There has been a lot of attention recently on immigration reform. You have probably heard people say they don’t oppose immigration, but “people need to get in line and wait their turn.” The problem with that sentiment is that most of the time, there is no line.
There is no line for my good friend at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Maria (whose name has been changed for her safety) came to the United States in 2000 with two goals: to work here for three years to save enough money to return to El Salvador and build a comfortable small house for her family. She also had a dream to learn English during those three years. That was her plan, but as she says, “that was not God’s will.”
In 2001 there was a catastrophic earthquake in El Salvador. The country was devastated by the damage, and it would have been even more devastating for El Salvador to receive an influx of people whose work visas were expiring. In response to that situation, then President George W. Bush gave Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to all Salvadorans who had come to the U.S. before the earthquake.
Maria struggled with the decision of whether or not to apply for TPS status and she asked the advice of people here in the U.S. and her family in El Salvador. Her parents told her the situation back home was not good. From what she learned about TPS she decided that even though it was difficult to stay here longer, she would take advantage of TPS status, which would allow her to stay and work in the U.S. legally.
In the years since 2001 Maria has worked hard. She has paid her taxes, sent money to her family in El Salvador and supported her son here in the U.S. She is now a homeowner, speaks English well and has a good job. She has made a life for herself here in the U.S.
In the last sixteen years, every eighteen months Maria has applied for renewal of her TPS status and paid several hundred dollars in fees each time. In the sixteen years since she received TPS status, she has built a life here and she would be glad to “stand in line” to become a U.S. resident. But there is no line.
There is no provision in TPS status to change to another status, no matter how many years you have lived here, no matter how much you have put down roots by raising children, no matter that you have bought a home and no matter that you are a beloved member of a church community.
The story of why people are worried about returning to El Salvador is complex. The U.S. funded and trained the military that waged war against its own people in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Many of you know about the violence and decimation of the civil society at the hands of the right-wing government. And despite the fact that the current government is trying to address the many social problems, the country still suffers the long-term effects of societal breakdown.
Maria is now unsure of what will happen. Since the current administration of Donald Trump ended TPS for Salvadorans in January, she has 18 months of uncertainty. Her future is in the hands of the U.S. Congress.
Maria’s story is one of the many we have heard at Calvary from our immigrant friends. For her and for many others, I want Congress to pass comprehensive, just and humane immigration reform. What do those words mean to me?
• Comprehensive (legislation that covers TPS, Dreamers and all kinds of immigrants)
• Just (come-on, we’re Christians and we are all about justice!)
• Humane (family unification is important) immigration reform
Our congregation, an Alliance of Baptists congregational partner, had a prayer service right after the end of TPS status for Salvadorans was announced. We shared tears as we heard stories of fear and uncertainty from children and adults alike. We prayed together for courage to act as God calls us in this moment. And we ended by singing, “Woke Up This Morning With My Mind Staying on Freedom!”
Now is the time for advocacy, and we encourage you to join us in this most critical work. Please call, write and talk to your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives, encouraging them to pass comprehensive, just and humane immigration reform. There is no time to waste. Do it now.
For more information, visit:
• Church World Service, https://cwsglobal.org/our-work/advocacy/immigrant-and-refugee-rights/
• The Interfaith Immigration Coalition, http://www.interfaithimmigration.org
• The Alliance of Baptists’ 2012 statement on just and humane immigration reform, https://allianceofbaptists.org... orm2012.pdf
Carole Blythe is an active member of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. and former president of the Alliance of Baptists’ Board of Directors.