Guest Blog by Kirsten Strand
Four years ago my family moved from an upper-middle class, mostly Anglo neighborhood to a low-income, predominantly Hispanic community. Four years ago, “illegal immigration” was a nameless, faceless issue. Today, undocumented immigrants are neighbors, friends, and students in the third grade class my husband teaches at a local elementary school. Enelda, Raul, Jose, and Rosa have made it impossible for me to think of immigration as simply a political and social issue anymore. (Their names have been changed.)
Enelda is part of a parent mentoring program I lead. She has lived in America, undocumented, for almost 15 years. Her children were born and raised here, and she and her husband have worked hard to help them get on a path out of poverty. She was recently pulled over for driving with a burned out tail-light. She was arrested on the spot for not having a driver’s license. She sat in jail for three days and was then released with a court date to come back in three months, at which time she has been told she will be most likely be deported back to Mexico. Enelda & her husband have 3 months to decide whether they will all go back to Mexico, or whether Enelda will leave her children behind to pursue that “better life” for which they have worked so hard.
Raul is a sophomore at our local community college. A talented artist, musician, and student, he was accepted at several excellent universities. But, without papers, he is not eligible for financial aid. So, he lives at home and is working his way through community college. We all prayed recently that the Dream Act would pass so that Raul could have the opportunity to transfer to a university when he completes his AA this semester. When Congress killed the Dream Act a few weeks ago, they killed Raul’s dreams of going to college and graduate school.
Jose recently had a friend drive him across the country to one of a few states in the nation that allows undocumented immigrants to get a drivers license, because he hated not being able to drive legally and get insurance. He came to America as a child, and has lived a “secret” life ever since. As a Christ-follower, he lives with the constant guilt of knowing he is breaking the law by being here. But, to return to Mexico would be giving up everything and everyone he knows. So, he prays for a pathway to legal residency while enduring the guilt and shame of knowing he is a “criminal” in the eyes of many.
Rosa was a third grader in my husband’s class last year. Part way through the year, she started having trouble concentrating and was often teary-eyed. When Scott approached her, she shared that she was afraid to go home each day because she might find out that her mother had been sent back to Mexico. Reading and math became irrelevant to her . . . all she could think about was loosing her mom.
I know there are countless Eneldas, Rauls, Joses, and Rosas in my community and around this country. To many, they are simply illegal immigrants . . . and criminals. But I just can’t believe that that is how Jesus sees them, or how he wants me to see them. Every day when I look around my neighborhood, I am more convinced that our immigration policies are broken. Daily I must watch God’s children suffer the consequences for our lack of urgency in addressing this broken system, and I can’t help but think we are not loving our neighbors as Jesus would.
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 four 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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