I will never forget the first time I saw a dead baby. She was like a baby doll ready to be picked up by a child to play. She was beautiful. I was extremely nervous as I entered the room with my pastor, I was a fairly new seminarian. The pastor had received a call through the emergency number and we rushed to the hospital in rural Georgia. After he blessed the sleeping child with holy water and offered a prayer, a relative began to recount what had happened. The mother of the child was eight months pregnant when she walked for days across the unforgivable desert on her way to “El Norte.” It had been an extremely difficult journey. Soon after arriving to Georgia, just days before her delivery date, the baby emerged lifeless. Some may callously blame the mother for the death of the child, but I saw a desperate mother yearning for a better future for her baby – a mother faced with such hopelessness and despair in her living conditions that the only solution was crossing the desert towards the United States. That morning I saw with my very own eyes, for the very first time, the cost of immigration. To be more precise, I witnessed the cost of an ineffective and broken immigration system such as ours in the United States.
As a priest I have blessed and buried a number of babies. A handful of times I have prayed alone in a hospital side room with the child laying on an aluminum tray. Regardless of the circumstances, the death of a newborn is always painful. There is nothing more heartbreaking than the sight of a mother holding her lifeless newborn. Despite all these later experiences, I will never forget the sight of that peaceful little angel I saw in the hospital in 2005. I remember her, waiting for her eyes to open, but knowing it would never happen. The image is ingrained into my memory, and when I remember her, I know there is a better way for our country to handle immigration.The humanity of immigration has been lost to endless political debates where nobody, regardless of political affiliation, is able to deliver effective reform that respects the dignity of every human person and the rights endowed to him or her by God.
Today I read that a toddler died from complications that arose during her time in an immigration detention facility. Today I read that a seven-year old girl died in custody from dehydration and shock. The cost of our failed immigration system continues to be the lives of children.
I find it sad that I need to emphasize that my comments expressed here are nonpartisan and apolitical. I write from the heart of a Church that upholds the dignity of every human person and that speaks up for the voiceless. What we need is authentic immigration reform that reflects the needs of our country, and not endless political rhetoric filled with fear and misinformation.
Individuals are suffering. Individuals are dying. And the endless debate continues. And nothing is done.
Picture by Deacon Dennis Kelly, used with permission.