By Lillian Arjona-Garzon
I was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. When I was two years old my dad was given an incredible opportunity to study in the United States. We packed our bags, said goodbye to our families and moved to California. With no family in the States it was just the three of us. We did not know the culture or language. Life was full of unknowns. As the years passed we learned to adapt and two siblings were added to the family. Both my parents worked jobs where they displayed humility, kindness and service. Over time our family balanced both languages and cultures at home and it became a safe haven for us and for others who longed for home.
The Influence of my Parents
My dad was a full time church planter and my mom a teacher. Our neighborhood was our mission. Because of my parent’s hard effort and their involvement in our neighborhood, the city began recognizing Dia de los Niños, celebrating it with a festival each year, and leading schools to create after school programming to get children home safely. My parents cared because they noticed that no one else did. They saw the heart of God for the immigrant, the orphan, the widow and faithfully lived their lives in service to the often forgotten people in our community.
“Faithfulness is remaining loyal to someone or something and putting that loyalty into consistent practice regardless of extenuating circumstances.” My parents are the definition of faithfulness; they have given their lives to their work, to their family and most importantly to the Lord. I would not be the person I am today if it weren’t for my parents. I tell my story to acknowledge its hardships, the privilege I have been given and the change that I believe needs to happen.
The Immigrant Reality
As I got older I began to notice negative rhetoric used towards immigrants, specifically undocumented immigrants which communicated that they were worthless, insignificant and intended malice. My experience showed me something different. The immigrants that I knew were the kindest, most humble, hardworking people. I saw the image of God in their faces, in their love for their families and in their hope for a better future.
I also grew up learning about God’s tenderness toward the immigrant and His call to His people throughout Scripture. My family’s church verse has always been Jeremiah 29:7, forever engraved in the way I live my life. “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” As Christians we are called to seek peace or the Shalom for those in our city, regardless of their earthly citizenship. Yet, year after year, despite what the Bible says, the number of evangelical Christians speaking up and loving the immigrant is disappointingly low.
The Current Reality
One year ago, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was ended. Through its program approximately 800,000 young unauthorized immigrants who came to the United States as children, often called Dreamers, have received work permits and protection from deportation. Thousands of young people are now unsure of their futures, thousands more left without a solution. As someone who came to the country with her parents as a child with documentation, yet working through all the hurdles an immigrant family has to face, I know that my story could look a lot different. I don’t have to live each day worrying about how much longer I’ll be allowed to stay here or if I’ll be separated from my family. This privilege that I have, coupled with my solidarity as an immigrant to this country and my faith that calls me to welcome strangers, compels me to speak up and call the Church to action.
While Dreamers still remain without a solution in place, today we see the reality of families being separated at the border flash across our headlines. Today roughly 2,300 children have been separated from their parents who were seeking asylum, creating unexplainable and lasting trauma.
This present trauma was sought to be avoided back in 1997 with the Flores Settlement Agreement. This agreement came as a result of a lawsuit in 1985 regarding the way immigrant children were being detained. The Flores Settlement stated that: “The government is required to release children from immigration detention without unnecessary delay to, in order of preference, parents, other adult relatives, or licensed programs willing to accept custody. If a suitable placement is not immediately available, the government is obligated to place children in the “least restrictive” setting appropriate to their age and any special needs. The government must implement standards relating to the care and treatment of children in immigration detention.” (humanrightsfirst.org)
The inability for government agencies to work together on behalf of the well-being of children and their families is deeply troubling. Even after two months of trying to reunite separated families there remain 565 children who have not been reunited with their parents.
Images, videos and articles have been shared over the news and social media, bringing this issue to light, yet the Church as a whole remains silent. I know we are not doing enough. As Christians who should be seeking Shalom, unity, and the dignity of each person created in the Image of God, we need to respond. We cannot disregard the needs of people and stay idly on the sidelines. We need to be Doers of the Word by walking humbly, loving mercy and doing justice.
Will you join me?