Guest Blog by Troy Jackson
Some Background Information: Bernard Pastor is a young man, originally from Guatemala, who lives in Ohio. He’s an excellent student and very involved in his church, where his father serves as the pastor, but he is undocumented. In November 2010, he was detained after a minor traffic accident and put on a fast track to deportation to Guatemala, the country his family fled when he was a child after being persecuted for their Pentecostal faith. His story is highlighted in a short film called Matthew 25: Bernard’s Story.
As a local pastor, Troy Jackson got involved to help advocate for Bernard’s freedom—and for the passage of a bill called the DREAM Act that would have allowed Bernard and many like him—young folks who call themselves “DREAMers”— to earn permanent legal status by completing high school and going on to college or military service. That bill passed the House of Representatives last month, but then failed to pass in the U.S. Senate. Thanks to the prayers and advocacy of many throughout the country, Bernard was granted a one year reprieve and released from detention a few days before Christmas.
On a Friday afternoon back in December, a haircut seemed like a good idea. It had been too long since my last one, and Christmas was approaching. A few steps from the twirling barber pole I got a call with great news: Bernard Pastor was to be released, answering the prayers of his family and friends and thousands across the nation! I went ahead with the hair cut, trying to ignore my cell phone that vibrated a few times a minute with new texts, calls, and voice mails!
The next 24 hours were a blur. I joined Bernard, his attorney David Leopold, and civil rights advocate Leo Pierson in Washington DC late Friday night to make one last push for the DREAM act before the Senate voted on Saturday.
We got up early and made our way to Ohio Senator Voinovich’s office. Voinovich is retiring from the Senate this month, and has supported immigration reform in the past. Back in September, Voinovich refused to support the Dream Act when it was attached to a military spending bill, explaining he would support a stand-alone bill on Dream. This was his chance!
But Voinovich explained that he thought voting for the Dream Act, which he called a good bill, would get in the way of more comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) that could pass next year. I had to ask, “Do you really think CIR will pass next year?” His response was that it needed to pass, but he didn’t sound too confident. Meanwhile, Bernard said, “With all due respect, this is my country as much as it is yours.” Nothing more needed to be said.
And so we made our way to the Senate Galley to watch the votes, and over and over again Senators who had supported the Dream Act in the past voted against it. In the end, by a vote of 55-41, the act failed (due to Senate rules, 58% isn’t good enough).
The next hour was difficult. I was one of a handful of supporters who gathered with DREAMers for prayer and a brief press conference afterward. As I stood there, I realized that Senator Voinovich and 40 other Senators had just told these beautiful young men and women that they were not welcomed in the United States.
Our nation, and Christians, over and over and over again, has sat by and allowed our Congress to tell our young undocumented immigrants that they do not matter to us.
Oh, make no mistake about it. We give undocumented immigrants roles in our society. We allow them to live in the shadows, to work processing our food and washing our cars and cleaning our hotel rooms. We let them wash our dishes when we go out to eat. We even sometimes allow them to finish near the top of their high school and even college graduating classes. But they are stuck in the shadows. There is no room for them to be full contributors to our society.
And we allow this. We remain silent. We give over to the belief that there is no room left in America.
But there is good news of great joy from this past Christmas season: Bernard is free, and a movement for immigration reform has begun.
For underneath the tears and the heartbreak of those 200 DREAMers gathered in DC, I saw something else: determination…faith…passion…sacrifice…hope.
They may be stuck in shadows, but in a few short years, with God’s Help, Bernard Pastor, Gaby Pacheco, Israel Valerde, and hundreds of thousands of DREAMers across this land will have room in the USA. As Bernard Pastor has reminded me over and over again, the only thing God cannot do is fail. With God, all things are possible, and these dreams will come true.
Troy Jackson is senior pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and earned his PhD in United States history from the University of Kentucky. He is author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader (Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century).
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