I have typed and re-typed this blog post over and over the past two and a half months. I came into this year of service knowing that my heart would be transformed, but I had no idea that would include it being broken and scattered to pieces. It is incredibly difficult for me to squeeze the happenings of the past few weeks into a decently written blog post, but I am finally ready to share with my friends, families, and support system what is on my heart.
The last I wrote, I was starting to get the hang of my work at Casa Marianella. Shortly after I published my last post, I took on the new job of being a case manager to three young men. One from Eritrea, one from Somalia, and one from Cameroon. I quickly grew to love each of them for their unique personalities, hilarious musings, and especially for their quick respect and trust in me – a stranger in this new and strange country.
The Eritrean, who I will refer to as Jon for privacy reasons, was my first. His case was a difficult one: he had been in detention for nearly two years, but was ordered deported. Long, complicated story made short, the US couldn’t deport him in a timely manner due to lack of documents, so he was released from detention on bond without any status. He arrived at Casa with the shirt on his back, a backpack with his documents, and an ankle monitor. Although our lawyer warned me that his case was one of the worst that they had seen, I quickly got attached and was determined to get him acquainted to the American lifestyle. So, it came as a complete and devastating shock when we got a call that Jon had been arrested at one of his ICE check ins. The government had given him a month and a half of “freedom,” only to re-detain him after his demeanor and hopes had finally lifted.
This news deeply discouraged me; we all work so hard at Casa, and seeing one of our friends being taken back to one of the darkest places he has known made me wonder if it was all worth it.
Not long after this heartbreak, my YAV roommates and I took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border to work alongside Frontera de Cristo, a border ministry organization in the border towns of Douglas, AZ and Agua Prieta, Sonora. I was in no way prepared for the onslaught of painful experiences we were a witness to. We were presented with a perspective of migration that so few people in our privileged nation are exposed to.
The most painful for me was having dinner across the table from a pregnant mother and her thirteen-year-old daughter from Honduras. At the time, they were staying in a migrant shelter in Agua Prieta called C.A.M.E. As I conversed with them in my broken Spanish, they shared their hopes of presenting themselves at the port of entry the following morning so they could request asylum. As they excitedly discussed their plans of taking a bus to Georgia to see their family, I thought to myself with sadness that in reality, their destination was going to be a detention facility.
The next evening as my group crossed from Mexico to the U.S. for a prayer vigil, the mother and her daughter were still sitting on the curb on Mexico’s side. The U.S. border officials were not allowing them to even step foot on U.S. soil, because it is illegal to turn away someone seeking asylum . . . if it is on American soil. Later that evening, we brought the mother and her daughter some food, water, coats, and blankets to stay warm. They waited until 4 am that morning. They waited nearly twenty-four hours to be allowed to request asylum. There was no line.
These experiences, along with the difficulties of intentional community and relationship maintenance have made for the most challenging months of my life thus far. Although I have spent the past two months dwelling on the inequities our administration and systems directly and indirectly place on the lives of the vulnerable, I am finally catching my stride. Jon being re-detained now encourages me to cherish the time I spend with my residents and casees that much more. My experiences in Mexico and Arizona have shifted my perspective on which type of ministry I hope to pursue. The heartache I experience from broken relationships of the past push me to appreciate and fall deeper into the friendships I still hold, and to work to strengthen the new bonds I am creating here in my community.
My heart has been broken, but it is on the mend and is beating stronger than ever before.