Lent 2017: At the Border of Jesus and the Law (Interview)
The following is an interview between my good friend (and neighbor) Lindsey Boulais and her co-worker Nancy. After serving in the Philippines for several years, Nancy moved into a low-income immigrant community in Central California. For more than a decade, she has worked alongside her neighbors to see change come in their lives and in their neighborhood.
LB: What do you wish people knew about those who are undocumented?
ND: So much! Basically I wish people knew that so much of what they hear are really myths and not the truth. For example, there is no "line" for legal immigration to get in. Also, undocumented neighbors pay taxes, contribute to our culture and society in their food, businesses, educated minds, etc. There is a long list printed somewhere of the myths about those who are undocumented. I wish people recognized that most of their negative beliefs are really myths. Also, I wish people realized that most undocumented neighbors do not want to cross the border because they are in love with America, but because they want to feed their family and keep their family safe. Hunger and violence do a lot to propel people across the border. It is not out of a desire to live in America. The youth I know who came over as very little children did not want to leave their grandparents, did not want to leave their dog or friends. They had to come.
What have you learned about God through being in relationship with immigrants?
I think I have learned that God is way more gracious than we are. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the places where we start this discussion. If we start on the side of the law, we end up with one conclusion. If we start on the side of humanity, we end up somewhere else. I think God is on the side of humanity. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve clearly broke the law. There wasn’t immediate banishment or eviction. There was relationship first. God still went to the garden in the cool of the evening to look for them and walk with them. He listened to their story first! He provided clothes for them that would last longer than the leaves they had sown together, and then there was the consequences and the removal from the garden. Also if you look at Jesus, he always stood on the side of the person versus the side of the law. He healed on the Sabbath, he stood with the woman caught in adultery. This isn’t to say that we dismiss the law, but we look at it from a more humane side. I could say a LOT more on this . . .
Immigration is a complicated process. What are some of the barriers facing immigrants applying to the US?
It is super complicated and I don’t know everything. However, I do know that money is often a huge barrier. People fleeing poverty have to pay a lot of money to a coyote to cross the border and then when they get here finding work can be difficult and most continue to live in poverty for at least a generation or more. Finding money for the legal process is hard. A friend of mine was working through the DACA process, there was lots of paperwork that had to be submitted, creative ways to prove she was here in the US after she graduated high school but couldn’t work. Paper work, time, energy, money, ability to face disappointment and setbacks and keep going.
There is just absolutely no legal way for most people I know. I have 2 good friends and both came to America as children, one from Mexico and one as a refugee from another country. Both as youth got into legal trouble with gangs and prison time. Both have come to know and love Jesus. Both serve in full-time ministry doing amazing things I could never do. Both are married with children and have stable lives and bless our city in ways too numerous to mention. Both are on the list for deportation. Both have sought out legal counsel with immigration lawyers and criminal lawyers. Both have been told there is nothing they can legally do to fix their situations (each for different but super complicated reasons - but basically there is just no way for either of them). So they continue to live and thrive and work for the peace of our city, and we pray against their deportation.
What happens when someone is deported?
It is horrible! As soon as someone gets caught by border patrol crossing over or by ICE they get thrown in a detention center which is literally a prison. Most will go before a judge for a trial to hear their case. A friend of mine called the trial a "charade of justice." Based on the judge and the court, they could be put back in the prison, (I mean detention center,) for a month or for two years. Most of the detention centers are for-profit, so there is a lot of motivation to keep the beds filled ($160/bed/day)! When they get deported they are released on the Mexico side of the border. They have nothing or mostly nothing with them. They feel like failures. They were not able to provide for their families in their own city or country of origin and couldn’t get work in America. It is really hard.
(note from DL): I'm grateful for Nancy and her honest assessments of what she sees going on around her. This season I have learned so much about the ignorance that most of America has when it comes to the situations, circumstances, and sufferings of our neighbors who are undocumented (and the lack of options available to them to become legal citizens). I will be thinking about Nancy's answers for a good long while, and I hope you do too.
About the interviewer:
Lindsey Boulais is passionate about Christ, His heart for the marginalized and how the church can get involved. Living and working in a low-income community in Portland, Oregon, you can find her losing in UNO to the neighborhood kids, drinking too much tea with Afghan refugees or stealing away to read. Follow her at lindseywithlove.wordpress.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @lindsey_boulais