When I was four years old, I crossed the U.S.-Mexico border without documentation. The “coyote,” a man who helps immigrants cross the border, told my mom that if she paid him a little more, he could cross me over using his U.S.-born citizen son’s papers. My mom knew about the horrors of crossing the border undocumented, so she agreed.
Being four years old and separated from your mom is traumatizing.
How do you tell a four-year-old that he has to go with a complete stranger that he has only known for less than 48 hours? You don’t.
I spent four days and three night separated from my mom. The coyote told me I was going to see her again, but I didn’t believe him. And if anyone knows what it’s like crossing the border, they know I was right to not believe him.
Today I am 24 years old and I still struggle with my scars of that night at the border. Being an immigration reform activist doesn’t help it either. Hearing about the thousands of children being separated from their parents at the border brings back many unwanted emotions. The worst part is, mine wasn’t nearly as cruel as theirs. U.S. immigration policy has been, and still is, creating a generation of immigrant youth who will suffer from the scars of being separated from their families.
In Matthew 18: 21-35 we read about the importance of forgiving. I don’t blame the generation of children who have been separated from their families and are unable to forgive the U.S. government and those responsible for these policies, but I think forgiveness will help them with dealing with their scars. It helps me when I have to deal with my scars. And it won’t be a one-time thing or something they can do every day. Some days will be harder than others, and that’s okay. I can’t some days.
But when I am able to forgive those involved in my separation from my mom and those who were involved in the separation of members of my community, I can feel that I am taking control of my emotions. The more I do it, the easier it gets the next time.
Forgiveness is a powerful thing.
José Arnulfo Cabrera is the director of education and advocacy for migration for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. He is a 2018 graduate of Xavier University, a DACA recipient, and an immigration activist. He previously worked with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he provided training on lobbying, organizing, and immigration policy, as well as shared his own immigration story, and as a government relations associate with NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice in Washington, D.C.