Sister Tracey listens as Elmer Pena, the husband of Sonia Avile, speaks.

The last time I saw Sonia, she joined us in the upper room at Christ Church Cathedral downtown in Indianapolis on March 6. That day, 19 Faith in Indiana leaders prepared to risk arrest in a non-violent direct action mourning the inability of our Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and all 11 million immigrants who live, work, pay taxes and worship in our country.

Nervous about being out on the street with us, Sonia, a mother of three U.S. citizen children who fled gang violence in El Salvador after months of being threatened on her daily walk to school, decided to make us breakfast instead as her way of contributing. So we munched on pupusas, a Salvadoran delicacy, as we talked strategy, rehearsed songs, and reviewed the plan for the gathering.

Earlier this month, Sonia was detained during her annual check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). She has been faithfully attending these check-ins for years, a process put in motion when it came to ICE’s attention that she did not have legal status, but they determined she was not a priority for deportation since she had no criminal record.

As ICE develops plans to build more internment centers to house thousands more immigrants (one proposed for Newton County, Indiana), I imagine hundreds more “Sonia’s” ripped from their families.

Last week, dozens of Sonia’s family and church members, Sisters of Providence, faith and labor leaders gathered outside the Clay County Justice Center to mourn that we may never see Sonia again.

Her pastor, Carlos, shared “The last thing she did was make supper for the whole church. She said, ‘This might be the last supper I make for you, but I want it to be good – I want you to be full.’ This is like a death for us.”

I thought about the handful of times Sonia had prepared food for me in her own home as we prepared for Faith in Indiana gatherings, reflected on what we as people of faith are called to in this moment, and on one occasion as her husband changed the oil in my car, free of charge.

It was so strange to stand outside the place where Sonia was detained – to know we were so physically close to her and yet separated from her both by thick concrete walls and by a system that had labeled her as less than human.

As Congress begins negotiations for the 2019 budget, we know the Trump Administration has requested more resources to remove beloved residents like Sonia from our communities. The administration’s requests include:

  • A massive increase in immigration detention – to 51,379 people in detention across the country every day
  • Funds to recruit and hire 1,000 additional ICE officers, and
  • Funds to compensate more local police to focus on immigration enforcement.

(Source: Detention Watch Network)

Reading through this shameful list, the scripture Matthew 6:21 echoes in my head – “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

As our members of Congress negotiate spending more resources on separating families, the contrast with Sonia’s generous spirit is so striking. I never left her house without being invited into the kitchen for something to eat. Although she didn’t drive, Sonia would find rides to participate in leadership assemblies and research actions, sometimes toting her 6-, 8- and 10-year-old children. Pastor Carlos recounts how she would sometimes go without so that others’ needs be met.

There is no question in my mind where Sonia’s heart is; I pray that our members of Congress follow her lead.