Immigration

In McAllen, Texas, Faith Groups Responded, while Washington Dithered

Religious leaders and immigration advocates marched toward the White House on July 31, 2014. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

In the face of an imploding immigration system, an exploding political debate and a deadlock on reform in Washington, it was religious leaders who rallied to form a humanitarian response to the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the border to the United States this summer.

The number of migrants crossing the border began its steady rise in 2011, but it escaped the Obama administration’s notice until spring, when the rise became a wave.

By September, 66,127 unaccompanied children and 66,142 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran families had crossed into the Southwest, mostly into the Rio Grande Valley. The flood contributed to a backlog in U.S.  immigration courts of nearly 400,000 cases.

Nowhere was the religious leadership more apparent than in McAllen, Texas, where churches and local government forged an effective and compassionate response to the crisis.

When Supporting Your Family Earns a Criminal Record

Noemi Romero's Family. Photo from Define American
Noemi Romero's Family. Photo from Define American

America was a free country. There, freedom is everything. Growing up, that was the picture I had. America was the country where you’re free to do whatever you want.

It all changed when I turned 16. I woke up excited, ready to go to the DMV and get my driver’s license like all my friends were doing -- and then my parents told me that I was here illegally. I was undocumented. Reality sunk in. America was not a free country for me.

Will America Live Up to Its Promise?

Aly Wane speaking at an event in Syracuse - photo courtesy of Define American.
Aly Wane speaking at an event in Syracuse. Photo courtesy of Define American.

Last week would have been the 71st birthday of my mother who was tragically killed abroad 15 years ago. Because of my undocumented status, I still have not been able to visit her grave site. This experience is all too common in the undocumented community. This is one of the many reasons why, despite the fact that I am an American by default, I struggle with my connection with this country and with the very concept of citizenship.

My mother brought me here legally when I was 9 in 1985 after fleeing our home country of Senegal following a painful estate dispute once my biological father passed away. She found work as a diplomat at the United Nations, and I came here as her dependent. I then attended high school at Georgetown Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., and thus switched to a student visa. I continued my education in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania for two years but had to leave because I couldn’t afford the tuition. My mother was in Zimbabwe then and I couldn’t afford going to join her. Unfortunately, neither my diplomatic visa nor my student visa statuses count towards getting a Green card. When I left school, my status lapsed, and I became undocumented. Three years later, my mother was killed — a victim of domestic violence. With no “home country” to go back to and no way to adjust my status, I had to adjust myself to a life in the shadows.

Should All Americans Have the Right to an Education?

Group from Freedom House, Photo courtesy Define American
Group from Freedom House, Photo courtesy Define American

"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.

What Are You Most Proud Of?

Felipe's family at the Statue of Liberty. Courtesy Felipe Diosdado
Felipe's family at the Statue of Liberty. Courtesy Felipe Diosdado

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.

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