This is the season of Advent in the Christian faith. It’s a time of waiting for a birth. It’s like that last month of pregnancy when the mother is ready to relinquish her heavy weight and father grows more anxious. It’s a time of preparation. It’s like when mother begins serious worry about covers and clothes and father wants a room for the newborn baby.
When I was growing up we would set out a creche at the beginning of Advent. It was a reminder of what we were awaiting. All of the usual characters were present from shepherds and magi to sheep and camels and lowing cattle. They all surrounded the baby Jesus, his mother and father, with angels in the background.
One Christmas in Santiago, Chile, I saw a life size creche with several new characters, including a wood cutter laden with a heavy load of wood and several other peasant laborers. It stretched my conception of to whom the child brought good news. It reminded me of the Mexican poor who told me how they identified with the child born in a manger, as there was no room for him in the inn. All of their children were born in similar circumstances.
This year I’ve seen far too many artist’s renderings of Mary, Joseph and the baby as migrants. They are pictured lying in alleyways and approaching fences and walls. They are always pictured alone, with no angels or stars. It seems there’s no room for them anywhere.
There was a report on the news last evening about the 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who died in the custody of ICE of dehydration and exhaustion.
She was part of a large group that crossed the border illegally and turned themselves in to authorities after spending days, hungry and thirsty, crossing the desert. It’s not known at this point whether she received any food or water after being held in custody. What’s known is she began having seizures eight hours after being detained and died in the hospital some 24 hours later. Her death wasn’t revealed for a week.
Then there was a video of two teenage girls on top of one of those 21-foot-high fences and jumping onto U’S. soil. The first ended up in a heap and crawled away from the fence with several broken vertebrae. The second broke an ankle. Apparently it takes all of 18 seconds for the able to climb to the top.
Scott Warren is a Geography professor at Arizona State University. In his spare time he works with No More Deaths providing food and water in the desert for those migrants who may be in need. He was arrested and charged with a felony for “harboring” immigrants. He faces a potential five years in prison. The border patrol works hard to undo the aid these volunteers provide, dumping out the water jugs and destroying the food. One of those criminal U.S. citizens wrote recently about the 14-year-old girl he found dead in the desert. It’s not unusual. Human remains are part of the landscape.
The numbers of immigrants at our southern border are going up, not down. It’s true in other places as well, as war and violence, economic hardship and climate change, force more and more people from their homes. We’re told that 13,000 people have lost their lives crossing the Mediterranean in the last four years. And yet they keep coming, even as European attitudes and hearts harden and borders are closed.
Could we begin to recognize why people are fleeing their homes? Could we stop our own government from helping topple other governments, like in Honduras, and exploiting poorer countries, like in Mexico? Could we withdraw our support for warring factions in Syria and Yemen and cooperate with the global community in realistically addressing climate change? Couldn’t we mitigate migration with some thoughtful and cooperative policies instead of wasting billions on weapons and walls?
There is one thing we could do, right here, in Brookings, S.D.There are thousands of unaccompanied, immigrant children being held in detention centers. They await qualified sponsors. We are a community recognized for welcoming diversity. What if the Brookings community, as a city, were to apply to sponsor six of those children.
They could be placed in homes with community volunteers but would be the responsibility of the city as sponsor. Perhaps that would encourage other communities to be “someplace special” and do the same thing.
These children deserve something more than the militarized life of a detention center, having endured such hardships in seeking a better life. They are waiting for a birth too, a rebirth of compassion and generosity on our part. There are also those waiting to respond, who have heard the voices of the abused and broken. Their hearts are soft and arms are open. There is room in their inn! Let them come!