Thursday, July 29, 2010

Upside Down

Since today marks the date in which the controversial SB 1070 law is set to go into effect, I thought I would share some thoughts about this heated debate.

When this law was first brought to the public's attention a couple months back, I decided I better read the whole thing to see what it really said. I also read a lot of commentary on the law, from both sides of the debate. I was, and still am opposed to this law. As I read the law, I felt like I was reading something from World War 2 or even something similar to the Jim Crow Laws. I don't mean to over dramatize it, and I realize the injustice that most immigrants deal with in our country is not comparable to the Holocaust or slavery, but what is comparable is the blatant hatred for another people group. The language used in the law and also by the Arizona Governor and other officials supporting the law is plain dehumanizing. If you look or talk like an immigrant and don't have your proof of citizenship on you at all times, you are breaking the law. If you are undocumented and simply look for a job in order to feed your family, you are breaking the law. If you give a ride to an undocumented friend, you are breaking the law (If this law applied to California, I would technically be breaking this portion of the law just about every week!) I just don't think this is how God would have us handle the issue. Thankfully, most of the harsher parts of this law were blocked by a federal judge, but it still leads me to think deeply about what is happening.

As an activist for God's Kingdom, my constant thought is, "What is the Church's role in all of this?" When I look at scripture and how Christ interacted with people, I can't help but think that we can do better than this. I also find myself asking the question, "If God's Kingdom is upside down...what does this mean for us, right here, right now?"
I get it. Terrorism is scary. Unemployment is scary. Change is scary. People that don't look or talk like us can be scary. Poor neighborhoods are scary. But what if we threw out our rights as Americans and embraced the rights Christ has given to all of us: the right to live free, the right to love and be loved, the right to lay our lives down for a friend. What if we put other people before ourselves? What if we put, dare I say it, Illegal Immigrants before ourselves? I think this issue is difficult for so many people because if you look at it from a purely American perspective your conclusion will be something along the lines of, "They are breaking our laws. They are taking our jobs. They are taking our healthcare. They are taking our tax money." Very self centered, to say the least. But even if this was all true (which there are countless studies to show that these statements are not completely accurate), what would happen if we took our American glasses off and looked through a Scriptural lens. If we took serious the scripture that asks us to humble ourselves, share all we have with those in need, lose our lives in order to gain it, welcome the stranger, love ALL people as Christ loved us...then how would this change our perspective? How would we look at our tax money, our jobs, our health care? God's Kingdom is upside down. So why do we think we are entitled to more rights, opportunities and benefits than those who were born somewhere else, just because the kingdom of the world tells us we are? Some of you might be thinking, "But what about the scripture that tells us to follow the laws of the land." Yes, I think it is important to be law abiding people, when appropriate and when possible. But friends, Jesus broke the "law of the land" did Paul, Timothy, and most of the people from the New Testament. When it comes to people's survival vs. laws that do not align with God's justice, I think there is plenty of grace for those who chose to survive. I think God is calling us to extend that grace to our undocumented brothers and sisters. If you were in their place, wouldn't you want the same?

I think about a guy from the shelter who was forced to smuggle drugs across the border and on his eighteenth birthday, ICE came to his foster home and arrested him. I think about my friend from the neighborhood who was brought here as a young child because his parents were desperate to make a better life for their family, and now he is an adult with virtually no rights. I think about the family who was just torn apart because of an unlawful raid that took place at a factory in Fullerton. I think about a friend who was abandoned in his home country by his parents, brought here legally to live with an adopted family, and is now out of status because his school did not file the correct form. I think about every single person who lives in the tension of should I do what is "lawful" or should I do what I have to do to survive.

Then I think about how we have responded to these people.

Church, we can do better. We can love these people better.

"Transformation is not easy. In truth, it’s very, very difficult. While we need the political will to transform our society, and leadership to get it done, we also need to be personally transformed, and we need to act as agents of transformation. If we fail to think and act differently, if we fail to change the way immigration is understood and debated in this country, we will fail our neighbors, our children, and our God. We have to choose to be transformed, and we have to choose to be active participants in the transformation of our society for good."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

