Why I took my 3-year-old to the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children
It is hard to say what he will remember. But my 3-year-old has memorized every line of “Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night,” so I thought there was a good chance that a few lessons from the protest might also stick. And so it was that we set out from New Jersey on an early morning Amtrak train to Washington, D.C., to join the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children.
I had done my best to prepare him. I told him that when people come to our country and they are in need we want them to be treated kindly. We want the kids and their parents to stay together. We want the kids to have things like soap and toothbrushes and sleep. We are going to Washington, D.C., I said, to tell the people who make the laws that we want them to make sure this happens. We want to show love to our neighbor—like Jesus did.
As I packed for the trip, it occurred to me that the only other protest I could remember attending was the March for Life when I was 18. If I am passionate about an issue, I am more likely to write a letter or make a phone call to an elected official than I am to show up at their office. So the point of going to the protest was not to teach my son that a protest is the only response to injustice but that our faith calls us to speak out on behalf of those at the margins. And as my anger about the treatment of children at our border has grown, this protest by faith-filled people seemed a good first step.
Perhaps he will remember the mother who spoke of her experience as an immigrant while she balanced her 17-month-old child on her hip.
Of course, the train ride was the highlight of his day. (“This is so cool!” he yelled at 6 a.m. to the scattered and sleepy passengers in our Amtrak car.) But I am hopeful that moments from the few hours between our journeys down and up the I-95 corridor might help him better understand what it means and what it takes to welcome the stranger.
Maybe he will remember the prayers and songs. Maybe he will remember how he carefully studied the crowd standing with the banners and posters and then stood and proudly held his own sign aloft in communion with them—the same sign he would later pull over his head like a hat, shake like a fan in front of his stomach and kick at with his feet as he sat in the stroller and I handed him fistfuls of crackers lest he start his own protest.
Maybe he will remember the purple T-shirts of the Mercy Sisters and associates. Maybe he will remember that I let him eat more than his typical allotment of chocolate-covered raisins. Perhaps he will remember sitting on my lap in 100-degree heat and being surrounded by a community of love or the mother who spoke of her experience as an immigrant while she balanced her 17-month-old child on her hip.
No child should experience at the hands of our government things that I do not even want my son to hear about second-hand.
He might remember the Franciscan in his long, brown robe chatting amicably with the police officer in his blue uniform, bathed in light beneath the dome of the Russell Senate building’s rotunda. Maybe he will think more about what was printed on the sign we held together, sitting on the marble floor: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
I already know that he remembers the protesters lying on the ground, forming a cross with their bodies, holding photos of children who died in U.S. detention on their chests. On the train ride home, he laid his plastic figure of Marshall (the “Paw Patrol” fire dog character) and his fire truck on the tray table and told me they were lying down and protesting. “They are wearing pictures of the kids who need everything,” he said.
I did not tell him that the photos were of children who had died because for now, I can shield him from that horror. But that was also why we marched: because no child should experience at the hands of our government things that I do not even want my son to hear about second-hand.
I was reminded of how privileged I am to have had the choice not only to bring my son to a protest but to know I would leave with him at my side.
I hoped to teach my son that we live our faith in the world and that if it does not urge us to love more fiercely and to change the world for the better we need to rethink how we are living it. I want my son to see mercy in action, and that has compelled me to try to be one of the people taking action.
Of course, it is possible my son will remember nothing of the day, save for what I repeat to him later, in the way that my parents’ stories of my early childhood have begun to feel like my own. Or maybe, years from now, he will simply remember that there was something that I cared about enough to introduce it to him early in his life, and he will become more curious about the faith that motivated me. Maybe one day he will understand that I see his face in the face of every child at the border.
For now, I know from his chatter that he remembers the siren blaring from the police officer’s megaphone before she warned us, once, twice, three times to leave or risk arrest. I know he thought it was too loud and covered his ears. And I know this: I will always remember how, after the third warning, one of the officers looked me in the eye and said slowly and seriously, “If you are not planning to get arrested, you need to leave.” And I was reminded of how privileged I am to have had the choice not only to bring my son to a protest but to know I would leave with him at my side. To walk slowly down the marble halls of the senators’ office building pushing my son in an old umbrella stroller and to emerge onto the sunlit sidewalk as though nothing had happened. To then sit on the lawn outside the Capitol building and to eat more of those crackers and to marvel together at the ants crawling over the crumbs. “Let’s share them,” he says of the crackers, as I pull the box out of the diaper bag. “Good idea,” I say.
“Here,” he said handing one to me, laughing. “You are my neighbor.”
