I participate in a private online support group for people with a loved one affected by U.S. immigration policy.
Today in the group, a member brought up a good point – how friends in our lives are unintentionally hurtful.
This got me thinking about how many us affected by immigration policies often have friends who either don’t know what to say/do, or hurt us when they think that they’re being supportive.
In that spirit, I wanted to share some of my suggestions for what to do/what to say when a friend in your life has a deported partner or spouse. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I’m choosing to focus on U.S. citizens affected by deportation, because that’s what I can speak to. Please feel free to post other suggestions in the comments below – I’d love to hear your thoughts.
1. If the deportation is recent, show up physically in any way that you can. Offer to take care of our kids. We need to do things like phonecalls to find out information about our loved one’s detention or deportation. Make sure that we’re eating and hydrated. If you’re a coworker and can take our shifts, offer to do that and/or coordinate coverage with other coworkers. Don’t clog up our phone line calling us incessantly. We need the line open. We often need financial support. Give to us if you can. Don’t wait for us to say something – we may be too shy or ashamed to ask.
2. When a deportation is recent, this is not the moment for you to express any doubts or negative views that you may have about our partner/spouse. Keep those thoughts to yourself.
3. We do not need to hear your feelings right then about how messed up the U.S. immigration system is. The cold and empty spot next to us in our beds says it all.
4. Learn the name of the country where our partner/spouse is from. Look it up on a map. If you can, find the city or town where they were born. Don’t dismiss it as a, “scary, dirty, third-world country.”
5. The decision as to whether or not to move with our partner/spouse to their country of origin is an extremely personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. If we process verbally, let us talk it through. Just listen. If we process internally, don’t keep asking us what we’re going to do. Only give your opinion on the issue if you’re directly asked for it.
6. Don’t assume that our partner/spouse will definitely return to the United States without papers. This is also an extremely personal decision.
7. If we do decide to move, help us with the packing. Offer to take as much as of our stuff as you can for safekeeping. This can be extremely comforting to us during this very difficult moment of deciding what stays and what goes.
8. If we stay in the U.S., remember that our lives changed forever. Just because we may be going through the motions of our life as it once was, we are definitely not O.K. This does not get easier as the months go by. Check in with us about our mental, physical and spiritual health. Jokes like us being, “single and ready to mingle” aren’t appropriate.
9. If we move to the home country of our partner/spouse, don’t makes comments about being “envious” of things like the fact that we’ve lost weight, live in a tropical climate, don’t have access to steady electricity or a working phone line (“So good that you can unplug and get away from it all.”)
The weight loss is often because we’re experiencing poverty like we never lived through in the U.S. Our tropical climate location is because we chose to live with our loved one due to an immigration system in the U.S. that separates families, not because we wanted to take an extended vacation. Situations like not having access to steady electricity or a working phone line can break us on the wrong day.
Now, if we’ve lived with situations like the above long enough, and are ready to joke about it all, sit with our dark humor (especially when the lights go out.) Laugh along with us.
10. Whether we leave the U.S. or not, for the love of all that is holy, do not send us articles or videos about dangerous events in the home country of our partner/spouse. Do not write things like, “Thinking of you – I hope that you’re safe!” or “This is why I don’t want you to move there.”
And here’s a bonus tip – If our partner or spouse is deported, many of us go though a transformation about how we view the U.S. Many of us feel rage, betrayal, shock, embarrassment, sadness. This results in many of us deeply questioning the country that we were born and raised in. When we post things online or say things in person that question the policies of the U.S., do not rush to defend this country. That’s not our point.
And as someone with a husband who was deported from the U.S. twelve years ago this month, it doesn’t get easier over time. The struggles shift and change shape, but they never go away.
But hopefully, neither do our friendships.