On the day Sam and Elida we to be deported, I arrived at the airport, with the entire Mejia family, and was witness to one of the most intensely sad events I’ve ever seen: a mother and father saying goodbye to their children, not knowing when they would see them again. As I drove home from the airport that night, I thought to myself, if every politician, faith-leader, and citizen in the U.S. could have met the Mejia family, and then seen the family ripped apart, the U.S. would not be deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. The raids that are descending on immigrant communities right now, targeting Central American families who recently crossed the border escaping extreme violence, would most likely not be happening. The de-humanizing term ‘illegal alien’ would not proliferate across our airwaves.
I am a newly minted American. Four years ago I passed the naturalization test and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. But I had been living as a citizen before I took the oath. Those who do not have the legal status of citizen often act as citizens. They attend PTA meetings, pay taxes, and engage in spirited public discussions about the common good. Citizenship is not only a legal status, but also a moral category and a set of practices.
President Obama recognizes this. Last night’s address described executive actions that will protect up to five million people from deportation and provide them with permits to work legally. People without valid immigration documents will be eligible to stay in the country temporarily if they have lived in the United States for more than 5 years, if they have children who are American citizens or legal residents, and if they register and pass criminal background checks.
Obama is not offering people citizenship, but his address reflected on the meaning of community belonging. “These people” often act like citizens, he seemed to be saying, because they “came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America's success.” To those of us who are citizens legally, Obama also had a message: Become better Americans.
Think about this: why would anyone travel thousands of miles on a journey that many do not survive — except for the hope that their destination (the U.S.) is significantly safer than where they currently live? I cannot imagine taking such risks unless my current circumstances left me with no other options besides death. I have met many people who are undocumented in the U.S. They are not criminals. They are not economic threats. They are mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and sometimes teenagers trying to escape untold violence and oppression. They are our neighbors, community members, and friends. They are people simply trying to do what it takes to survive.
Our immigration system is broken. It is hard for anyone to say otherwise. But I think our values are broken too. When gun-toting vigilantes are able to successfully threaten buses full of children put at risk by their parents because it was a better option than staying at home, something is desperately wrong with our values. We can say their home country needs to get its act together, but that does not address the hostile response in the U.S. by some people. Politics aside, the morality of refusing such people violates the values of both my Christian faith and my understanding of how my country was founded by persecuted refugees seeking freedom.
Comprehensive immigration reform is about real people with real blood flowing through real veins. It is not about numbers, other than the fact that the U.S. grants the lowest number of visas to the countries with some of highest homicide rates in the world — violence that the U.S. government has had a hand in creating over the past several decades. This is not about following the law, because our current immigration laws are simply unjust and violate the values upon which this country was founded: a country of immigrants in which “all people are created equal.” It is about God’s children desperately seeking refuge in a country that boasts itself as the “land of the free” and the land of hope and promise.
There is a nonviolent uprising around immigration happening in Philadelphia and a dozen other U.S. cities. Philadelphia faith leaders announced that they will welcome immigrant families even if it is against the law. They are building a movement of "sanctuary congregations" and have dreams that the U.S. will one day be a sanctuary nation.
We join them in insisting that we must obey the laws of God over the laws of our government — and that means "welcoming the foreigner as if they were our own flesh and blood." (Exodus 22:21, Lev.19:34, etc., etc.).
Jesus says that when we welcome the stranger we welcome him. When God asks: "When I was a stranger did you welcome me?" (Mt. 25) we are not going to say: "Sorry God, Congress wouldn't let us."
We know that sometimes divine obedience can mean civil disobedience.
As St. Augustine once said: "An unjust law is no law at all."
"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” —Mark 9:37, NRSV
I was raised in a family with strong beliefs in our faith. It is because of my faith that I continue to strive for a better future and do good to others. This is why I’m so passionate for my advocacy in education, regardless of gender, race, and immigration status.
When I lived in Mexico, I thought about America every day. To me, America was a country of freedom, a country where every dream could come true. My grandparents waited 12 years to get their visas. The wait was agonizing; every year we faced poverty and struggle in Zacatecas. With every year, my dreams of a better life in America got farther and farther away. The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming and pushed me to attempt suicide.
