"In heaven, will God ask for papers?"

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No Room at the Inn ... No Room in the country

A Christmas celebration featuring Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, Border Patrol, and a detained migrant.

Only in El Paso.

I had my first experience of celebrating the Posadas this past Christmas. Las Posadas is a commemoration of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus-in-the-womb's journey of finding a place to stay shortly before Jesus' birth.

I entered Cristo Rey (the church where we attended the posadas), expecting the same-old, same-old Christmas pageant-type performance that I was used to--cute little girls with crooked sparkly halos, voiceless shepherds who look so forlorn, and the typical proceeding of Mary and Joseph to the manger-side. Mind you, these were still elements included in the play (well, the shepherds showed a little bit of excitement for a change...), but before we cut right to the Star of the show, another story needed to be told.

I was delighted to see a few of my middle school kids up on the stage, taking roles in the play. But they were not dressed in robes or carrying staffs. Instead they were dressed in casual clothes, and sitting on a couch as though in their own living room. The scene began with a "typical" evening in the home of an El Pasoan family. The pre-teen and teenage kids were getting bored and bummed out that Mom and Dad are so busy all the time. They just want to go to church for Christmas!--is that too much to ask?! (Whatever teenager actually wants to go to church beats me.) As Mom tries to explain to them that they don't have the time, the scene cuts to the next scene, where Dad comes zooming in on a cart-made-car. Shortly behind him, though, is another "car" labeled "Police." He gets pulled over for speeding, but it doesn't take long for the policeman to recognize that this man does not have proper documentation, and with a quick phone call, we soon see the next "car" labeled "Border Patrol" zoom his way over.

Long story short, the man gets detained, his wife gets a phone call informing her of the news, and the family is worried that their father might not be able to spend Christmas with them, but perhaps more worried about the thought of being a separated family for who knows how long with the risk of him being deported.

But this story has a happy ending. The pastor of a friend's church helps the family find a lawyer, and the father is released from detention and allowed to spend Christmas with his family. Now, I wish I could say this story was entirely realistic. The parts including a simple traffic stop becoming a life-changing situation, a man being detained and separated from his family--those are the reality. Being let out of detention in time for Christmas, being able to spend the holidays worry-free--not so much reality.

I do not have much experience with detention centers, or even the process of deportation (my roommates handle those issues). But I have heard enough stories to know that it is NOT an easy process. I have friends, families I work with, neighbors, who live in constant fear. Parents won't send their kids to camp in fear of their child being stopped at a highway checkpoint. Parents won't sign their address on forms. Parents won't call the police to report abuse. All of these spur from the fear of "getting caught."

I don't care whether or not being "undocumented" is a crime... nobody should have to live in such fear.

I can't imagine how Mary and Joseph felt to be rejected as a guest at the inn, how difficult to make a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem must have been for Mary, a very expectant mother, or even the shame this unwed, pregnant teenager and her caring but confused Joseph must have experienced. But I can imagine those feelings of rejection, fear, and shame filling the lives and minds of the many people struggling to find a place to call "home," a place to be accepted--those crossing borders in search of a "better life." The reality of those we call "undocumented," "illegal," "alien" could be comparable to a wandering couple, looking for a safe place to deliver Hope.

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