This year marked the second time I have seen some of our undocumented students cross the stage at commencement. As I sat there I pondered what the future would hold for these students. My first thought was how honored I was to have met them and partnered with them in their journey toward an education. The other thought was, “Will the U.S. Congress get their act together and pass a piece of legislation that will help them truly achieve their dreams?” This journey has not been easy for them, particularly for one student whom I have come to know and love, Eunice (pseudonym). She came to the U.S. at the age of 12. Her father was seeking a better life for his family, and like many others, sought that better life in our country. Here is a part of Eunice’s story as told by her during her junior year of college.
In my life there has always been a door open for me, even when men say it is shut. This is because God opens doors that no man can shut. His word testifies to this, “What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut” (Rev 3: 7-8).
However, getting through those doors has been the hard part, accompanied by a flood of tears and pain. As illegal immigrants, the doors to a better life are shut to us by the inhumanity of the laws. Coming to the United States is not always a choice for immigrants. It wasn’t my choice to leave my family at the age of twelve, it wasn’t my choice to cross a dangerous river, nor was it my choice to hide in the woods and cross the frontier in a small car with 8 other people piled on top of one each other, but I had to.
My dad tried giving us what he could, but it wasn’t enough. Therefore, as the oldest child, I had to move with him to the United States, leaving my mom and three siblings, so that my family could live a better life. Living in the United States as an “illegal” immigrant is like crossing the border everyday. We are constantly facing borders and obstacles that we have to somehow cross to make it alive by the end of the day. Also, living with the fear that after getting through a day, or a month, everything can be destroyed and fall apart by deportation. This is the fear I see in my dad’s eyes and in his words of terror just by the thought of it. But our God is merciful and powerful.
In 2003, I spent my first summer in the United States working in the fields picking berries, which was the only work I was allowed to do and using a school ID as an identification card. This became my work for the next six years. When I couldn’t work during the school year the only thing I could help with was doing chores at the house. However, at times things got hard, and what I was doing to contribute was not enough. During my junior year of high school, I almost had to drop out of school because we were faced with economic difficulties. Therefore I needed to leave school and work in the fields to help my dad. Fortunately, somehow things worked out and that never happened.
Finishing high school was exciting, but scary. I knew I wanted to go to college but it seem so impossible. We barely had the money for the food on our table let alone college. Oh! And I am an “illegal” immigrant. Going back to the fields was a sure thing, but God had bigger plans. He opened doors that lead me to where I am now.
At the age of 21, looking back, it’s been such a long time since I have seen my mom and my siblings. These years without them have been hard but God has a plan. Now, in my junior year of college, I do not even have enough fingers to count the blessings He has giving me. I’ve been so blessed by the opportunity to continue my education and to work during my first summer in something that I am passionate about, chemistry research. My dreams do not end here, graduate school is one of them, but the most important is to serve God’s kingdom with the gifts and passions that he has giving me.
Every time I find myself in front of a tall border, it seems like God is telling me, “keep dreaming, there is an open door for you.” God had put a dream in my heart even when some things seemed impossible. I trust that He will lead me to where I am supposed to be. Therefore, I keep dreaming because I know God has already planned a day for me and many other immigrants for when our dreams will become a reality. I know that one day our stories will be known, families will be reunited, and people will walk the streets without the fear of being deported or being pointed out as an “illegal” immigrant. That day will come and we will remember that “What He opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Rev 3:7).
Our commencement was in April. I left that event feeling happiness and sadness for Eunice as her future was uncertain. I have been active in educating educators from K-12 to those working in higher education about how to best support students like Eunice. This work is hard as many of us have students like Eunice that we know will be a contributing citizen of our country if they would just be given the chance.
As a believer I was excited to see that many key evangelical church leaders held a joint press conference on June 13 informing people that they supported the DREAM Act. This was a step in the right direction. Hopefully now the federal government might take action. It was my “pipe dream.” In reality I was pretty sure nothing would happen. Then on June 15th, president Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security would be implementing a program called deferred action. My cell phone became busy with texts and emails from undocumented students who wanted me to know right away about the announcement and what they should be doing to prepare themselves. The truth was that I was skeptical, as our president had made promises before that had become empty. I began to think of what would happen to students who made themselves known and were denied deferred action. Would they then be on a list for deportation proceedings? These are the types of questions that filled my mind.
I will tell you this; I am excited about the possibility for students like Eunice and others who now have a bit more hope. I would encourage those of you reading this to continue to put pressure on legislators to enact comprehensive immigration reform. For those of you who work in higher education, I would encourage you to examine your policies and become a welcoming place for students life Eunice. Our campus has become a better place by having students like Eunice on our campus.
Joel Perez serves as the Dean of Inclusion & Student Leadership Programs/Chief Diversity Officer at George Fox University, located in Newberg, Oregon. You can follow his blog at joelperez.net
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