In that moment, I turned to faith. My family came to my aid and helped me through. Knowing how desperate for opportunity I had become, my parents reached out to my aunt in the United States. Together, they saved enough money to pay for my visa application. I finally had a chance at a life outside of our small family farm.
It was the summer of 2009 when I finally arrived in America. I was 16.
My sons, Issac and Felipe are my pride and joy. My wife and I go to church with them every Sunday, and we spend our free time at the movies or enjoying a walk through downtown Chicago. We also take road trips, one of which brought us to New York City where we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
I brought them there because I wanted them to see
the most important American monument in person. The Statue of Liberty is the icon of freedom and a historic welcoming signal to immigrants.
Chicago is my home. It's been that way for the past 17 years. I'm a maintenance worker at a residential building and a member of SEIU Local 1. I'm kind of living the American dream. I say "kind-of" because my undocumented status has prevented me from pursuing better job opportunities. I had the chance to become an assistant engineer at my building but declined the offer because I'm scared of losing the job if my bosses discover that I'm undocumented.
Earlier this week Jose Antonio Vargas, joined by ten other undocumented immigrants, announced the 1 of 11 Million campaign in Washington to urge the delay of deportations for the millions of documented immigrants in the United States. Vargas is founder of Define American, a national organization that uses stories to shift the narrative on immigration in America, and hopes to influence the executive action debate.
The campaign plans to tell the personal stories of 11 people who come from diverse backgrounds and whose experiences reflect many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. By providing a snapshot of our complex, outdated, and unpredictable system, advocates hope that changes announced by Obama will address the needs of communities nationwide.
More than 100 faith leaders and immigration activists were arrested today during an act of civil disobedience outside of the White House. The activists were calling on President Barack Obama to take executive action to immediately stop deportations and to deal with the crisis of unaccompanied minors at the border.
"We have come to Washington, D.C., to tell to President Obama and Congress that kicking out suffering immigrant families and unaccompanied children is not the answer,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño, the United Methodist Bishop in Los Angeles, said. “Immediately stopping the deportations and extending due process to children escaping the violence of drug cartels, gangs and poverty is the just way to respond."
Other participants in the protest saw the struggle for immigration reform as part of a larger struggle for justice.
"As someone who has benefited from the courage and civil disobedience of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, I cannot stand idly by as I see unjust immigration laws damage our communities and our nation,” Rev. John L. McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service, said. “It is a moral imperative that we take action now, particularly after the House Republican leadership has miserably failed to enact immigration reform that the majority of Americans roundly support."
With Easter recess around the corner, immigration supporters are in full force with their advocacy plans. Efforts have taken a two-tier approach: some groups focus on Congressional action for meaningful and broad reform this year, while others are focusing on administration fixes to reduce deportations.
Recently, pressure has mounted on the Obama Administration, as groups attempt to stop the unjust deportations of non-criminal immigrants who have roots in the U.S. The Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) will soon reach its 2 millionth deportation under the Obama Administration. The rising volume of deportations has caused uproar amongst the immigrants’ rights community, as advocates highlight the moral crisis in communities with families facing separation from loved ones. Advocates are urging the president to use his executive powers to ease unjust deportations that cause needless pain and suffering.
Feeling the pressure from some immigrants’ rights groups on the record-breaking number of deportations under his administration (2 million by early April), President Barack Obama recently requested a review on his deportation polices. The goal is to see if enforcement can be applied “more humanely within the confines of the law,” the White House said Thursday.
The decision comes after a recent meeting Obama had with three leading Hispanic leaders from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. The CHC, which is trying to formalize a resolution directed at Obama against deportations, capitalized on the opportunity to vocalize the outcry from the immigration-rights community on the inflated number of deportations that separate loved ones.
“It is clear that the pleas from the community got through to the President,” Gutierrez said in a later statement. “The CHC will work with him to keep families together. The president clearly expressed the heartbreak he feels because of the devastating effect that deportations have on families.”
Acknowledging the detrimental effect of deportations, “The president emphasized his deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
The president called on Jeh Johnson, DHS Secretary to administer a review of the current enforcement policies.
Obama has also requested a scheduled meeting on Friday with top immigration activists who have been pressuring him to act on immigration. Although the president and his staff has frequently said using executive action is not an option, advocates remain hopeful that the increasing pressure will result in action and see the review as a step in the right direction.
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