A Few Thoughts on Immigration

Image from  BBC World Service

A recent poll from the Pew Research Center found that "about half (54%) of Hispanics say they are confident about their place in America after Trump’s election while four-in-ten Hispanics (41%) say they have serious concerns about their place in America."

These concerns are deepened by reports such as this one published on Feb. 16 at The Washington Post:

The U.S. government said the series of ICE raids last week netted at least 683 “criminal aliens,” the first major immigration enforcement wave under President Trump. But a growing chorus of activists, lawyers and lawmakers have pointed to a sharp discrepancy between what ICE says it is doing and what immigrant families are seeing and reporting in cities across the nation.

In Chicago, a student called her high school teacher to tell him that ICE had raided her home the night before, arresting her father, an undocumented immigrant whose criminal record included only traffic violations, the teacher said. In Centreville, Va., a woman told officials at London Towne Elementary School that a student’s father had been arrested after dropping their son off at school that morning. And in the Baltimore parking lot of a Walgreens, ICE agents arrested a barber and a local business owner who advocates said also had no criminal records.

The reports of seemingly random arrests, of ICE agents appearing during the day outside schools, shelters and apartment blocks, have sent a palpable wave of fear through the nation’s immigrant communities.

“I have never seen the immigrant community, both the lawfully and unlawfully present, with a greater amount of fear than I have in recent weeks,” said Faye Kolly, an attorney in Austin.

On Thursday, the agency’s top officials traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress, some of whom had requested a briefing on the immigration enforcement actions. According to lawmakers present, ICE officials acknowledged that at least 186 of those apprehended in recent days had no criminal history.
— The Washington Post

I just want to write a few comments on this issue. In the past it would have barely been on my radar, if at all. But almost a year ago some dear friends of ours had their lives turned upside down because of a series of unexpected events. 

Without going into too much detail out of a desire to protect their privacy, I want to explain how I now see some of the issues surrounding illegal immigration. Granted, this is based on anecdotal evidence, but it is a true story affecting a real family, and there are thousands more like it.

A friend was brought to the U.S. illegally at the age of 4. He was later mixed up with a crime he didn't commit, but with evidence against him a lawyer advised him to take a plea deal and serve time. He was told that if he married a U.S. citizen, he would be fine. Thus he left prison with a felony on his record. Fast forward a few decades and the man we know is a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He owns a business and works hard. 

But one day he was falsely accused of stealing something. He was taken to jail and the following day a man he does work for was able to produce proof that the item had actually been purchased weeks prior. Just as he was about to be released, he was informed that because of his immigration status and his previous felony conviction, he must be deported. 

He was taken from his family and for the past 10 months has been in various federal immigration detention facilities (read: prisons). He is currently awaiting his hearing, but in the meantime ICE has attempted to march him across the border and deport him a few times, only to be stopped just in time by his lawyer. His wife and children have spent the last 10 months struggling at home to make ends meet and pay for the expensive immigration lawyer who is his only hope of ever getting home.

This is just one story, but it illustrates a few things:

  1. In some of the policy talk we're hearing, all that has to happen for an illegal immigrant to be deported is an accusation of crime. I've read and seen enough to know that our criminal justice system is a mess, and at times a criminal conviction is bogus enough. But now just the accusation could be cause for deportation. This turns people in our country against one another and causes large percentages of the population to live in fear.
  2. It's easy for us to say, "They came here illegally...they should go back home and come in the right way." Current data has the wait time for legal immigration to the U.S. from Mexico to be at over 20 years. I can't imagine coming here as a child, building a life, working hard, then having to leave my family for 20 years.
  3. Immigrants in our communities have a reason to be fearful. We can advocate for legal immigration reform while also being compassionate to those caught in the system right now. We can't believe all the rhetoric--these are real people with real families being torn apart. And from a practical standpoint, it seems taking the primary or secondary breadwinner away from a family will cause more problems for the state, rather than less. 
  4. We have a responsibility as ministers of the gospel of Christ to reach out to the scared men, women, and children in our communities. My kids have had friends in their classes express fear of deportation--even those here legally. A Muslim friend has told his sisters not to leave the home too often out of fear for their safety. False information about immigrants has caused neighbors and friends to be fearful of those who intend no harm and simply desire to lead peaceful lives. We are called to reach out, to be peacemakers, to love sacrificially, and to leverage our power for those who have none.

I don't know what I would think about the immigration issues in our country if it weren't for the friendship we have with this family. Perhaps I would see things differently. But proximity to their situation has given us empathy with their suffering, and the suffering of thousands like them. It has put faces and names to statistics. If you think of it, pray for them. Pray for their faith and trust in our Father in the midst of uncertainty. Let's pray for those who have the power to decide what happens in cases like theirs all over America.  And let's pray for our churches to be filled with compassion for the fearful immigrants in our communities.