A Phoenix Easter Story

Crucifix, Julio Aldana / Shutterstock.com
Crucifix, Julio Aldana / Shutterstock.com

I first heard about Ruth Carmina Alvarez from my friend Kit Danley. Kit is the director of Neighborhood Ministries, a Christian community in downtown Phoenix that, over the past several years, has become increasingly focused on advocacy for undocumented immigrants in their neighborhood. It’s through Kit and her son Ian that I have become involved in discussions between evangelical pastors and many of our elected officials as we all seek a just, humane repair of our tragically broken immigration laws.

Carmina, a longtime Phoenix resident who is married to a citizen and has a citizen child, used a friend’s ID to get a job at a local KFC. She was picked up on immigration-related charges last August for working with “bad documents” but was released and had no subsequent contact with authorities. But on April 1 police came to her house and arrested her. She had just finished eight months of chemotherapy for Stage 3 breast cancer and was still very sick, waiting for surgery to remove the tumor. Carmina was charged with a class 4 felony, which could mean deportation. But more importantly, if she pleaded guilty, she would have been ineligible for any status adjustment should a comprehensive immigration reform bill pass.

Kit and Ian called many evangelical pastors to pray for Carmina’s release and to sign a letter to County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who has indicated support for comprehensive immigration reform in the past (full disclosure: I have three parishioners who work in Mr. Montgomery’s office). Our letter was a humble plea for Carmina to be released on humanitarian grounds in order to resume her cancer treatment.

Initially Mr. Montgomery refused, citing an inability under the law to lessen the severity of her charges. When we heard this, we increased our prayers for, essentially, a miracle, and we were ready to mobilize on Carmina’s behalf.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Mr. Montgomery called Carmina’s attorney and offered to reduce the charges in such a way that Carmina could be released. Carmina’s attorney humbly thanked Mr. Montgomery and, rather than organize a press conference crying out for Carmina’s release, local pastors and immigration advocates were able to use situation to thank Mr. Montgomery and agree to deepen the relationship that developed in order to work together.

It is fitting that this scenario unfolded during Holy Week, the week when Christians remember Jesus’ last week, a week in which he experienced betrayal, injustice, and, ultimately, a brutal death. The hope that he might be “the one who would redeem Israel”(Luke 24.20) was dashed, and his disciples fled in fear.

For many of us, the possibility of immigration reform in the near future has begun to seem so unlikely as to lead to despair. I’ve often been tempted to throw up my hands and say, “This is impossible!” However, we saw an example of God’s people gathering to pray and bear witness to the heart of Jesus – the one who was crucified and raised from the dead. As we did, we saw compassion, reconciliation, and freedom.

The complexities of reforming our immigration laws remain, yet today I find myself filled with the hope that comes when one meets Jesus risen from the dead. Thank God for Carmina, her friends, her family, and her advocates. Thank God for Bill Montgomery and his willingness to take a risk to be compassionate. Mostly, though, let’s thank God that, because Jesus died and is risen, we can keep praying and bearing witness, knowing that anything is possible.

Father Chris Schutte is the pastor of Christ Church Anglican in Phoenix. He is an Arizona native who attended the University of Arizona and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has been passionate about immigrants and public policy since the 5th grade.

Image: Crucifix, Julio Aldana / Shutterstock.com

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