Thank you for this witness. 15+ years ago, I took my sons to anti-war demonstrations when they were a bit older, but it had a profound impact on them, for the good. I hope some day your son will be able pray as in the Psalms: "Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did." (Psalm 86:16)
So, you are one of the citizens of the US who joined Hanoi Jane in undermining the heroic sacrifice of so many of your soldiers who were on the brink of victory over the Communist insurgents in Vietnam thereby abandoning a strongly Catholic population to atheistic tyranny. And proud of it too!
And will they and their sons bow like craven cowards to the jihadis who try to take over the US, promising the Jews and Christians immunity to death if they submit and pay the jizyah?
Those heroes of yours were dropping bombs on the men, women and kids of Viet Nam. When they weren't outright massacring them. They got called out for it by their anti war fellow countrymen and many of them never recovered from their guilt, shame recognizing that they were "love it or leave it" dupes,Yes we could have "won;" had we killed them all. We were fighting the people of Viet Nam, Not like in world war 2, fighting some regime , some military and, when the general surrenders or the emperor , the troops surrender with him and that's the end of that.The Viet Nam debacle is similar to these Middle Eastern wars;after like 2 decades of wars , those Muslims still fight back [how dare they!], there are still a billion of em, and they ain't going anywhere AND if you lay a hand on one over here YOU get hit with a hate crime.[lol].
You talk like a bigoted "love it or leave it" ignoramus, it did not serve your ilk well in Viet Nam, you all fought and died for absolutely nothing but your own hubris, and "love it or leave it";when your country calls you to war, you go,stupidity, nor did previous xenophobic bigotries, and it won't with your latest targets.
Thanks, David, for your kind reply and faithful example.
Thank you for your loving actions, strong faith, and your beautiful words. I shared via Facebook because unfortunately I find too many of my own Catholic family acting towards the current administration and supporting its immigrant stance at the border. You restore hope.
Thanks for your kind reply. Prayers for you and your family.
As a long-time activist and marcher who always brought my children along, I often think of the words of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, of happy memory, who marched with MLK Jr. "When I walk, I am praying with my feet".
Yes, a beautiful saying. Thank you!
Very quaint, and yes, we are bound to help those in need, However, I don't see any answers to the tough questions. Do you want open borders? Do you want to pay for healthcare for everyone who illegally crosses our border? Are we a nation of laws? What about a family who losses a member due to violence at the hands of an illegal immigrant? Will you teach your son how to respond? These are the tough issues that must be answered but won't be by cute stories such as this.
Open borders gave birth to this nation. Open borders have allowed Americans to move northward during gold rushes in Canada. Open borders allowed European immigrants to show up at Ellis Island and gain entry before laws were changed in the early 1900’s to prevent people of color from becoming citizens. What is your factual evidence against open borders that you base your negative opinion on? Wanting asylum for refugees is not open borders. Wanting them to be free while they wait for a court date is not open borders. Want immigrants to have a path way to citizenship and come out of the shadows is not open borders. It’s due process while respecting the immigrant heritage that makes our conversation possible. Immigrants want a better life and a path to citizenship. Crime statistics show they commit less crime than citizens. Your concerns about immigrant crimes are baseless. I teaching my daughter to base her judgements on facts and not hysteria. I am teaching her to love her neighbor and that all are her neighbor. I am teaching her to respect her immigrant heritage and to understand that have her ancestors started coming in 1492 and the other half is indigenous. I teaching her to understand the forces such as the potato famine that brought Irish to America still propel immigrants today. I’m teaching her that today immigrants are branded criminals. In the past Italians were branded drunks and Catholics were not wanted here by the Know-nothings. I am teaching her to understand that U.S. foreign policy is directly responsible for refugees who are coming today from countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. I am teaching her to seek real solutions based on fact and research not fear mongering, hypocrisy, and selfishness.
Thank you for writing this. I stood a short distance from you outside at the prayer service, so it is great to now read your motivation in being there with your son. And how well behaved he was!!
Thank you for being there and for your kind words about my son!
Thanks Kerry for "walking the walk" and teaching your son to do so. COMPASSION has no borders!
Ellis Island was not an open border. Immigrants had to pass through inspections and quite a few were sent back. The threat of drugs and criminals and terrorists were not a problem in those days. The immigrants did register and become legal residents waiting to became citizens. And when the census was taken, immigrants were identified as such, but they had no fear because they entered legally. By the way, it seems that quite a few immigrants are now also coming from areas other than South and Central America, but are also using our southern border to enter illegally.
And now many in Congress who denied funds to secure the border and create better facilities to handle the ever-growing hordes and to increase the number of processing centers to approve legal immigration - these very same people are now blaming the problems on those who were pleading with them for years to pass laws to grant money to help resolve the problem, the Crisis. It is a disgraceful to put it mildly.