THE IMPORTANCE OF PAPERS
Imagine being so desperate for a way to feed and clothe your loved ones that you will chance giving your last money to an untrustworthy coyote to take you across the border from your native land to a hostile place where you do not speak the language and are in constant fear of being arrested, imprisoned, and/or deported--a place where you feel homesick and lonely and are doing work so hard that most Americans do not want it. But first, you must cross a hellishly-hot, arid stretch of chaparral where you know many before you have succumbed.
The 9/11 terror attacks ushered in much stricter immigration policies, and a growing number of states adopted laws aimed at making life harder for immigrants. Since its inception, this nation has been continually infused with the energy of newcomers. Yet this assimilation has never been smooth.
Cincinnati, Ohio has a very good reputation for helping children with developmental delays, because of the presence of their well-known Children's Hospital and an excellent county early intervention program and therefore draws families of children with developmental challenges from all over the world. One such family suffered many hardships to bring their tiny daughter with special needs to the US in the hopes of getting her the treatment and therapies she needed. She did get wonderful help through the early-intervention program, but her mother was totally isolated due to the language barrier and fear, and she never knew whether her husband would return from his construction job each evening. Possibly, she would not hear from him again if he were badly injured or arrested and deported, because he did not have papers.
Often, people escaping dangerous and/or chaotic political situations have sought safety in our country. The story of Sumera, who is a naturalized US citizen and her husband of ten years, Abbas, who is a citizen of Pakistan, exemplifies the fear and heartache of separation that may result from our deportation policies. Abbas has been in the US since 1991 and has worked hard, has filed and paid joint taxes, and has no criminal record. He has devotedly supported and cared for Sumera, who has severe medical problems. Because of a deportation order, Abbas has had to report to the ICE office every three months. On his last visit, he was told to report back on March 13, 2013 with his travel ticket. If Sumera chooses to stay in the US, she will be forced to live on welfare. She and her husband perceive Pakistan as a very dangerous place, especially for those who are not politically connected and are seen as "rich Americans." Kidnappings of such people are commonplace. Sumera and Abba only wish to live out their lives in peace. But he does not have papers.
In Arizona, many young people who were brought here by their parents and have never known their country of origin are now loyal, hard-working Americans aspiring to citizenship but are often unable to take advantage of the administration's deferred deportation plan because of the cost($465.00), political uncertainty, or mean-spirited attempts to thwart them, e.g., depriving them of drivers' licenses or in-state tuition rates.
Do we squelch these young people's enthusiasm at the outset? Will they become discouraged and unable to contribute to society in constructive ways? Will they become disaffected and live lives of poverty and degradation because of being barred from the American dream we enjoy through no merit of our own, because we simply had the good fortune to be born here? Do we turn our backs on them and miss the opportunity to embrace a wonderful source of energy and diversity?
Lisa was brought to the US when she was one month old and has lived here ever since. But her parents never "fixed her documentation," so as she grew up, she realized she was not the same as everyone else. Her whole life, she has wanted to be a legal citizen. 2011 was an awful year for her. Her father was pulled over by an ICE agent, arrested, imprisoned, and ultimately deported. She has not seen him since and knows nothing about Mexico. Now that she is almost finished with high school, she has been looking at colleges, but many will not consider her because of her status. She wants to be a doctor for the US armed forces but feels it is going to be a very hard road for her. If only she had papers.
As United Methodist followers of Christ, we regard these tragedies of separated families and young people suspended in limbo, all due to lack of papers, with consternation and compassion and look to find constructive paths and leaders to heal all of us touched by this intolerable situation.