Faith, Love, Politics, and Social Justice

Taking Custody: A Good Friday Reflection on Immigrants

John 19 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

Jesus of Nazareth was not a Roman citizen. Like most others in his community, he did not have the rights of Roman citizens. You might say he was undocumented. He could not vote, hold office, or make legal contracts. More importantly, if he was found guilty of breaking Roman law, he could be punished in ways no citizen was ever subjected to. He could be beaten and tortured. Also, unlike a Roman citizen, he could be crucified. And he was.

Hanging on that cross, knowing he would soon die, his thoughts go to those he would leave behind, particularly his mother, Mary, who would be left with no one to care for her. So Jesus makes custody arrangements. He tells his mother “woman, here is your son.” And to John, “Here is your mother.” This is how Jesus’ community survived persecution, by taking custody of each other.

We also live in a two tiered system of laws, one for US citizens, another for non-citizens. Non-citizens do not have the same legal and rights as citizens, even less if they are undocumented. Unlike citizens, undocumented immigrants can be “detained” meaning imprisoned, for long periods of time for no other crime than trying to seek asylum from poverty, violence and war. Unlike citizens, they have to report to ICE as frequently as three times a week. Many have to wear ankle monitors. And, of course, unlike citizens, they can be deported.

Knowing they can be deported at any time, they must make custody arrangements for children they may never see again, through power of attorney or legal guardianship. Right this moment, across our country, many immigrants are saying to a relative or friend “if I am deported tomorrow, behold, this is your son, This is your daughter.” Then they are turning to their children and saying “my beloved child, if I am deported tomorrow behold, this is your mother. This is your father.” That is how their community survives. They take custody of each other.

So, my beloved Christian family, as mass deportations happen in our country, as families are torn apart, as people who have lived among us for decades are forcibly removed from what is often the only home they have ever known ? Will we look the other way, telling ourselves they are only “illegal aliens” or will we start to see them as God sees them? Will we hear God say to us “Behold, this your son. This is your daughter. This is your mother. This is your father.” Will we take custody?

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