Bor­der agents and a good Sa­mar­i­tan

The Tribune (SLO) - - Opinion - BY NICHOLAS KRISTOF

The path to Teresa L. Todd’s ar­rest be­gan when three des­per­ate Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants waved fran­ti­cally at her car on a Texas high­way one night in Fe­bru­ary.

At least one other car had hur­tled by, afraid to stop. But for Todd, com­pas­sion over­rode any fear. “I’m a mom,” ex­plained Todd, who has two boys, ages 15 and 17. “And I see a young man who looked the same age and size as my younger son. And if my son was by the side of the road, I would want some­one to help.”

Je­sus said: “A man was go­ing down from Jerusalem to Jeri­cho, when he was at­tacked by rob­bers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leav­ing him halfdead.”(Luke 10:30)

Todd, a sin­gle mom who works as a lawyer for a city and county in West Texas, found three sib­lings: two broth­ers ages 20 and 22 and their sis­ter, Es­mer­alda, 18. To es­cape vi­o­lence, they fled their na­tive El Sal­vador years ago and re­cently Gu­atemala, where friends were mur­dered and a gang leader wanted to make Es­mer­alda his “girl­friend.”

Es­mer­alda was suf­fer­ing from star­va­tion, de­hy­dra­tion and a potentially fa­tal syn­drome called rhab­domy­ol­y­sis that can lead to kid­ney fail­ure. See­ing that Es­mer­alda was very sick, Todd in­vited the mi­grants into her car to warm up, and she be­gan fran­ti­cally tex­ting friends (in­clud­ing one who is a lawyer for the Bor­der Pa­trol) for ad­vice about get­ting Es­mer­alda med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

“A priest hap­pened to be go­ing down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Le­vite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.”

A sher­iff’s deputy pulled up be­hind Todd’s car, lights flash­ing, and a Bor­der Pa­trol of­fi­cer ar­rived shortly after­ward. The of­fi­cers de­tained Todd for three hours, con­fis­cat­ing her pos­ses­sions and keep­ing her in a hold­ing cell.

By stop­ping to help a stranger, Todd may have saved a life — but this also got her ar­rested.

“It was to­tally sur­real,” Todd re­called. “Es­pe­cially for do­ing what my par­ents taught me was right, and what I learned in church was right, which was help­ing peo­ple. So find­ing my­self in a hold­ing cell for that, it was hard to wrap my head around.”

“But a Sa­mar­i­tan, as he trav­eled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and ban­daged his wounds, pour­ing on oil and wine.”

Es­mer­alda was hos­pi­tal­ized for four days, and she and her sib­lings are now in ICE cus­tody. Todd has not been charged with a crime so far, but the au­thor­i­ties seem to have been con­sid­er­ing a fed­eral in­dict­ment. I reached out to fed­eral and lo­cal of­fi­cials for com­ment; they did not re­spond.

Todd told me that she has no re­grets. “I think it’s the right thing to help those in need,” she ex­plained. “That’s what I learned from my par­ents. That’s what I learned in church.”

“Then he (the Sa­mar­i­tan) put the man on his own don­key, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I re­turn, I will re­im­burse you for any ex­tra ex­pense you may have.’”

The ar­rest of a mom who may have saved a life re­flects the in­creas­ingly harsh treat­ment un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of any­one who tries to help mi­grants. In Ari­zona, a man named Scott War­ren of the aid group No More Deaths/No Más Muertes, which leaves wa­ter, blan­kets and food for mi­grants, is to go on trial this month on felony charges that in theory carry terms of up to 20 years in prison. That’s quite a penalty for try­ing to save the lives of fel­low hu­man be­ings, and oth­ers have been pros­e­cuted for mis­de­meanor of­fenses.

“This is all about try­ing to chill the will­ing­ness of peo­ple to help oth­ers,” Todd said. “A friend told me, ‘The other day, some­one tried to flag me down by the side of the road and waved an empty wa­ter bot­tle, and I thought about what hap­pened to you and didn’t stop.’”

“Which of these three do you think was a neigh­bor to the man who fell into the hands of rob­bers?” The ex­pert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Je­sus told him, “Go and do like­wise.”

Re­fer­ring to Trump, Michele Bach­mann, the for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­woman, re­cently said, “We will in all like­li­hood never see a more godly, bib­li­cal pres­i­dent again in our life­times.”

“Who­ever claims to love God but hates his brother or sis­ter is a liar.” (1 John 4:20)

I thanked Todd for her hu­man­ity, and for help­ing save a life. She said her as­sis­tance had been in­stinc­tive.

“I’m sim­ply a mom who saw a child in need and pulled over to try to help,” she said. “The whole time I was by the side of the road, I was think­ing: What coun­try am I in? This is not the United States.”

Nicholas Kristof writes for The New York Times. Con­tact him at Face­book.com/Kristof, Twit­ter.com/Nick­Kristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018.

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