By Emily Guzman
Last Christmas I looked into the eyes of my son Logan and told him for the second year in a row that Daddy would not be coming home. Some people might think that would have made me hate God, but for me it is how my relationship with God began.
My husband Pedro and I met at a bus stop in 2000. He covered his watch and asked me the time in English; I answered in Spanish. It was love at first sight. We were together four years before we got married in 2004. In 2006, Logan was born. He completely changed our lives by bringing us closer, making us stronger and more confident. We loved spending time together as a family, hiking in the woods and going camping at the beach.
We were a loving and close family, but we never attended church. When religion came up, I told Pedro there were days when I thought God might exist and there were days when I didn’t. I believed that religion had done so many bad things in history–destroying cultures, killing people in the name of God, judging minorities—that we would do better to live without it. Pedro started to agree.
In 2009 my husband was handcuffed by immigration officers in front of our house, and our world fell apart. At first, I was naïve and believed they would release him quickly. After all, he was married to a US born citizen and we had a US born child together. We drove nine and a half hours to visit him at Stewart Detention Center, where we could only see him behind glass. Seeing him there, being treated like an animal, was heart wrenching. Even more painful for me was watching three year-old Logan trying to interact with his daddy, kissing and putting his hand on the glass in futile attempts at physical contact. After Pedro had been detained for a few months, I realized he was not getting out any time soon.
The nightmare felt endless. My energy was spent. I was crying myself to sleep, and I began to drink to numb the pain. The alcohol didn’t make things easier. I was emotionally and financially supporting Pedro, raising Logan on my own, taking care of two dogs and trying to keep up two full time jobs—one as a mental health therapist and another fighting for my husband’s freedom.
I began to ponder how other people survive horrific times in their lives. One day at work, I asked a friend where she attended church. She invited me, and I went. At first, I felt some culture shock, but the music was wonderful and the people were friendly. I began to listen to music about God and have conversations with my friend, but the change happened in church, singing, “I believe you’re my healer. I believe you are all I need. Nothing is impossible for you. You hold my world in your hands.” Tears were rolling down my cheeks. I felt peace wash over me.
How could I feel peace in such chaos? I began to learn more and more about God and meet people in and outside of church who did their best to actually live as Jesus taught–“love your neighbor as yourself” and “love the Lord your God with all your heart…” (Matthew 22.34-40). I began to realize that if people actually lived those words, immigrants would not be treated with disrespect and disregard for their human rights. Instead they would be treated as neighbors, brothers and sisters.
With the strength of my new faith and the support of my friends and family, I was able to continue to fight for my husband’s freedom. My new mantra was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). I began to speak out, to do interviews with the media, create blogs, attend rallies, write letters, and start petitions. We had numerous court dates and thousands of signatures on our petition. We won two appeals and spent thousands of dollars on lawyers and travel.
Then, on May 16, 2011, after 596 days of being detained, Pedro finally got his day in court. The judge agreed that Pedro had good moral character and strong ties to US citizens and the community. He granted Pedro asylum. The next day he was released and we were reunited. Our family embraced for the first time in a year and a half. We then knelt down and prayed.
Eight months later, after celebrating Christmas together, I think of the two Christmases our family spent apart. This year we were able to decorate our Christmas tree, praise God together, and appreciate every second we have. I look at our son and tear up when he says, “My favorite thing is to spend time with you and Daddy.” As I have my family back together, I think of all the families that continue to be ripped apart, as more immigrants are deported than any other time in history.
The climate for immigrants only gets worse with SB1070 in Arizona, HB87 in Georgia, and HB56 in Alabama. I pray that people here in the United States will begin to truly believe “when an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19.33-25).
Emily works as a licensed mental health therapist. Her husband Pedro, who was unjustly detained by immigration due to a paperwork error, is now a permanent resident. They live in Durham with their son Logan and their three dogs, Wilbur, Marley and Cisco. They are currently expecting a baby girl in March 2012. They continue to speak out about immigrant rights. For more information go to logansdad.org.