As a first-generation Chinese-American, my own story is intertwined with challenges posed by the U.S. immigration policy. My father came to the States as a teenager in the fifties. He had lost his mother, two sisters, and younger brother when the Japanese invaded Hong Kong, and his remaining family struggled under the oppression of communism. At fifteen years of age, he was kept in detention in San Francisco for three months, and interrogated every day.
Historically, it has been difficult for the Chinese to immigrate to America. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was the first major law restricting immigration to the United States. The Chinese were barred or restricted to enter this country until reforms in 1965. Before then, all Chinese were detained, interrogated, and most often deported.
My father started a business in a small town in northern Indiana. When I graduated from high school, there were only a handful of Mexican immigrants. Over the last thirty years, the population has seen an increase of Mexican immigrants by almost thirty percent, many of whom are undocumented. When my niece graduated last year from the same high school I attended, half of the students from her graduating class were of Mexican descent.
Most of the immigrants in the area have been attracted there to work in the manufacturing industry. They start businesses and churches, contribute to the economy, and raise their families, but live with the constant threat of deportation. Something as simple as being caught driving without a driver’s license could literally tear a family apart.
Currently, I work for Jericho Road Community Health Center. One of our programs, Vive, is a shelter for asylum seekers. Families sometimes have to wait months, or even years, for their immigration statuses to be decided. While we do our best to provide a safe refuge for these individuals and families, there is an undeniable amount of anxiety that goes with waiting for the lengthy immigration process to end. Often times, business owners and professionals in their own countries are forced to flee, due to violence. Many find themselves homeless and at the mercy of the U.S. and Canadian immigration systems.
Annually, the U.S. immigration detention system locks up hundreds of thousands of immigrants, exposing detainees to inhumane conditions of confinement. Many of these detainees are mothers and children, who are mainly asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America.
Reform is necessary to end the “lock ‘em up” approach of detention. It’s time for America to extend its fundamental value of freedom to more of the 60 million people around the world who have been displaced from their homes due to violence or natural disaster.
It is not enough to contemplate, talk about, or even pray for changes in United States policy. Action is needed in order to give those who earnestly seek safe harbor, and aspire to live flourishing lives, the opportunity to do so. It is the moral obligation of Christians to “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17, NRSV).
I am walking El Camino because of the absolute necessity for comprehensive immigration reform. I am very thankful to be part of an organization that is willing to lead on social issues, and makes strides to impact systemic change. God can work to fix what is broken in our society through Christ’s followers. We can stand together to say that people deserve humane treatment, and access to a peaceful life here in the United States.
Marie Moy is married with two children, and lives in Buffalo, NY. She is the Volunteer Coordinator for Jericho Road Community Health Center. Marie has a Master of Arts degree in Theology and Social Justice from Northeastern Seminary of Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY.