The boy is terrified. He has come thousands of miles running from terrible danger. He has encountered horrors on the way, riding on top of “La Bestia,” the train that carries migrants from Central America through Mexico. He stands in an immigration courtroom and hears the irritated judge threaten him with deportation because he has not been able to find a lawyer. He is staying with distant relatives as he goes through the court process, and they are barely able to feed the extra mouth, let alone pay for a lawyer for him. He is facing the very real possibility of being sent back into territories controlled by the Mara Salvatrucha, the organized crime syndicate that murdered his cousin and has threatened to kill him and his family if he doesn’t join up. He knows that they are likely to make an example of him. He feels terribly alone. Even though the translator speaks his language, he feels like no one in this strange land understands the cry of his heart.
This question hangs in the air, ever-present among us after weeks of our time, energy, prayer, and hope were focused on the release of Pastor Max Villatoro. We dared to believe that Max would be returned to his family, to his church, and to his community. But on March 20, the beloved pastor, husband, father, and Iowa City community leader was deported to Honduras. And we are all devastated.
For the last several weeks, members of Central Plains Mennonite Conference (Max’s regional network of churches), Mennonite Church USA (his national denomination), and others from across the country signed petitions, made phone calls, rallied, and made speeches in support of Pastor Max. But despite these efforts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement remained unmoved.
Max was taken into ICE custody on the morning of March 3 just outside his home. He was held for more than two weeks before being sent back to Honduras where he grew up. Max’s childhood years were difficult as his family was poor – a typical situation in a country where the average annual income is $2,070. As a teenager he traveled alone to the city to continue his education, but this proved to be impossible due to financial constraints. At age 20, Max decided to risk the dangerous journey to the United States. And he’s lived here for more than 20 years.
Last week’s last minute funding for the Department of Homeland Security has reminded us of how desperately America needs a long-term solution in the area of immigration. The current approach has failed to control the border, has resulted in de facto amnesty for 11-12 million people (the rough equivalent to the population of Ohio), and isn’t meeting our needs in the area of economic development and national security.
A necessary first step is acknowledging that the deportation of 12 million residents would be logistically impossible, as well as morally reprehensible and economically disastrous. The vast majority of these residents have proven themselves to be valuable members of our communities. We can debate the morality of mass deportation, but its logistical impossibility is grounds for moving on to a serious discussion about how to fix the system we have inherited
A little known fact of Lincoln’s legacy is that he explored the option of deporting slaves until he concluded that mass deportation could not solve the problem of slavery. In the weeks preceding the emancipation proclamation, Lincoln was actively pursuing an effort to deport the African-American slaves to Haiti, Honduras, and other counties in Central and South America. Congress actually appropriated $600,000 to assist Lincoln in deporting slaves to these destinations. Lincoln abandoned these plans only when other countries refused to cooperate. He abandoned them out of logistical, not moral necessity. He concluded that it simply could not be done. Then he moved on to legislation that earned him his reputation as the “great emancipator.”
“Sean Penn’s ‘Green Card’ comment may have ruined the entire Oscars.”
That was the headline from the Huffington Post. I didn’t watch the Oscars, but I’m always curious about pop-culture scandals. What could Sean Penn have said that was so egregious that it threatened to ruin “the entire Oscars?”
Penn delivered the award for Best Picture, which went to Birdman. After Penn opened the card, he took an awkward moment to gather his thoughts about how he would introduce the winner, whose director happened to be his long-time friend Alejandro Iñárritu.
That’s when Penn delivered the scandalous introduction, “And the Oscar goes to … Who gave this son of a bitch his green card? Birdman.”
On Monday night, a Texas court temporarily halted the implementation of Obama’s Executive Action announced last November. Specifically, the ruling delays the application of the extended Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) — previously slated to begin on Feb. 18 — and Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) programs until the ruling is superseded by a higher court.
This ploy began in December, when a combination of governors and attorney generals from 26 Republican-run states sued the federal government to block the Department of Homeland Security directives from going in to effect. This lawsuit, Texas v. United States of America, challenges the legality of both the DACA and DAPA initiatives, which together would have granted nearly 5 million immigrants eligibility for temporary deferred action and work permits.
Here’s what you need to know about the Texas vs. United States ruling in the aftermath of Monday night’s decision.
In November, President Obama issued an executive action that would protect nearly five million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Yet, since Congress returned in January, many questions linger regarding the implementation of executive action and the status of comprehensive immigration reform.
Last week, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hosted a hearing regarding “Deferred Action on Immigration: Implications and Unanswered Questions.” The purpose of the hearing according to Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was to “obtain a more complete understanding of the logistical, financial, and national security implications of these [executive action] policies.” Yet, many questions still remain.
Among other things, Obama’s November action expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and provided legal reprieve to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least five years. It protects a small number of the 11 million aspiring Americans who are living and working in the United States without documentation. At it is root, Obama’s executive action considers the people, not the politics that create division.
The GOP majority in Congress is attempting to oppose executive action by threatening to defund the Department of Homeland Security.
In my classroom, there is a little boy from Honduras. He speaks Spanish — that is the language of his heart — but he is learning English and tries with all his heart to learn new words and strange phrases that will allow him to live in his new world here. He is 9 years old, with dark hair cut straight across his forehead in a wonderfully crooked line. He has deep brown eyes the color of a plowed field, eyes that sparkle like starlight at night off a pool of calm water. He has big dimples that catch teardrops when he laughs until he cries, or when he cries until the sadness in his heart resides. He has a broad smile that is sometimes mischievous but most times full of joy.
Sometimes I wonder ... what is he thinking as he closes his eyes at the end of the day, or opens them at dawn?
"I hope my new world will embrace me," he thinks tenderly, "and not call me an illegal alien ... and not try to tear me apart from my Aunt ... and not try to tear me apart ... and not place me in the shadows ... and not make me a shadow.
Mami, can you hear me in the dawn? Will my words reach you over the land, over the land, to the valley, between the mountains, to La Esperanza, to Honduras? Help me, Mami. Please. I don't want to be a shadow here. ...
More than 100 Roman Catholic leaders are using this week’s annual march against legal abortion to press anti-abortion House members to pass immigration reform, saying they should see it as another “pro-life” issue.
“As brothers and sisters in faith, we urge these elected officials and all Catholics to defend the sanctity of human lives at all stages. We recognize the image of God in the migrant at the border, in the prisoner on death row, in the pregnant woman and in the hungry child,” the signers say in a letter sent Jan. 21 to two dozen Catholic members of the House of Representatives who are vocal abortion opponents.
The letter, organized by the Washington-based progressive advocacy group Faith in Public Life, is expected to be published as a full-page ad in Politico on Jan. 22.
That’s the day tens of thousands of demonstrators — including some of the House members the statement addresses — are expected to gather in Washington to protest the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, an annual display of passionate anti-abortion sentiment and political muscle.
The statement pointedly cites Pope Francis’ views that immigration woes and economic inequality are threats to life along with abortion, and it appears to be another example of the so-called Francis effect that is recasting the nation’s culture war by shifting the debates onto a broader terrain.
Hope is not a feeling. It is a decision — a choice you make based on what we call faith or moral conscience, whatever most deeply motivates you.
I have said that for many years, but this Advent and Christmas season tests my words — even in my own heart.
This is not a time that many of us are feeling a great deal of hope. I hear that from many friends and allies as well.
In fact, many events this year feel like they have sucked the hope right out of us.
And yet, even in the midst of terrible events and stories, the possibilities of hope still exist depending on what we decide to do for reasons of faith and conscience. In fact, people of faith and conscience are already making a difference in the most difficult situations and places.
And that gives me hope. This season of Advent, in the Christian tradition, is a call to patient waiting.
Christmas is the celebration of God literally coming into the world in order to change it.
While Republican leaders blast President Obama for taking executive action on immigration reform, some prominent evangelical leaders are welcoming the president’s plans to keep about 5 million undocumented immigrants from being deported.
Evangelicals are a key voting bloc for the GOP, but on immigration some are taking a pragmatic step away from the party. They include Hispanic leaders such as the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez who say the time has come to manage what has become a “de facto humanitarian crisis” for millions of immigrants.
“This merciful action takes place because for years our government, under the leadership of both parties, failed miserably as it pertains to immigration,” said Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Rodriguez planned to be with Obama on Nov. 21 in Las Vegas, where the President hopes to rally for his new steps.
Editor's Note: Thursday evening, President Barack Obama announced he is taking action to reform pieces of our broken immigration system. See Sojourners President Jim Wallis' recap here. Below are President Obama's remarks as prepared for delivery.
My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.
For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities – people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.
But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.
Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.
Tonight, faith leaders and all those who have spent years trying to fix our broken immigration system should feel gratitude toward President Obama. In a primetime address to the nation, the president announced he was taking executive action to relieve some of the suffering caused by the failures of the status quo. Millions of families will no longer live under the daily threat of having their lives torn apart by senseless deportations, which is something all Christians – whether Republican or Democrat – should celebrate. Many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have spent significant portions of their lives hiding in the shadows, can now enjoy the flourishing God intends for us all. Their joy and well-being must inform our judgments of the president’s action, especially in light of the biblical call to “welcome the stranger.”
Unfortunately, the president’s compassionate actions are creating a political firestorm among some Republicans in Washington. Their anger and antipathy toward the White House are blinding them to the positive effects these measures will have for our society. Even after decades living and working in our nation’s capital, I’m still amazed at the many ways political ideology can prevent us from having “eyes that see” and “ears that hear.” I lament that our political discourse has come to this.
Everyone agrees the only way to find sustainable, long-term solutions is through Congress passing bipartisan legislation. The Senate did exactly that more than 500 days ago, but their honest efforts have languished in the House of Representatives because of Republican intransigence. GOP leaders promised alternative policy ideas; reform garnered widespread, nationwide support — including among a majority of Republicans; faith leaders were hopeful after countless positive conversations with members of Congress; the president even told me that he was “optimistic” about reform after conversations with Speaker John Boehner; the country, and, more importantly immigrant families, patiently waited — yet, the House failed to act.
Yesterday, President Obama released a short video providing more information on a much-anticipated executive action announcement on immigration policy. While the details remain unclear on how many of the 11 million undocumented and aspiring Americans will be covered, relief is rumored to the following:
- Temporary legal protection for undocumented parents of children who are legal U.S. citizens.
- Temporary legal protection for undocumented immigrants with a longstanding presence in the United States.
- Extension of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
The president will address the nation tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the speech live here.
The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.
In an unscheduled address Nov. 11 at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”
“We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially,” he said.
During the summer, the president was moving toward unilateral action on immigration, despite warnings that such moves could exceed his constitutional authority or would turn voters against reform.
Then in early September, Obama said he would delay acting on his own, a move that was seen as a way to protect vulnerable Democrats from any backlash in midterm elections. On Sunday, Obama told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he was now “going to do what I can do through executive action.”
“It’s not going to be everything that needs to get done. And it will take time to put that in place,” he said.
Zach Szmara, Pastor of The Bridge Community Church in Logansport, Ind., was on a conference call when a young man entered the church. He put the call on hold to walk out of the office and meet him. In broken English, the man said, "Are you the people that help immigrants?" The man had driven more than 20 miles because he heard rumors of a church that loved the stranger.
Szmara said, "In that moment I was both humbled and convicted. I was humbled that our small church had such a reputation. Yet I was convicted that it was only very recently that I could answer 'yes' to the burning question of this young immigrant who came to me."
"I have lived overseas, and there my eyes could easily see the marginalized and the stranger in my midst. But at home in the states, I almost missed it, and almost missed how God has enriched my life because of it," Szmara continued.
The issue of immigration has dominated the headlines for much of this year. As Christians, we believe that – regardless of where we each may stand on the political spectrum – God’s heart for the immigrant is clear. In fact, the Hebrew word for an immigrant appears 92 times in the Old Testament alone, and the New Testament says in no uncertain terms that however we, as Christians, treat the stranger in our midst, is how we are treating Jesus himself.
On Aug. 7 we lit a single white candle at the prayer service welcoming Rosa Robles Loreto into sanctuary at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Ariz. Almost 90 days later, that candle has been joined by five others, representing Luis Lopez Acabal, Beatriz Santiago Ramirez, Francisco Aguirre, Francisco Perez Cordova, and Arturo Hernandez. We are grateful that Beatriz was just granted a stay so that she could return to her home with her two small children, but the rest all remain in sanctuary.
As we approach Rosa’s 90th day in sanctuary, its time to replace the nearly burned down candle, but the light of radical Christian hospitality continues to not only burn bright, but spread throughout the nation.