Last Saturday, I committed myself before God, my church community, and my family and friends to take Diana Wood as my wife, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death.” In fact, by the time that this blog posts, my Diana and I should be on our honeymoon in Michoacan, Mexico. So, naturally, I’ve been thinking a great deal about marriage lately, and praying for God to guide and bless our life together.
One thing that I haven’t spent much time thinking about is what to do if government agents come to my house to detain Diana, or what happens if she is deported to a foreign country. That’s because both Diana and I are U.S. citizens, so these terrors are unlikely to affect our marriage. Over the last several years, through my work as an immigration legal counselor, in visiting many immigrant churches, and just in meeting folks in the neighborhood where I live, I have encountered scores of marriages strained by the effects of a broken immigration system.
Take, for example, my friends Kristi and Alex. I met them at a local church, where Alex serves on the worship team. Kristi’s a US citizen born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago who works as an elementary school teacher. Her husband, Alex, is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He came many years ago in desperation to help support his family, who live in conditions of poverty that Kristi says are beyond what she could previously have imagined. In many ways, their marriage is just like anyone else’s, but with additional challenges: Alex can’t drive lawfully, so they have to coordinate transportation, and they constantly fear that Alex will be picked up and deported. When they married, Kristi presumed that there would be a reasonable process by which she, as a US citizen, could help her husband to get a green card, but she’s found out that it isn’t so simple: it’s impossible for him to be granted legal status in the U.S. under current law; if he returns to Mexico to apply, he’ll trigger a ten-year bar to re-entry, during which time they would either need to live apart or Kristi would have to move to Mexico, unless they were to be granted a waiver. They’re praying through whether or not they should take that risk—and praying for a change in the laws that make such a dreadful decision necessary.
Nazry and Hope were married last summer. I imagine that as they began their life together, eager to partner to share the love of Christ in the under-resourced neighborhood of Waco, Texas where they have chosen to live, they had many of the same hopes and anxieties that Diana and I are experiencing now. They could not have anticipated, though, that early on a Wednesday morning last March four armed agents from the Department of Homeland Security would come to their house and take Nazry away. He’s now been detained—in the privately-operated South Texas Detention Center, a four-hour drive from their home—while he awaits a deportation hearing. Nazry has been a lawful immigrant with a green card since he arrived in the United States from Singapore in 1993. As a teenager, though, he made some poor decisions, became addicted to methamphetamines, and ended up in court-mandated rehab through a Christian ministry called Mission Waco. It was there that Nazry—who had been raised as a Muslim—met and gave his life over to Jesus Christ. He has now been clean for five years, finished college, and joined the staff at Mission Waco to be able to serve others—but the Department of Homeland Security still maintains that his drug conviction renders him deportable to Singapore. Hope—a student at Baylor University—is scrambling to come up with the thousands of dollars necessary to pay an immigration attorney and praying that God would make it possible for her husband to be released from detention pending his court date and, ultimately, to be allowed to stay with her in the United States.
Tony and Janina are both originally from Poland. They were married in a big wedding in Chicago, built a life and a business together, and had a son, Brian. A few years ago, though, Janina was issued a deportation notice and forced to return to Poland; the couple decided that she should bring Brian with her. Janina had applied for asylum when she first arrived in the United States more than two decades ago, fleeing the Soviet government that controlled Poland at the time—but by the time the case was finally decided, years after it was originally filed, the Soviet Union had fallen and the court determined that it was safe for Janina to return so they denied her asylum claim. By then, she had a marriage and a family in the U.S., but that did not make her eligible to stay. Janina and Brian have now been in Poland for more than three years, while Tony, now a naturalized U.S. citizen, struggles to try to reunite their family. (Tony & Janina’s story is chronicled in a documentary called Tony & Janina’s American Wedding, which I recommend).
I’m grateful, as Diana and I embark upon our life together, that we’re not likely to encounter the challenges to our marriage that these couples face every day. As a couple, though, we’re committed to standing with them in prayer and in action. We believe that strong marriages are crucial for a healthy society; it’s tragic when marriages fall apart in our society for any reason, but as citizens in a democracy, it’s our responsibility to respond when it is our government that is breaking marriages apart.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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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