In a time when compassion seems to be lost in rhetoric, a sense of humanity overtaken by senseless overplayed statistics, this letter hopefully puts a face to the groundless fear that seems to be ripping our country apart. It is easy to hate numbers; it is much more difficult to hate a man once we know him.
This is one man's story -- "J's" story. I have met many individuals throughout my professional career and personal life. I believe I am a fairly good judge of character and human behavior. I can honestly say, J is an exceptional human being. He is kind, patient and will go beyond what is expected to help others. It is an opinion shared by many, from all walks of life, who have had the good fortunate to know him.
J and his wife were blessed with one child, a little girl named Chrystal. Just a little over 2 and a half years old - the love of their lives. J often shared pictures and stories of little Chrystal. He carried a video of her on his cell phone, singing and moving her tiny, toddler's body in rhythm to the music.
I was never quite sure which I enjoyed more -- Chrystal's sweet little voice or her daddy's incredible joy in watching her. The love of a father; the love of a good and decent man. How do you measure that?
The week before Christmas, a little over nine months ago, I received a devastating call from J. He spoke only my name, but his voice sent an electrifying chill through me. I knew there was something terribly wrong. Through the depth of despair, he could hardly speak. Finally, choking on every word, he uttered "Chrystal is dead." The horrifying words hung over both of us, frozen in time and pain.
A couple of days before, on Saturday afternoon, Chrystal's mother and grandmother had taken the baby to the emergency room with what they thought was a cold, fever or flu. The baby was examined, diagnosis with a virus, prescribed medicine and released.
By Monday morning, her parents continued to be very worried that she still hadn't improve, so they took her to another medical facility that morning. She was examined, provided an additional prescription and sent home. Within hours, Chrystal lying tenderly in her father's arms, stopped breathing.
How does a human being, a parent, withstand that kind of pain and terrifying loss? Who amongst could pass that test? For me, there will always be a burning memory of that sweet man gently covering his daughter's tiny, white casket with her favorite blanket, as if tucking her in one last time. He then lovingly laid her well-hugged stuffed animal upon the blanket. Along with it, he placed her toddler-sized backpack - filled with all the treasures a little girl could cram into it - for her heavenly journey.
It was a holy and sacred gesture that only the love of a parent can truly understand.
Days and weeks passed, J didn't wallow in self-pity, slip into the victim's role, rage against others and life, nor self-destruct. He didn't show bitterness. Nor take the easy way out even though his heart was broken.
Instead, he got up every morning, met his commitments, worked hard and survived the emotional heartbreak as best he could. He always displayed the strength, dignity and grace many of us can only hope to achieve.
This past week, I received another devastating call. This time it was from J's wife. In the early hours of the morning, men identifying themselves as "police" knocked on their door. They said they had a report of a stolen truck that fit the description of J's truck and demanded to see the truck's registration. When he stepped out of the house, they handcuffed him. They were not "police" but from immigration.
He was facing deportation to a country he has not lived in since he barely reached his 17th birthday -- years ago.
For some, J is a statistic, a quota, a faceless, senseless fear of someone's imagination. For others, he is an example to be made of. But to me, he is not an example of righting some wrong, some score, some kind of justice. He is an example of how a decent man lives his life in quiet dignity. His "sin," if there is one, is the "sin" of wanting a better life for his family and himself; a "sin" I would suspect many of our ancestors share.
In a caring society, how do we judge a wrong? We are taught it is grace to show mercy, forgiveness, understanding and human compassion. That is what has made our society, our community and America great.
Editor’s note: After submitting this letter, the author sent the following post-script:
“On Tuesday, under a large and imposing federal courtroom wall plaque reading "The Justice Department", J's story was told once more, this time before a judge. Only this time it was accompanied by nearly 100 pages of support documents submitted on his behalf. For nearly an hour, the intense questioning, prodding, scrutinizing and humiliating process ironically did not strip J of his dignity.
“Today, J is home with his courageous and tenacious American-born wife who never gave up fighting for her husband. His story is now their story as their journey continues down a path, an American path to citizenship.
“One last thought. An hour before the judge's decision, I stared up at that imposing Justice plaque. I wondered if justice would be served. It was. And we are all better for it.”