About thirty years ago, I had my first encounter with the immigration system. I was still in Mississippi teaching high school Spanish. As I finished my lunch in the teachers’ lounge, the office put a call through to me from the sheriff’s office. The sheriff explained that they had picked up a person who did not speak English and would I translate for him, mainly getting his name and finding out where he was from and if he had a green card. The detained man told me he was an angel from heaven and he did not have a green card since God did not give them out. I repeated the information to the sheriff who said, “Okay, I see what we are dealing with. I’ll have to call immigration.”
For the next thirty years, I worked with immigrants helping them find work, get their children enrolled in school, find medical care, get car insurance and license plates, get drivers’ licenses, learn English, and fill out immigration paperwork when they were eligible. But for the vast majority, there was no path for them to fill out paperwork. There was no line. Every year I would say, “Be patient. We will have a new Congress this year. I’m sure they are going to fix it.”
But every year, nothing happened. I cried with many who had to make the difficult decision of staying here and sending money home to pay for the funeral of a parent rather than go home to grieve with family. Yes, they could have gone home. But the cost of coming back continued to rise. And the danger of the crossing continued to escalate.
Today, there are two crazy trains running across our country. One is the political train saying “Send them all home and build a wall.” The other political train is saying, “Open borders now.” If you have a ticket for either train, please know that these words are not solutions. They are only words to get elected. Sending twelve million people home is an incalculable undertaking. Besides the fact that we need these immigrants. Open borders would include airports, the Canadian border, and all beach access points. Do we really want anyone and everyone coming here? Surely there is a train of common sense somewhere that has plenty of people to process paperwork, plenty of visas available for whoever wants to work, and plenty of compassion.
Someone said that instead of building higher walls we should extend our table. That sounds good if we really mean bringing a family home to share at our own table. However, I believe what it really means is to let the government extend the table and take care of everyone. The majority of the immigrants I know do not want government handouts. They just want an opportunity to work for the American dream. Why can’t we give them a path to do just that? We need their labor. And Christians, we need to hear their stories of faith.
When my train gets to the pearly gates, I hope there is a line for me, that God has plenty of angels working, and that I don’t need a green card.