Separated by the Border: A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child's 3,000-Mile Journey, By Gena Thomas

Separated by the Border

A Birth Mother, a Foster Mother, and a Migrant Child's 3,000-Mile Journey

by Gena Thomas
Foreword by Michelle Ferrigno Warren

Separated by the Border
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.25 in
  • Published: October 29, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: 4575
  • ISBN: 9780830845750

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In 2017 five-year-old Julia traveled with her mother, Guadalupe, from Honduras to the United States. Her harrowing journey took her through Mexico in the cargo section of a tractor trailer. Then she was separated from her mother, who was held hostage by smugglers who exploited her physically and financially. At the United States border, Julia came through the processing center as an unaccompanied minor after being separated from her stepdad who was deported.

Gena Thomas tells the story of how Julia came to the United States, what she experienced in the system, and what it took to reunite her with her family. A Spanish-speaking former missionary, Gena became Julia's foster mother and witnessed firsthand the ways migrant children experience trauma. Weaving together the stories of birth mother and foster mother, this book shows the human face of the immigrant and refugee, the challenges of the immigration and foster care systems, and the tenacious power of motherly love.

"Today's faith-based communities are being called to help God's children. Gena Thomas's story of how she answered this call is both powerful and inspirational. At the same time, she sheds light and brings awareness to the realities of how children continue to suffer around the globe and how we can all help even the least of these, God's children in need. Separated by the Border is a book that will empower and inspire the reader."

John DeGarmo, director of The Foster Care Institute, author of Faith and Foster Care

"God commands his people to care for those vulnerable to injustice—particularly, immigrants and children. Gena Thomas and her family faithfully responded to these biblical injunctions by welcoming a five-year-old foster girl from Honduras into their home. In Separated by the Border, Gena weaves together her own story with the story of this precious girl and the brave mother from whom she was separated in the course of a perilous journey to the United States. In the process, she puts human faces on the complex but often politicized issues of immigration, asylum seekers, and foster care. Separated by the Border is a gripping, gracefully written story that the American church needs to hear."

Matthew Soerens, US director of church mobilization, World Relief, coauthor of Welcoming the Stranger

"In one powerful book Gena Thomas shares the trauma, hope, and love that is the migration of men, women, and children in today's world. Wrapped around her own experience as a foster parent, Thomas helps us understand why one flees their home country, even though they want to return. It is truly a remarkable book."

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, author of There Goes the Neighborhood

"Gena's story, Julia's story, and Lupe's story have been stewarded in a beautifully delicate yet prophetic calling out in this book's telling. . . . This book is one of the most compelling and practical ways to say yes to those who need it most."

From the foreword by Michelle Ferrigno Warren, author of The Power of Proximity

"Welcoming strangers is dangerous. All sorts of things might happen: it might radically alter your understanding of the world, change your politics, or your relationships. It will certainly affect your relationship with God. Gena Thomas's book is testament to the wonderfully transforming power of hospitality. I recommend her story to you as a daring and dangerous read."

Krish Kandiah, founding director of Home for Good, author of God Is Stranger

"When headlines and public policy debates filter down to the story of one mother, one child, and one US citizen willing to walk through the process, our focus changes from the macro to the micro. A story of grief, pain, politics, faith, endurance, laughter, separation, and reunification, this steps us out of the policy debate and into the individual experience. I wholeheartedly recommend Gena Thomas as a voice that has walked through real, sacrificial relationships using her Christian faith as a guide for each step of the process. If we want to understand how the policies and politics of the immigration debate impact real people, this is the place to start. This is a humanizing story that takes us beyond the talking points."

Alexandra Kuykendall, author of Loving My Actual Neighbor, cofounder of The Open Door Sisterhood

"Gena Thomas is a maestra tejedor (master weaver) who intertwines the tales of two courageous mothers with the threads of theology, history, and politics to produce a brilliant tapestry that skillfully exposes both the injustice of immigration and the wonder of restoration. Reader beware: this book will necessarily shatter your heart. Yet, it won't produce paralysis. Rather, Separated by the Border will grow your capacity to love beyond boundaries, borders, complexities, and documentation statuses. For the sake of our divided world, I commend this book with hope."

