(These stories were gathered as part of a visit to the east and west ends of the borders with Mexico where the Disciples of Christ are active in ministering to the “least of these.” Initials used to protect privacy.)
She admits he was in the country without documentation. N’s husband had been deported on Friday as she told her story in a church basement on Sunday.
“We pay our taxes. He’s been working for the same company for 12 years and is a foreman now. He supports me and our four children and we aren’t in debt. Why did they have to take him?”
The knock on the door had come early in the morning. When N answered the uniformed men asked her if she knew either of the men in the mug shots. She didn’t recognize the photos. Then the men asked if there was anyone else in the house and she answered yes. They came in and told her husband to come with them. Once in the yard they handcuffed him without explanation and put him in the police car. The uniformed men told N she would hear from her husband in a couple of hours and asked if she wanted to give her husband any money. That was at about 7 a.m.
By 6 that evening she was frantic. She had called everyone she could think of. The uniformed men had not identified themselves. Finally she got a call from her husband. He was in detention and about to be deported to Tijuana with only the clothes on his back.
On Sunday she was on her way to Tijuana to take him clothes and money.
“We don’t want to ask for welfare, but I don’t know how I can support all four of our children on my salary.” N is a U.S. citizen, as are her children.
Each story is different. There are nuances and legalities that apply to one case and not another, but the stories combine to paint a dismal gray portrait of immigration regulations in America.
“Most of the people who are undocumented are in the U.S. to be with family members,” said Rev. Xose Escamilla, pastor of Casa de Oracion in San Diego. “With the economy not thriving, the draw of jobs is not what it once was. Now people just want to stay with their families.”
In the case of G, she has lived in the U.S. since her mother brought her here when G was just four years old. She doesn’t know anything about living in Mexico, where she was born. She married a naturalized citizen and they have a toddler and infant.
“Who will take care of my children if I am sent away? When I was younger I didn’t worry about it too much, but now I’m worried every time I see a police car,” she said.
Another layer of complication for someone like G is that if she is sent back to the country she was born in, she has no standing there, either. “She is a ghost,” said Escamilla.
M came to Texas because her five family members deep in the heart of a southern country were starving and she could not think of another way to help them. She found a job cleaning a house, but her employer made her work seven days a week and sleep in a dog kennel with a single blanket. When M asked to be paid, her employer drove her to town and stopped the car, saying the radiator needed water. She told M to go in the church and get some and immediately drove away and abandoned M. Now she has no money to go home and no place to live.
The response of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is multilayered and a focus of the Justice Table working group. In some cases it is as simple as a partnership between congregations on both sides of the border. In the San Diego/Tijuana area, Escamilla can call Pastor Guadalupe “Lupita” Castillo in Tijuana to help their members and families. In Bayview, Texas, Southwest Good Samaritan Ministries helps neighbors to the south with an orphanage, food distribution and resettlement help for people released from the Port Isabel Detention Center nearby.
In the United States, the denomination retains the services of Tana Liu Beers, an immigration lawyer, to help interpret the myriad of laws and regulations and soon Disciples Home Missions will be announcing the appointment of a new director of refugee and immigration ministries to help with resettlement and other issues across the U.S. and Canada. In addition, ecumenical partners and the Disciples Center for Public Witness in Washington D.C. monitor legislation and speak out for those without a voice.
Reform on the table
"Immigration policy is both complicated and influenced by the times in which we live, but we can achieve the common good of equal protection under the law of all people, no matter what they look like or where they come from. Our undocumented brothers and sisters live and work among us, pay taxes, start businesses, and contribute to U.S. economic and cultural life. We will continue to stand in solidarity with them against anti-immigrant laws and in support of positive, humane immigration reforms," says Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director and CEO of Church World Service
There was a Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act before the 110th Congress in 2007 that would have addressed many of these concerns, but it did not get out of the Senate. A similar proposal for comprehensive immigration reform (now five years old) from an interfaith group including Christians, Hindus, Ba’hais, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists and Jews, calls for the opportunity for undocumented people to regularize their status with reasonable criteria which may include fines, reduce waiting times for separated families who currently may wait more than 10 years to be reunited, and protect the border humanely and with respect while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals.
The recent Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive order by the president was an attempt to address one portion of the undocumented population brought here by parents and not of their own accord, but it is not a path to citizenship, only a stop gap for deportation for the next two years.