The concept of grace is fundamental to Christianity. In fact, if anyone asked me to name the most important word in the Bible, other than “Jesus”, it would be, without a doubt, the word “grace”. There are many different ways to define grace, but the one that nails it the best was one I heard in a sermon a long time ago. It defined grace as “undeserved love that catches you by surprise and changes you forever”.
Grace is the operative word of Christianity. Everything in the life of the believer revolves around grace. We live receiving it, both from God and others, and we are expected to dispense it to others on a daily basis. Since this world is God’s world, it is possible to see glimpses of grace by people other than Christians and by institutions other than the Church.
If you have the fortitude to go past the ugliness and brokenness so apparent in our world and keep looking around you with open, loving eyes, you find glimmers of grace and hope all over the world. You will be able to see it in the everyday workings of our culture and our political institutions. I am one of those believers always looking out for them.
On August 18, 2011, I saw a glimpse of grace in an announcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On that day, it began reviewing all pending deportation cases and establishing a new process and new guidelines for deportation. Immigration authorities want to make sure that resources are used toward deporting individuals who commit serious crimes and not those who are law-abiding, hard-working people, and who pose no threat whatsoever to our society.
I saw another glimpse of grace on January 6 of this year. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.C.I.S) announced that it would allow immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are eligible for immigration, but must prove extreme hardship, to file a waiver in the U.S. and have it adjudicated before leaving the country to have a consular process their approved petitions.
If there is one thing everybody agrees on regarding our immigration system, it is that it is seriously broken and in desperate need of repair. Our immigration laws are not an organic whole any longer, and many of the significant legal changes made, especially since a set of laws called the “unlawful presence laws” were approved in 1997, are very harsh and punitive.
It used to be a relatively simple process for immigrants to adjust their status to that of legal permanent residents if they married an American citizen or resident. But since 1997, unless immigrants can prove that they entered the country legally, they cannot get a green card through marriage unless “extreme hardship” suffered by the American spouse or children can be proven in a court of law and a cancellation of removal can be obtained.
Immigrants married to American citizens who have been in the country illegally for more than 180 days must self-deport (or be deported by the authorities) and wait up to 10 years outside of the country before they can be petitioned for legal permanent residence. Thus, an undocumented immigrant who is a husband, a father of American citizen children, maybe even the sole breadwinner of his household, would have to self-deport and wait up to 10 years outside of the country before he can come legally and be reunited with his family. Unlawful presence laws, which split families apart, have had a serious, and very detrimental side effect to our society. They make us feel better about the legality of everyone’s immigrant status, but they tear families up.
The announcement on January 6 was good news for many individuals, like the father in the previous paragraph, who are fearful of leaving the U.S. to process their immigrant visas at American consulates or embassies. This results from them being denied at their interview there first, and only then can they file for a waiver of inadmissibility which may or not may be approved. They must do all this in consulates that are located in dangerous cities, like the one in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. They would now be able to complete their immigration process in a shorter amount of time and in a somewhat safe manner.
These glimpses of grace from our immigration authorities give me with a measure of hope about the possibility of our policies becoming more just, humane and gracious. On the other hand I know that a couple of piecemeal minor adjustments here and there, no matter how gracious they are, will not make our system whole and more fully just.
As people of faith, we must look out for glimpses of grace around us and celebrate them when we find them. But we must also continue to pray and stand in the gap for the strangers among us, until both our immigration system and our culture are enveloped by grace and we can begin to hope that immigrants will be treated with dignity and respect they deserve as children of God.
Jesus is the Director of the Immigration Service and Aid Center, a collaboration of Texas Baptists and Baptist University of the Américas, in San Antonio, Texas. The ISAAC Project, as we call it, focuses on equipping churches and other organizations to engage the immigrant community along a continuum of ministry options.
Please note that the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of everyone associated with G92 or any institutions with which the blogger may be affiliated.
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