As you read this piece, you need to know that my goal today is not to make some political statement or to try to persuade you to think this way or that about immigration. The immigration issue is a hot political topic and so divisive that it often proves difficult to have a rational conversation about it. I’ve learned that I don’t have the answer to this complex reality facing millions of Americans who live in as undocumented residents of the United States. I’ve also learned that what I thought I knew about immigrants is wrong and so I hope to tell you a couple of stories so that you can learn some of the reality I have been confronted with in Tijuana.
I’ve spent lots of time these past few days with many men who have been deported in the last week or so for various reasons. Most of their stories are pretty much the same. There are many reasons why they are being deported. Today we are going to look at a few.
Yes, there are some who have committed violent crimes. Almost all the men I’ve talked with, who have had a rough past of gang banging and drug dealing, did these deeds a long time ago. Every one of them has served their sentence and been released. Most have a family and have been working hard to make an honest living. To a man, each one I met who has a difficult past, did not complain about the injustice of their deportation, but rather said their past has caught up with them. But those who have committed violent crimes are a small minority.
The vast majority of the undocumented residents who are here are family men who came to the states decades ago when the rules were different. The US wanted immigrants to come and do the jobs that no one else wanted to do. They started in agriculture or construction and got paid very little for what they did, but it was much more than they could make in Mexico. They came looking for a better future but have been kicked out of the country after building a nice life for themselves.
One man I met has four children, two girls and two boys, a wife and home he has paid for. He got pulled over on the interstate for speeding and was arrested on the spot because he didn’t have a driver’s license. He was locked up for weeks, didn’t get to say goodbye to his children and was literally dropped off at the border. There was no trial and no chance for him to plead his case because he wasn’t allowed to contact a lawyer or even appear before a judge. Such is the justice he received from our system.
Another man I met was licensed to work in heating and air, plumbing and as an electrician. He entered the US legally 25 years ago and has been working ever since. He paid off two homes, had his family and now is headed to Mexico City alone because his children are US citizens and in school. They would have to quit school or seriously delay their education to be with him. He won’t be allowed to come and see them. In order to be with his family, they have to come see him. So he lives with the reality that he will not be a big part of their future.
The man who worked in heating and air was arrested for a DUI. For most people that means pay a fine and sit in jail for a few weeks. Because he failed to keep up with his immigration paperwork, his punishment is losing all that he has and loves in the States. He doesn’t plan on ever going back because it costs too much and is too dangerous now. Instead he is going home to Mexico City and praying for his children.
One man who was served by this mission was in his 80’s and deported after two weeks spent in a coma because of a stroke. Because he didn’t have his documentation, he was deported directly from the hospital. When he came to and recovered from his stroke enough to remember his lawyer’s phone number, the mission learned that he had worked for the US government for over 30 years. Despite his service to our country, he was only allowed to go back to the states because he had saved hundreds of thousands of dollars and had a good lawyer.
I’ve also heard stories of men who were stopped for a broken tail light, who have no criminal convictions, but were deported anyways. At least one man who has been served at the mission fought for the US in Vietnam. It seems that it is easier for the US government to get rid of these undocumented residents than it is to give them even a hearing before a judge. Is this right?
As a Christian living in a “Christian” nation, do these policies reflect God’s justice? Are they an expression of the forgiveness and welcome we have received from God through the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Christ? What is our part in bringing some measure of restoration or justice to these men?
“Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 146:5-10, ESV)