A Prayer for Family Values

I think I was probably happy when I got my driver’s license... that symbol of adulthood and a small piece of plastic that meant I had the freedom to drive a car to the ends of the earth. 

I imagine it was a good feeling. 

But when I tore open the suspiciously non-descript envelope and held my husband’s green card in my hand, I felt happiness that comes from waiting a long time for something and a peace that passes all understanding... this journey was finally over. 

The fears of a young wife whose husband drives company construction trucks without a valid driver’s license. The decisions to stay home from late nighttime activities to avoid higher police presence on the streets. The silent, but ever-present thoughts of “What if he gets deported? What will my lifetime in Guatemala look like?” The awkward conversations with others where you try to gauge how much you can say. 

It was done. 

The US Government had decided that our marriage was not an immigration fraud based on a five-minute interview, stacks of papers and thousands of dollars. This was a small piece of plastic that truly symbolized freedom.

“Let’s go to Mexico!” were Billy’s first words. Because, of course, what would the Quezadas do their first day with legal permanent residence, but flee the country? He got home from work at 7... We were on the road to San Diego by 9.

Saturday morning, we saw signs in Spanish, so we realized we must have crossed the border. Completely by accident, we stumbled upon “Friendship Park” – the beach area by the US/Mexico border. I took my students here each semester when we studied immigration as powerful visual image of this true physical barrier between our nations. 

We approached a circular seating area where several men, apparently alone, sat quietly. This was the place where I once witnessed men sneaking under the fence and walking towards San Diego. Perhaps that’s why folks were here now? I eyed the Border Patrol trucks resting on the other side.

As if a silent signal had been issued, everyone stood and walked towards the fence, further up from the ocean. Men, and now some women, hung on the diamond shaped cutouts in the wire fence, staring at the US. What was happening? I naturally followed the crowd and saw through the holes a parking lot. Car doors were slamming and men, women, and children were walking towards the fence.

A Mexican woman with long, blonde hair near to us stationed a camp chair next to fence, opened it up, and sat down comfortably. Soon, a man on the US side did the same. She opened up a thermos and squeezed to him a small cup of coffee. They sat back and chatted. A large family on the US side exclaimed with glee as they grasped at the figures of toddlers through the small holes.

I gasped and looked at Billy, moving closer to the fence myself. “They’re visiting family,” I barely whispered. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The border patrol idled in the background. “If they’re so close to border patrol, they can’t be undocumented,” I rattled off to my husband. “So why don’t they just come over?”

“I don’t know,” he replied solemnly, unable to break gaze with the families.

A man walked behind the blonde woman in her chair. He stopped quickly when he recognized her companion. “Hey, amigo!” he shouted happily. From my vantage-point, all I could see was an arm from the US side jet out towards Mexico in what I can only assume was a gap in the fence. The man on the Mexico side grabbed his hand and chattered in Spanish.

“Oh wow,” Billy sighed and turned away. Unstoppable tears streamed down my cheeks. I felt small sobs escaping from my throat. Billy pushed me towards the car. This was a sacred time for families. We felt so intrusive, and the questions I wanted to ask would only be rude, even if I could ask in Spanish.

We pulled out of the parking space just as another vehicle pulled in. Three white men hopped out, grabbing serious video and audio equipment... We pulled back into our parking space.

Cameras rolling, they held the microphone in front of the man from the large family. He was dressed in a dark suit and stood straight as he spoke. I listened carefully, and my mediocre Spanish (along with Billy’s help) heard the man saying, “This is my brother, and I have not seen him in five years. This is my first time meeting my nephews. We have brought food to celebrate and eat, but…” he gestured towards the fence. “There is no place big enough to pass it.”

A videographer was standing back from the interviews, and I approached him eagerly. He explained that they were German documentary-makers, and that they currently reside in Mexico City and are doing work surrounding the US/Mexico border issue.

He pointed at the blonde woman. “That woman and her husband meet here every Saturday. She can’t join him because she can’t get papers.”

I grabbed Billy’s hand. A husband and a wife. One who cannot get papers legally. Their lives separated by a giant fence – in some places two fences, and now the US is building a third. Razor wire, watchtowers with night vision, expanses of desert separate this couple that shares a bond and commitment which creates just one person. My heart aches.

“Why doesn’t he just come over and visit?” I ask, again referencing the Border Patrol’s clear presence in this scene. “Good question.” The German man walks forward and asks the couple the question I cannot bear to pose. He returns with the information that the man is indeed undocumented. Crossing into Mexico would mean a perilous journey to return. We gasp. Billy and another on-looker who listened in to our conversation comment on his courage, his risk. When Billy didn’t have papers, we would never venture any further south than LA. Never would we have set up chairs by the border!

I watched the couple and thought to myself, “I just wouldn’t do it.” If we were in that situation, I’d just leave the US and live in Mexico, or in our case, Guatemala. But then I notice, the small blonde boy sitting in a miniature camp chair next to his mother. I imagine that husband misses his wife as much as I would miss my husband, but I suspect the money he sends back is raising that child. If he could do it in Mexico, I imagine that he would.

The documentary-maker tells me that the film he’s making will be viewed in Mexico and in Germany, but never in the United States. He looks at us, “For us,” he says, “this is the Berlin wall. The difference is that there, we were clear enemies. Here, the United States and Mexico have free trade, and they are said to be allies, to have a friendly relationship.” That statement hangs in the air as more families arrive on both the US and the Mexican side and families settle in for the day.

This experience has stoked a fire burning already in me over this issue of immigration. 

Though my personal family situation is completed and resolved, such a timely experience only reminds me that I must fight for those couples and families that don’t have the access to legalization that we had. The passion that I see developing in the church for these families is inspiring, and the work that many are doing and have done is important. 

And I keep praying that the Church as a whole, continues to participate prayerfully and powerfully as our nation struggles through this paramount issue.

If you are interested in reading more about our immigration journey, you can start here to read How My Husband Came to the States or start at the very beginning of our immigration love story here.  
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.