Recently, however, I realized we've become friends.
It was a Thursday night, and I stopped by to see how she was doing. We talked about how her husband is faring in Mexico. She shared about how her children seem to be up and down emotionally, some days acting fine, others crying for their father. We chatted about her work and mine.
As we were wrapping up our visit, she looked me straight in the eye and said, "You never answer your phone when I call."
I responded, "Yes, well, I'm very busy. Leave a message and I will call you back."
"No," she said. "What if I am stopped by the police or picked up for some reason? What will happen to my kids? I need to know that you will pick up your phone when I call."
I sat there dumbfounded.
There was no defense to be made. She was right.
In her insistence, I saw her fear.
It was obvious that she had played this scenario out in her head hundreds of times. Her husband was already gone. What would happen to her children if she were deported? I looked over at her two small boys playing on the floor.
"I commit to answering my phone when you call," I told her.
And that's when we became friends. Not because I made a commitment to her, but because Mari was vulnerable enough to step beyond niceties to speaking truth to me.
She called me out. She shared her fear.
The reality of her precarious situation — a functionally single, undocumented mom with young U.S. citizen children — led us to meet each other. However, her courage to hold me accountable sealed our friendship.
I cannot keep my friend safe. I cannot get her legal documents.
I can, however, commit to pick up my phone when she needs me. And I commit to continue advocating for comprehensive immigration reform so that Mari and other friends like her will not have to live in fear any longer.
CRISSY BROOKS is executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based group in Costa Mesa, where she lives.