No Me Gusta Adios

I have always hated good bye's. The worst kind of good bye's are the ones where you don't know when you will see that person again. Well tonight I had to say a couple seemingly permanent good bye's. I have spent the last month and half getting to know the girls at the shelter and I knew the day would come when some of the girls would leave. It's forbidden for volunteers to exchange personal info with the kids or stay in contact with them after they leave the shelter. I understand and respect the rules, but it still sucks. A couple of the girls are being reunited with family and will be able to finish their court cases outside of custody, while other's are leaving under less exciting circumstances. For those that are going to live with family, it's bittersweet. I know it's so great for them to be in a real home, but the reality that I will never see them again and never know how their case turns out is difficult. For those that don't have family, it is a whole lot of bitter and not anything sweet. They are stepping out, alone, into a world that is pretty much against them. They will have to continue their fight without the comfort of a counselor to help them deal with all the trauma or the security or their pro-bono lawyer to help win their case. There is such a long road ahead for them and it blatantly reminds me of the long road ahead for all of us who have chosen to join them on this journey.
Take M for instance.
M is a little less than 2 weeks away from her 18th birthday. For a kid in Immigration Detention, your 18th birthday is not something you look forward to; a far cry from the average 17 year old's anticipation of freedom. For these kids, it can too often represent the opposite of freedom. M has spent most of her life here in the U.S. Her family migrated here when she was a young child. As she became a teenager, she ended up getting arrested for some minor crime and then turned over to ICE. For one reason or another, her family was not able or willing to sponsor her or take her in, so she stayed in the shelter. Now, on the brink of "adulthood", her options are pretty limited. She can legally no longer stay at the shelter because it's only for minors. She has no family that is willing to let her come live with them. She has no green card to get a job and rent her own place. Her Immigration court case is still pending and now that it will be moved to adult court, the wait time will be longer and the judge harsher. She is virtually alone in an incredibly scary world. The crazy thing is that if she was born here, she would have been put into domestic foster care and would have received at least opportunities for free education after she turned 18. But no, she was born a few hundred miles away from deserving even those rights...or so our laws say. So what will happen to her? Well she will probably go live in a shelter until her case finishes. From there, she will either receive her papers or get deported. If she get's her papers, she can at least get a job and try to make something of her life. If she get's deported...well, then she will go back to a country she doesn't even know. Either way, the road is long and lonely. It's nights like tonight that make me want to buy a big house and fill each room with young people like M. Matt keeps telling me, "One day, Bethany, one day." I know he's right, but for me, "one day" can't get here soon enough.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Meet Julie and Natalie

Julie, 7, and Natalie, 3, are our neighbors that live directly behind us. For some reason, they have decided they like coming to our house. I'm not exactly sure why, we have nothing that I would consider appealing to a 3 and 7 year old, but they come...almost daily. Because of this and the history we have with the family over the past few years, we have gotten to know their story quite intimately. Natalie, Julie, and their older brother, Jose Luis, were all born here to their American citizen dad and their non-citizen, Mexican born mom.

When their parents were first married, the couple sought to legalize the status of the new bride. It seemed like a no brainer; if you marry an American citizen, you should get your papers. Unfortunately, this is not as true or as easy as it used to be. When the couple was first married, she was told to go back to her country in order to return legally. As she left the US, thinking she was doing everything right, her leave was incorrectly marked as a deportation, even though this was not what she was told. For those of you that know anything about Immigration you know that a deportation on your record basically means you are blacklisted from the US and it makes it practically impossible to ever receive residency or citizenship. In order to be with her husband and ensure her future children would have opportunities as American citizens, she crossed the border and started their family.

Fast forward to today. After thousands of dollars spent on lawyers and years of struggling through the difficult choice of "follow the laws of the land" or be with your children, the family has found themselves in a tough spot. Their mom has returned to Mexico to try and legalize her status once again, but was told she must "wait in line" at least 10 years before she can legally return to the US. 10 years. Her kids will be 13, 17, and 22. The thought of a mother being away from her children for 10 years is unfathomable. As just a friend, I personally can't imagine missing these children grow up, so to think what it must be like for their mom daily breaks my heart. The kids often talk about their mom and how much they miss her. After they leave our house, I usually have one of two responses to our time with them: I will sit and cry or I get on a soap box and begin preaching to the choir (my husband) about how injustice is alive and well...and then I sit and cry. I feel so helpless; so hopeless. All I can do is love them like crazy while they are in our home, tell their story and fight for reform.

So I started a blog....

My fight. The fight God has called me to. Our fight.

If you know me at all, you know my life is most lived in a neighborhood in Fullerton, Ca. My husband and I have committed to intentionally walking through life with our neighbors with the hope that they will one day know the freedom of Christ. Often times, this means embracing the struggles of our neighbors as our own. There is one struggle that stands out from the others. Gangs suck. Drugs suck. Alcoholism sucks. But nothing makes life more difficult for our neighbors then our broken Immigration system. Maybe I have lost some of you now that I said it, but for those of you who are still reading, there are a couple things you should know:

1. I really do not wish to engage in any political debates about what is best for America. Honestly, I care way more about what is best for the Kingdom and humanity then I do about what is best for America. So if you disagree, that is more than fine....but realize this is where I am coming from.

2. I will unashamedly declare the compassion and love of Christ for all mankind, despite how uncomfortable it makes people.

3. Everything I write comes from my Christian and Biblical perspective.

4. Yes, I am "Pro Immigrant." Even "Pro Illegal Immigrant." Immigrants (even the Undocumented ones) are people, therefore God's beloved creation, therefore my brothers and sisters, therefore I am called to love them (actually we all are), therefore I am "Pro Immigrant." (Oh, and for the record, I am also Pro Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

So what will this be? This will be a collection of stories and experiences that continue to lead me towards depth with Christ: the stories of my friends and neighbors and their struggles to navigate the ever confusing and broken Immigration system in our country. These stories are why I care and why I fight.