Lourdes, Jovana, and Maru) is on a hunger strike in front of the ICE office on Central Ave. Herminia is there because her 20-year-old daughter, Rosy, is in detention (as well as her husband and sister-in-law). She hopes her desperate measure will get noticed by those who could release her family.
Of course she is heart-broken. Herminia and her youngest child, Fatima, cry every day in the absence of their loved ones. But she is also determined.
On President’s Day, she told me about being arrested in civil disobedience at the White House alongside faith leaders calling on the President to act. When the police released her, she came straight to ICE to join the others in their hunger strike. I asked her today, on her 10th day of going without eating if she was hungry. “No,” she said, “I’m just wanting to see my family reunited.”
Herminia and the other fasters are still out there despite the hunger and despite the hardship. In the middle of the night this week, three of their supporters were arrested as a huge crowd of police officers swept down on the handful of volunteers, trying to scatter them, sometimes using excessive force. Really? I asked myself. We need to use force on peaceful protesters? When the city sends police instead of support to families fasting to stay together, we know we are not living as we should.
We have a common Judeo-Christian heritage of welcoming the immigrants among us. It comes out of the story that we were all once immigrants. Moses cried out for his people to be set free from the unbearable burden of slavery they suffered while immigrants in a strange land.
The immigrant story has meaning for me. My father and his family were immigrants to America, and like typical immigrant families, some siblings were born here and others were born there. But they all saw themselves as Americans. I am the daughter of an immigrant. I am the friend of immigrants. I am also heart-broken by the treatment we have received.
We have a broken immigration system. We need to fix it. But not on the backs of families who are living among us hoping and praying for a life in which they can feed their children and live without fear. I call out to the President and to our local police; to ICE, and to Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, I implore you to do your part in fixing the broken system and to “let my people go free.”
After I left my first visit to the hunger strike encampment, I thought of one more important number when it comes to deportations: zero. This is my dream number of acts of injustice, hatred, and cruelty towards our neighbors, who are also immigrants. Zero. Not one more.
Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank is Pastor of CrossRoads United Methodist Church and the author of several books. Check out the Desert Southwest Conference Reading List board on Pinterest to find these and other recommended books.