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Faces of Reform: Immigration

Roman was a pretty average student at the after school teen center where we met nine years ago.  He was timid but he liked to joke around. As neighbors, I still saw him after graduation.  He worked here and there and was always trying to keep his sister on track. 

At the community center, church volunteers are great about helping kids with their homework.  Volunteers coach kids in soccer.  They teach Bible studies and put on Vacation Bible Schools.  Our volunteers truly want good things for our students.  They plan field trips and college visits.  They take kids to the theater and sporting events to expose them to culture and our community. 


People love to be a part of seeing an immigrant kid be the first one in his family to go to college.   Volunteers take it upon themselves to help students fill out applications and some volunteers even help kids pay for college.  It’s hard to argue with education.  There aren’t too many arguments against educating immigrant kids.  It is the way to get ahead, the way out of poverty, the hope for their future. 

But what is the future of undocumented immigrant children?  What is the future for students like Roman? There are 2.8 million of them who would benefit from legislation like the Dream Act-   If they do go to college, which they legally can in the state of California, what is their future when they graduate with a degree?  They still can’t legally work.  Despite the fact that they have a bachelor’s degree, they cannot work even the most menial jobs.  So are we holding out a false hope to our students by telling them, “If you work really hard, you can be successful”?

And what does this say about our stewardship as the Church and a nation?  Our volunteers invest hours and hours of their time and energy.  We give thousands of dollars to worthy programs to help students succeed.  The director of an admirable program I spoke with last week estimates they invest $40,000 in one student over the course of nine years to make sure they attend and graduate from college.  That doesn’t take into account the thousands of taxpayers’ dollars we invest in a student’s public education. 

As the Church we are quick to invest in community betterment programs.  Our ministry has been the grateful recipient of thousands of dollars to prepare students, many undocumented, to be leaders in our community.  But we cannot go the distance.  We cannot make good on our intentions for these students under the current system.  Until we engage in systemic change, we are lying to kids and poorly stewarding our resources.

It is hard to find volunteers to fight for immigration reform.  When it comes time for systemic change we spend our time debating and nitpicking while the kids we have poured so much into are literally dying.  Last month Roman was found dead in the desert.  After years of schooling and tutoring and field tripping with church volunteers, Roman was deported for fighting and on his way back home across the border he died in the desert.

Now you can say that he should not have been fighting.  And you can say that he never should have come to the US without papers in the first place but the fact of the matter is that millions of children were brought here by their parents without having any say in the matter, were loved and educated by us, and were then failed by a system that does not go the distance for them. 

We will engage in a life up to a certain point but will not participate in changing systems to ensure that those we care about will continue to succeed.  A couple years ago, when we had an opportunity to reform the immigration system the Church, for the most part, did not engage.  It was too controversial, too political. Some of us lament the sad situation but when it comes to speaking up, we shrink back.  We don’t bother to get involved.  We are silent.  Is all we have worked for, for nothing?

We have two choices then.  We can give up.  We can see the futility with our current system and not even start to help undocumented students.  We can realize that it is a risky investment- one that may end up dead in a desert.  So we can choose to not even try.

Or we can work to change the system.  We can recognize that these students aren’t “investments” they are beloved children of God.  The same Father who from the beginning of communicating his heart to his people said, “Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21) 

And we are aliens here.  We are citizens of heaven and not of this world.  In the Kingdom I am a citizen of it is heartbreaking that the neighbors we love are dying in the desert.  In this Kingdom we speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.  We speak up and judge fairly; we defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9) 

Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.”  Roman is dead because we only loved him in the confines of our church buildings and community centers.  He is dead because our love didn’t go far enough to ensure justice. Our voices were silent when we had a chance for change.  For the sake of the millions of undocumented students like him, for the sake of obedience to the Scripture and the Church’s witness in the world, let us not be silent anymore. 


Thank you for writing this entry, Crissy. It inspires me to keep working with the church in my city on this issue.

I am just now beginning to become involved with the Mika church volunteer program you are referring to in your post. This past Thursday they were raising money for Roman's funeral by charging a quarter per game of lotteria (Bingo). At the time my only reaction was slight shock at the impracticality of such a method of fundraising, but I paid my quarter just the same.
Coming from an incredibly conservative upbringing, your article brings up an interesting point as I begin to invest more of my time into the Costa Mesa community. I have a heart for people and social justice, but find my thoughts clouded by the mantras of my white, republican father (who I love and respect very much, but hey, lets be honest, it's what he is).
I wonder what wold happen if I had him read this...he has strong opinions, but he listens. Thanks for providing a platform for a future and very necessary conversation :)

God bless.

Thank you for engaging in the community and the conversation. I believe that our relationships with the neighbors inform the perspective we share in the conversations. There is a constant considering and pondering and challenging of what we think and believe. I'm right there with you in conversations with my dad and others I love and respect and at the same time have come to question their opinions based on what I've seen. I think the important thing is to be able to hear one another and hash those things out in love and humility and boldness all at the same time. I appreciate your courage to keep at it.


I am sorry to hear about your friend and neighbor Roman. I am so unfamiliar with most of CA's immigration laws even though my husband is a perm resident. When a child is brought here illegally by undocumented papers, is that child able to file for a student visa once he/she begin college? Is that why its legal? Or is it legal because CA has laws protecting students from being asked about papers while they are in the educational system? And, while they are in college, are they not allowed to apply for the FI visa which would allow them the continue education beyond a BA? And if they had an FI visa, would they be allowed to then apply for perm resident? I just wonder if there was a way to protect and hold onto hope for these kids as they become adults.

It's great to hear your heart for immigration reform. I'm right there with ya.

Thanks for your questions and reminder to hold onto hope. Currently if a student has attended 5 years of schooling in California and has no documentation they can attend college for in state tutition rates under AB540. They are not eligible for any state or federal financial aid but can pay in-state tuition. I am not familiar with the F1 visa but a student's ability to apply for visas and permanent residency has to do with how and when they came to the US. Many of the students are not able to apply because of the way their parents crossed the horder. In face submitting the visa application is often times the beginning of the deportation process. The hope that we have is the legislation i mentioned - The Dream Act- which would allow students who have spent 5 years in schooling in the US, have no criminal record and have completed college or military service to apply for perm residency. Of course, ultimately our hope is in Jesus and it is pretty remarkable the ways these kids continue to press on and do great things for our society despite the obstacles they are up against. They are an inspiration!

I am saddened to here of the loss of Roman. May God's love and his people care for his family and friends.

This is all very interesting, and something I've never heard of. The Dream Act makes sense to me. I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you, Crissy, for being an inspiration to all of us.

Blessings to you.

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I love our world- the sights, noises, and flavors of it all. I've found the best way for me to make a difference globally is to be rooted and engaged in my community. Every day is 1 more adventure in loving God and loving my neighbor.