This past week I attended a Mother’s Day service at a local Hispanic church (I was invited by some of my neighbors) and a few days later, an elementary school graduation of a Mexican boy who is in our mentoring ministry. It is not unusual for my friends, roommates, fellow mentors and I to find ourselves at events like these… I really enjoy being involved in the lives of the neighborhood kids and their families.
At church on Sunday, the pastor preached to the immigrant congregation about not neglecting the families they left back in their home countries. We had a moving time of prayer for family members “back home” who may feel abandoned or betrayed by their loved ones’ choice of moving to the U.S. He spoke of how the Lord knows the heart of the immigrant and knows the tears, pain and the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to leave one’s home country and all things familiar for an indefinite amount of time. He reminded us of the Bible characters (including Jesus) who moved to distant lands either for reasons of famine, searching for work, fleeing oppression or by a command from God Himself.
There I sat on Mother’s Day – amongst families from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, etc who had left their home and other family members behind in search of opportunity – knowing that I had the luxury of driving only a couple hours into the next state to see my mother and they didn’t share that luxury with me. I could sense the ache and maybe even a little remorse in the sniffles that filled the sanctuary as we pleaded with God to protect those still remaining in poverty, war-torn countries and without access to education.
Don’t fear, God knows your heart.
A couple days later I attended a 5th grade graduation. The boy I was there to see is from Mexico. His legal status is pending. He was brought to this country as a baby by well-meaning parents only wanting the best for their son. I watched him receive award after award for scholastic achievement and heard teachers, principals and board members charge the group of students to “make wise decisions” and remind them and their parents that there should be no excuse not to complete high school and continue on to college. Before he and a handful of his classmates went up to receive the Presidential Academic Excellence Award, a letter from President Barack Obama was read. The President congratulated the students on their hard work and encouraged them to continue pursuing outstanding performance in their education. Everyone seemed to be on board with this sentiment. But how many parents and educators in that room really realized the opportunity disparity that will become evident among this class of 2019 in the next few years? While citizen children will be able to easily earn a driver’s license, their classmates lacking documentation will have no chance at receiving a legal state-issued ID. While citizen high school graduates will be receiving scholarships and paying in-state tuition, some of their peers will have little chance at higher education, much less financial aid, and will have to pay out-of-state tuition for colleges that are right down the road from their high school.
To many latino immigrant families, moving from 5th grade to middle school is huge. This step is something that many parents that I personally know were not able to take while back in their home countries due to economic hardship. Seeing their children continue with their education is an emotional moment in which they realize that every sacrifice they had to make was worth it.
I had a recent conversation with my neighbors who are from Mexico and Guatemala about the political climate in my home state, Alabama, and updates on the anti-immigrant legislation that was passed last year. They told me about a Mexican man living in Alabama who came home one winter evening after work to find his water and electricity cut off. (as suggested by the new law – “no one is to enter a contract with an undocumented immigrant” including landlords and utilities companies) He, his wife and small daughters went to bed that night without showers or heat. When he called to inquire about it he was told he had two days before he would be evicted. Two days later they headed to Tennessee where they now live.
My neighbors have voiced their concerns with me before about waking up each morning not knowing if that day could be the day they get detained or deported. These people have lived here for years. They have established families. This is the only culture and country their children know. I asked if they had some kind of plan in place for their children in the instance that they were arrested. (I heard of many families in Alabama having to do this with other family members or neighbors after HB56 was passed) They told me not really but that they make sure that all their children (who are natural born citizens) have their passports as soon as possible. If anything were to happen to one parent, the whole family would follow back to the home country – being separated is not even an option.
I consider these families very dear to me. So when I hear ignorant anti-immigrant political rhetoric… it hits me in a personal way. Whether this affects you or anyone close to you, I challenge you to have the courage to think critically beyond the stereotypes and xenophobia. Put a human face to the issue. And if you are a follower of Christ I sure hope you are able to see that God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.