Updated: May 18, 2020
Image above designed by Hannah Hollander of Give Ten Co.
March 5th is a day that has been haunting DREAMers for the past 6 months. For about 800,000 of these immigrants who arrived in the United States as children, they have had the opportunity over the past 5 years to work legally, obtain driver’s licenses, and live without fear of deportation under a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But on September 5, 2017, the current administration announced that this program would come to an end on March 5, 2018. Many members of Congress on both sides immediately spoke up about their concern for DREAMers and vowed to work towards a legislative solution that would continue the protections they had received under DACA. Here we are 6 months later, and nothing has been done.
The issue of immigration is one that often stirs up strong emotions and fierce debate, but it is important to remember that this is not just a political issue – it is a human issue. The causes behind the current immigration crisis are wide and varied because each immigrant that crosses our borders is a unique individual with a unique story. But one thing that ties so many of these stories together is desperation. People do not often leave behind home and family to embark on a journey that is dangerous, knowing that they will end up in a place where they will be unwelcome and mistreated, if they are not desperate to escape their current reality and feel that they have no other solution. For so many of the undocumented immigrants that I know, there would be no possible “right way” for them to arrive here, but the reality of staying in their native countries would be extreme poverty, persecution, and threats of violence.
And so they come. They come with the hope of new opportunities and a better life, but often what they find is poor living conditions, hard labor with little pay, angry racial slurs spoken against them, and people who seek to take advantage them. It’s not an easy life, but they do their best to survive, trying to remain anonymous, hoping that their children will someday have a chance to thrive.
The issues surrounding immigration have become very personal for me. For the past 12 years, I have lived and worked in a neighborhood that consists primarily of immigrant families of mixed statuses. I have gotten to know my immigrant neighbors and have been embraced by this community and learned so much from them. I’ve learned about what it means to be a good neighbor as I see people consistently give of whatever they can to support each other. I’ve learned about hospitality as I’m welcomed into people’s homes and lives. I’ve learned about hard work and sacrifice, not just for an individual’s benefit, but for the good of those who surround them. I’ve learned about unconditional love with no limits. I’m so grateful for what my neighbors have taught me.
And so when I hear conversations about immigration, I don’t just think of a faceless people who look different than me and speak a different language. I think of my friends and neighbors. When I hear about DACA and the DREAM Act, I don’t just think of some poor, unfortunate kids who happened to be born in the wrong place. I think about the students that I have watched grow up over the years. I think about the young adults in my community who are talented and generous and hard working and who want the chance to fulfill their dreams.
I think of my friend who I’ve known since she was in 3rd grade. I used to help her with homework, take her on field trips, and lead her through Bible studies. She was brought to this country when she was 2 years old. She’s always worked hard, been willing to help out, and made good choices. She’s followed the example that her parents set and has valued her faith, education, and community. I’ve seen her grow up and become a beautiful young woman. She’s a leader in her community and has helped to mentor and disciple the younger students. She’s in college now and DACA has made it possible for her to work at a hospital to support herself and help out her parents. She wants to be a nurse but fears that dream could be taken away. Even worse, she worries every day that her parents will be taken away.
I think about my friend who has babysat my kids since they were tiny babies. She came to this country when she was 5 years old. She’s grown up knowing that she needed to hide, fearing that if people knew the truth about her status that she would be forced to leave the only home she’s ever known. When DACA was introduced she applied, hoping that this would be her opportunity to live and work freely, but her application was denied because she couldn’t provide enough proof of her continuous presence in this country. You see it’s sometimes hard to find evidence of your existence when you’ve spent your life trying to hide. She’s a talented chef and artist and has so much that she could contribute, but until something changes in our immigration system, she has to rely on odd jobs and the support of her community to get by. I’ve seen her fight to keep believing that there is a place for her here and keep hoping that change will come.
I think of my friend who came here as a young teen. He left a country where he had no home and no family and entered the US legally with a student visa. He was welcomed in by a family and began a life here. Somehow along the way, he got some bad legal advice, which left him with an expired visa and no way to renew it. He was faced with the choice to return to a country where he had nothing or stay with the people who had become his family. DACA finally gave him some peace of mind and an opportunity to use his impressive IT skills in a real job. Now the threat of being forced to leave his family lingers in his mind once again.
A few days after the announcement was made that DACA was being terminated, I sat in a room with DREAMers who had come to hear from legal experts about what they could expect in the months to come. It was heartbreaking to hear their questions…
“We’ve worked so hard. We’re in college and working jobs that we only dreamed of before DACA. Is this all going to be taken away?”
“We’ve finally been able to live without fear. Will we have to go back to living in the shadows?”
“Now that the government has all of our information, will they come to our homes and take us away?”
There is an extreme weight that these young adults have to carry around everyday. They’ve spent the majority of their lives living in fear, and then after finally having a glimpse of hope and an opportunity to pursue their dreams, it seems that it all may be stripped away. They’ve waited for Congress to make good on their word and provide a solution, and they’ve watched as Congress has continued to play political games with their lives. Their “expiration dates” hang above their heads.
My heart breaks for my neighbors and friends. My heart breaks for the 800,000 DREAMers across the country with similar stories. Jesus tells me to love my neighbors as myself and to show mercy so I will continue to seek justice for the DREAMers, to advocate for them, to pray for them, to view them not in terms of their status but as fellow humans who are deeply loved and accepted by God.
This is what the Lord Almighty said, “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.” – Zechariah 7:9-10
For more info on DACA and immigration in general, check out these resources…
20 Days of Action for Dreamers, by The Global Immersion Project
Welcoming The Stranger: Justice, Compassion, and Truth in the Immigration Debate, by Matthew Soerens & Jenny Hwang Yang
Christians at the Border: Immigration, The Church, & The Bible, by M. Daniel Carroll R.