On June 19, 2012, a press conference was held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a national, evangelical hub, to further promote the Evangelical Immigration Table. The intention was both to encourage a united evangelical front for immigration reform and to seek a common, biblically mandated vision for helping create a better life for immigrants in America. This post is the first in a series of three documenting what was shared by several local Colorado Springs leaders during the press conference.
As a pastor of many immigrants we see firsthand the reality of the moral and economic crisis the current immigration laws are causing. Our people live in daily fear of being separated from their families. Those who try to do the right thing and follow the current requirements are now in a system that cares little for a father who has not seen his children for almost two years. These people are faithful in their work, loving parents, and could be model citizens. But they remain on the fringe of society. They cannot afford the unjust and repetitive costs of the immigration application system. Many came here at a time when there was a path to work and a path to residency only to have that changed after they had formed families and networks and had children. Now that path has not only been shut, but it has taken away their dignity as human beings and labeled them as “illegal.”
At Mission of Mercy, we serve the poorest of the poor in many of the least developed countries including some close to our borders. We see the devastating impact that poverty has on families in countries where unemployment is over 40% and parents have no choice but to go anywhere they can to find work. They do so not for a better life but just to be able to feed their children. Our organization focuses on child development to break the cycle of poverty. But the cycle is rarely broken unless there is hope and an opportunity. We work through the churches in these countries to somehow provide this hope. But the kind of opportunity we all wake up to in America is virtually non-existent for those just outside our borders. Someone with skill will take that skill anywhere they can to help their family. Many of these people found an America with open arms, in need of their skills, appreciative of their tax revenues and thankful for the work they did so they didn’t have to do it. When we interview the children and they tell us their fathers and mothers have gone away to find work, they have a certain pride in their voice because they know it’s for them. And yet it’s with a resignation that there is no other way. No child wants to be without their parents. We must realize that many of the immigrants in America are only doing what any decent mother or father would do for their children. There should be a way we can help them do that with dignity and pride.
As evangelicals we are called to serve the poor and the marginalized. Each person is created in God’s image. As evangelical churches we exist to bring all people into fellowship with God and each other and to encourage each one to use their God-given gifts to better themselves, their families, and their societies. How can people enjoy fellowship with each other when they can’t even share their reality? How can we preach that God loves them and wants to use them when the society around them shuns them? And perhaps worst of all, the lack of moral immigration laws is dividing our communities by making everyone suspicious of any neighbor that looks like a foreigner even though they are citizens.
Without immigration reform my church will also be in the shadows, losing people who cannot stay or who cannot join in full membership. Without reform, we will be unable to function to provide our community with hope and our people with a purpose.
We, the churches of the immigrant and with the immigrant, will continue to struggle to find ways to minister to all people based on their value as human beings not the status of their papers. But there is a warning in this issue to all the evangelical churches out there who are not engaged or who think this is not their call. Every society that has faced similar struggles of human identity and dignity and fought through it to find what was good and right and just, has always looked back and asked, “Where was the church?” Where was the church when families were being broken apart, or when children were left behind to fend for themselves, or when people were forced to live in silent poverty because they couldn’t work? Where were the leaders who stood silent in their pulpits saying the church could not engage in political issues? God has always asked His Church to show society the way when it has lost its conscience. This issue is important and we share this value because we believe it is for moments like this that we exist to show that God’s economy is about justice for all and when that doesn’t exist we all lose a part of our soul.
Yolanda Lalama-Garrido is an immigrant from Quito, Ecuador and is now a USA citizen. She completed her education in the US and in Ecuador, and both she and her husband pastor a C&MA church, “The Crossing,” for Hispanics in Colorado Springs. She is a mother of 4 children and has been working in development for nearly 25 years. She currently works with Mission of Mercy as the Field Development Director. She is passionate about fighting against injustice and standing up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
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