by Al Santino, NECT Director
My wife Haydee and I have been ministering to Juanita (not her real name), a 19 year old single mother who is an immigrant from Mexico without documentation or as some would say, “an illegal alien”. Juanita was a middle school student of Haydee’s in the Bronx. As with several of the girls at her school, Haydee had become her mentor, “mother” or “big sister”. She took the opportunity to invite Juanita to a recent movie night hosted by our church, Open Door Fellowship of East Harlem and this gave us an “open door” to minister the Gospel in both word and deed.
Juanita came to the US as a one year old child. She currently lives with her mother, 18 year old brother and younger sister. Juanita dropped out of high school but wants to work to help support her family and eventually get a GED and go to college. We accompanied her to an Immigration Clinic in East Harlem sponsored by the CUNY Law School hoping and praying that a lawyer could lay out a pathway of hope. However, there was little to rejoice about since she has no documentation and short of any immigration reform, no viable pathway to citizenship. Her brother was born in the US but cannot petition for her until he is 21 and even then there could be a 10 year wait for a Green Card. Upon hearing this sobering news, the look of despair upon her face was obvious. Juanita, like many in her condition, is trapped in poverty and despite her willingness to take responsibility has no open door to a fruitful life for her and her child.
Recently, myself and several local Hispanic ministry leaders in our denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, attended an Immigration Forum at Princeton Theological Seminary. One message was central to all of the presentations; “Will the Church be a herald of justice for the aliens among us or remain on the sideline in indifference.”? Through our Justice Education Program, Northeast Community Transformation is seeking to take an active role in educating and advocating for accessible and just legal services and immigration reform that will reflect God’s care for the least of these…the undocumented. Recently we began a partnership with David Nachman of Nachman and Associates, an excellent immigration attorney who is consulting us on some of these matters. We will continue to keep our partners and friends updated about workshops, legal services and other important information.
The immigration debate is complex. Emotional, simplistic or knee-jerk answers will not do. Neither will indifference or apathy. The Lord is calling His people to seek His wisdom and fulfill His call for mercy and justice. Those like Juanita are not “illegal” in God’s Kingdom. May God grant us mercy over our failure to work for justice and may He grant us conviction to love those such as her, ones whom Jesus called “the least of these, my brethren.”