Jer Swigart, cofounder of the Global Immersion Project, coauthor of Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World

"In Separated by the Border, we witness the fierce, unwavering love of two mothers. In their eyes, we see glimpses of the heart for all of God's beloved children. Sobering and compelling, their story inspires us to step more fully into a life of dangerous and courageous love."

Peter Greer, president and chief executive officer of HOPE International

"In Separated by the Border, Gena Thomas skillfully weaves a story of heartbreak and hope in a world overflowing with cultural chaos. Yet this story is real, filled with helpful context and pointed commentary about little Julia and her family's lived experience. I found myself drawn in from the first chapter as Gena helped me understand and care about the complex terrain of family separation, asking me to follow her own brave soul into the place of being willing to do something about it. I pray this book makes it into the hands of those wrestling with their heads and hearts over immigration, deportation, separation, and reunification. Gena's words will help us rise and do what is right!"

Belinda Bauman, executive director of One Million Thumbprints, author of Brave Souls

"The immigrant experience in the United States is often seen from the perspective of depersonalizing statistics and dangerous caricatures. If we wish to make any progress in navigating through this massive conversation, we need real and compelling stories that expose us to the true and troubling realities many undergo, while offering a way forward. This is why I'm grateful for Separated by the Border. Gena Thomas tells a remarkable story and helps us see that hospitality is a powerfully subversive, prophetic act of God's grace."

Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, New York City

"I adore this book! It is a shattering read about the journey asylum seekers take to reach our border only to have their children taken from them. Thomas's book details the living hell Lupe, Julia, and Carlos experienced and how her family became part of the story. It rips out our stony hearts, giving us the opportunity to receive the fleshy heart of Jesus, the opportunity to receive grace. We endanger our souls and imperil the soul of our nation if we dare ignore this masterfully written account, the plight of immigrants, and our responsibility in all of it."

Marlena Graves, author of A Beautiful Disaster

"Separated by the Border is an essential book as our country has been failing at opportunities for compassion, morality, and wisdom on our southern border. Thomas illuminates the complexities and the human suffering. The stories she shares makes the issues deeply personal. Our hearts are broken—but we're also inspired by the incredible love in these pages that isn't restricted by borders. Like me, you'll likely be moved to tears, to hope, and to committing to help."

Kent Annan, director of humanitarian and disaster leadership at Wheaton College, author of You Welcomed Me

"The US has a mortifying history of separating families, dating back to the transatlantic slave trade. History reveals how racism and unjust laws have particularly decimated families of color—from Native American boarding schools, to mass incarceration, and our present immigration crisis—producing death, suffering, and trauma. While Thomas's book explains how this horrific narrative continues, it does so in a deeply redemptive way. Thomas tells a riveting story of personal transformation, detailing how God is using her family to bear witness to our Savior's love, mercy, and grace, in a time of fear. Separated by the Border will move you to tears, inspire you to learn, and empower you to act on behalf of the least of these."

Dominique DuBois Gilliard, author of Rethinking Incarceration

"Separated by the Border puts human faces to an issue that has been politicized, and it is gritty like the issue. At the same time, it shows the love, compassion, and caring of two mothers for a vulnerable child. I was so happy to see the story told in a way that helps people understand why we have this crisis and even more importantly that we are talking about real people, all created in the image of God. This is a must-read for all, especially people of faith, to see, understand, and have an idea of what Christ would want us to do."

Chris Palusky, president/CEO, Bethany Christian Services

"As I read Separated by the Border, I saw how faith, hope, and love were woven together to form an unbreakable bond amid unthinkable pain. This story challenged my naiveté as I read the horror that has ravaged lives at our border. You cannot read this account and then close your heart with indifference. My prayer is that this book will be a holy rouser to fellow believers who have cast a prejudiced and partisan eye toward our borders. Every person with ears to hear, eyes to see, hearts to feel, and hands to extend can support vulnerable families. Through this book, Gena gracefully shows us how."

