As Christmas draws near and holiday plans are made, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about my own plans to travel home. I think about people I haven’t seen in months, delicious home-cooked meals, and reuniting with my family after moving across the country. While I have much to look forward to this holiday season, I have also gained a new perspective on the privilege I have by working on the LIRS Hope for the Holidays campaign.
Hope for the Holidays is a campaign to bring hope and joy to families isolated in immigration detention. Hundreds of Central American families, with children as young as three years old, come to the United States seeking safety from threats and extreme violence. Instead of safety, many find shackles.
Now, as I think about where I will be in a few weeks, I can’t help but remember the inordinate number of families who are spending Christmas held in detention.
Back in California, my own family has shown their support for families being held in detention. My mom, Susan, has spent the last few weeks rallying her family, friends, and church, sharing the stories of detained families and the ways in which they can share hope this holiday season.
Since the project launched in November, my mom has taken every opportunity to educate her community and encourage them to get involved. Every time someone asks, “What are you doing this Christmas?” she shares that she has made over 80 cards by hand to send to these families. She has been recruiting friends and family to participate, even getting my 18-year-old sister involved!
In my mom’s congregation, Beach Bible Church in Huntington Beach, California, multiple groups are joining to help write notes of encouragement and share their solidarity. The adult Sunday school classes, “Moms Together” group, and different youth groups have all come together to show their compassion and support.
When discussing the Hope for the Holidays campaign, my mom often sees the same response: shock that immigrants and families are held in isolating detention facilities. Even though there are multiple detention centers in the immediate area, most people have no idea that these facilities even existed. She admits that she was unaware of these places, and that along with her friends and family, she has had many questions including, “What is the purpose of detaining these immigrants? What happens after they are released?”
Even more powerful than the shock is how the Hope for the Holidays campaign has touched her heart and has motivated her to find ways to help. Through learning about this flawed system, she has recognized the blessing of safety, in deep contrast to those who feel so unsafe in their homeland that they are forced to flee. It is through this compassion that she has found motivation to not only send cards, but also to make a very generous donation that will be used to purchase gifts for children being held in detention. It is her prayer that through cards and gifts, that these families will know that there are people here who love and care for them.
In looking beyond the holiday season, my mom wants to learn more about the detention system, especially in her own backyard, and explore ways that she can be involved in breaking the isolation. Here at LIRS, we are looking forward to supporting her in a variety of opportunities: education, becoming a pen pal, visiting people held in detention, and advocating on behalf of those whose voices are not heard.
In reflecting on her involvement so far, my mom was reminded of Acts 20:35, where the Apostle Paul, quoting Jesus’ own words, says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” This holiday season, she truly feels that her blessing is to help give hope to these families.
You can join our Hope for the Holiday efforts by writing cards or donating gifts for children. Please send cards or make a donation for gifts by December 12th so that everything can reach the families in time for Christmas.
Whitney Palmer is a Project Associate for Outreach at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.