Editor’s note: This blog post originally ran on the Community 4:12 blog. Permission was given by the author to repost.
I have lived in a largely immigrant community for the past 6 years. I know many of my friends and neighbors are undocumented, and I have seen some of them suffer the consequences of their status: inability to get a driver’s license, inability to participate in the democratic process of voting for president or local officials, losing a family member to deportation and/or living in constant fear of deportation. Legally they are not allowed to work, but one way or another, most of them have found jobs and a way to provide, at least minimally, for their families.
But recently I have had the heart-breaking experience of investing in and empowering a couple of women to develop their leadership skills and confidence, only to see them devastated by the reality that they can’t work in the capacity they feel called to. And I realized just how much I take for granted my ability to work.
I know immigration is a divisive and hotly contested issue. But putting the debate and “legal” issues aside, I am left with seeing talented, passionate, committed women again feeling hopeless and worthless. And I am left feeling guilty that I tried (and succeeded) to convince these women that they ARE talented and have so much to offer, and that society and our community needs them.
Sure, the skills and confidence they have developed can be used in volunteer endeavors, and I am encouraging them to use their gifts that way. But I have talked to many moms in the past year (and I was one myself a decade ago), who say that no matter how much volunteer work they do, they long to contribute in a meaningful and significant way and be valued with the dignity and honor of being paid for what they do.
The difference, though, is that these moms can be paid for what they do someday, and that provides hope to endure the long, hard days of being at home with little kids they love dearly but that quite literally at times make them crazy. My immigrant friends don’t have that hope. As a woman who finds deep meaning and significance in doing a job I love and being able to help provide for my family, it saddens me deeply to know that my friends may never know that experience. Sure, they could obtain the necessary nine-digit social security number in illegal ways. But honorably, they are not willing to do that. So I will continue to advocate and fight for immigration reform, and pray that before their new-found self-confidence fades, the “land of opportunity” will be open to them.
Kirsten Strand is the Founder and Director of Community 4:12, a community development focused non-profit of Community Christian Church. She and her family relocated into the under-resourced community of East Aurora, IL six years ago. Their work focuses on education and housing issues, and they are passionate about uniting people across cultural, language, and economic divides to address root causes of poverty.
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