Dorena Williamson, author of ColorFull, ThoughtFull, and GraceFull

"Gena Thomas guides us across various borders, helping us encounter and learn from a mother and daughter living the horrors and complexities of our immigration crisis. These insider accounts will move you emotionally and spiritually as you read this real-life story of two different families separated by borders but at the same time united by them. This beautifully written book gives voice to the many voiceless, nameless immigrants longing for a better life and risking everything for it. It's an important narrative that takes us beyond our news clips and political reads; these are lives forever changed by the dreams and horrors surrounding immigration in this country."

Natalia Kohn Rivera, special projects coordinator of InterVarsity's LaFe ministry and coauthor of Hermanas

"We need to look past the headlines to see how real people, real families, and real moms are impacted by and engaging with the policies at our border. Gena and Lupe graciously invite us into their story. Their choices are rarely clear or easy, but Gena and Lupe are always filled with love and hope. May this book inspire and equip us to enter into the stories happening at the US border."

Sarah Quezada, author of Love Undocumented, cofounder of Bridge Guatemala

"When women honor the stories of those whose stories may not otherwise be told, it unravels a song that is sung for centuries. Gena Thomas not only gives us facts about immigration and separation, but she honors story. Separated by the Border is critical because it is the story of a child who goes home, and it is the story of two mothers who are forever changed by a miracle. This is a story to be sung for many years to come. Blessed be the mothers."

Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros, poet and writer, author of Becoming Coztōtōtl

"Gena's book is beautiful and godly. It's full of pain and inspiration. And sometimes, it's even hard to read (but for the right reasons). As a Latino, I am grateful this book exists. As an American citizen, I am grateful this book exists. As a follower of Jesus, I'm truly grateful this book exists! Por favor, read it, share it, and most of all, dare to be like Gena and her family . . . and live it."

Carlos A. Rodriguez, founder and director of The Happy Non-Profit, author of Simply Sonship and Drop the Stones

"Gena writes humbly and honestly about two mothers who find love and community through tragedy and sorrow. Her portrayal of an American family, an unaccompanied child, and a mother faced with hard choices humanizes the complex and real-life impacts of immigration. By writing about her experience as a foster parent to a separated child, Gena invites the reader into her home to see how our country's immigration policies deeply affect Americans as well as migrant families. Gena's generosity and honesty go straight to the heart and invite readers to reconsider immigration policy as a humanitarian issue and as a reflection of the values America holds dear."

Jennifer Podkul, senior director of policy and advocacy, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND)

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Michelle Ferrigno Warren
Introduction: Julia

Part I: Honduras
1. Emigración
2. Expatriation

Part II: Mexico
3. Río Bravo
4. Rio Grande

Part III: United States
5. Unaccompanied Minor
6. Dependent Children
7. Foster Daughter
8. "Quién Es Usted a Mi?" ("Who Are You to Me?")

Part IV: Honduras
9. Reunification/Reunificación
10. Reflections

Epilogue: Dear Julia
Appendix A: A Note to Other Foster Parents
Appendix B: An Interview with Elí Romero
Appendix C: Small-Group Discussion Questions
Recommended Reading


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Gena Thomas

Gena Thomas is a writer and speaker who works at a nonprofit that empowers others through holistic development. She served as a missionary in northern Mexico for four years, holds a master's degree in international development, and is the author of A Smoldering Wick: Igniting Missions Work with Sustainable Practices. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband, Andrew, and their two children.

A Riveting Memoir Stripped Directly from the Headlines
US border - Texas and Mexico
US map - Charlotte to Atlanta and beyond
Data quote: From April-June 2018 2,737 children were forcibly removed from their families under the zero tolerance policy. This is a story from one of those children.
Ali Noorani says: In one powerful book Gena Thomas shares the trauma, hope, and love that is the migration of men, women, and children in today's world.
Map of Honduras
Map of the Caribbean Sea and the Dominican Republic
There are problems at the border. Read this to see how you can help.