Let’s say you have a husband. Let’s say you have kids. Let’s say you have a pattern of love and food and work and play.
Let’s say it’s here one day. And gone the next.
How would you feel?
Last Sunday night, Cindy Garcia went to bed with her husband, Jorge, as they have done for 15 years of marriage.
And the next night she went to bed with his shirt.
“It smells like him,” she said. “It has his cologne. It was the only way I could fall asleep without him.”
The previous morning, Jorge and Cindy and their two children, 15 and 12, made breakfast together. One flipped an egg. One took out the plates. One bumped into the other heading for the microwave and Cindy joked, for the millionth time, “We need a bigger kitchen.”
And the next day the kitchen was emptier, but no one felt like eating because they were all crying. “Even the dog wasn’t the same,” Cindy said.
Let’s say you’re used to four at the table. And now there’s three. Let’s say you’re used to dad driving the car. And now mom’s driving. Let’s say you always spent your anniversary with your spouse, and the kids teased about coming along, and now you can only spend that anniversary with your kids, because your spouse is gone.
Such painful vacancies in life happen with a death, or an incarceration.
But should it really have happened to the Garcias?
Faces of American citizens
Jorge Garcia did not die. He never committed a crime. A Mexican relative broke the law by coming here decades ago and bringing 10-year-old Jorge along. Ask yourself if, when you were 10, you would have told your relatives, “I can’t go, it’s not legal immigration.”
Jorge, now 39, grew up in this country. He got married here. He had children here. He worked here. By all accounts he paid his taxes, was a good employee at a landscape company (snow plowing in the winter), he paid his rent, sent his kids to school.
And last week he was deported back to Mexico, a country he barely knows, due to the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants. It’s an issue that makes people feel quite self-righteous — until they have to look its consequences in the face.
Look in the face of Cindy Garcia. The faces of her kids. They’re the faces of American citizens.
And now, without their breadwinner, they could be forced out of their home in Lincoln Park or go on public assistance — the very thing critics of illegal immigrants decry.
If you read this and say, “Too bad, he should have thought of that when he stayed here illegally,” congratulations for being so smug.
If you read this and say, “the law is the law,” congratulations on being a judge — and ignoring that laws are bent, modified and administered differently every minute in this country, depending on circumstance.
If you read this and say “real Americans follow the rules,” remember the Declaration of Independence extols “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and our Statue of Liberty says “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” So there’s many things “real” America is about.
How is this making our country better?
Let’s say you went everywhere together, and now you go alone. Let’s say you watched “Law and Order” in bed each night and now you can’t turn the TV on. Let’s say your husband sang the ABC’s to your granddaughter and played board games with her, and now she asks where he is and you have no good answer.
If any of this sounds like your life, that’s the point. It’s the same life most of us lead. Family. Work. Love. Not plotting to overthrow the government. The Garcias, in one day, lost Jorge’s $40,000-plus income, according to Cindy. The two kids have asthma. Cindy is medically retired, she explained, and can’t take a regular job without losing her modest pension.
“We have no luxuries, no cable, nothing. But if I have to go collect pop bottles, I’ll do it to take care of my kids.”
Meanwhile, Jorge now lives with an aunt he barely knows, in a country he barely recognizes, and can’t even get decent cell phone service to call his American family. His paperwork says he can apply to return in 10 years.
If this is making our country better, it’s hard to see how.
Yes, there are consequences to your actions, but there are consequences to absolute law enforcement, too. They include: breaking up families, robbing children of parental guidance, introducing misery where there was none, poverty where there was none.
Compassion doesn’t mean no border control. It doesn’t mean ignoring criminals. It means thinking about others the way your think about yourselves. And if, let’s say, you suddenly lost your husband or father — not to death or incarceration, but to the government — and now slept with his scented shirt for comfort, ask yourself, really, how you would feel?
And then decide how you feel about this issue.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.