Longing to be Home

Third Way Wider ViewJanuary 17, 2014

Many people travel to spend time with family or friends over the holiday season. This year, my family logged more than 1,200 miles and was thwarted twice by automobile-related mechanical difficulties and once by winter storm Hercules. However, these inconvenient but relatively minor delays were nothing compared to the obstacles many faced in seeing family this Christmas.

Families should be able to spend the holidays, and all days, together and whole.

On any given day, approximately 33,000 undocumented immigrants are held in detention. Some are held for days or weeks, others for months or years. In the past five years, nearly two million immigrants have been deported to their “home” countries. However, an estimated 60 percent of undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. have been here for more than a decade. Their home is here. Home is where they have set down roots, made friends, joined churches, married, raised children.

As I shared meals, exchanged gifts, and played games with my family over the holidays, I could not help but think about the millions of families who could do none of those things together. Perhaps Dad was picked up last month for driving with a broken taillight and spent the holidays in a detention center, not knowing when or if he would return home. Or maybe Mom was deported three years ago and now can only speak with her children occasionally by phone.

At one point in our country’s history, there was a five-year statute of limitations on arriving in the country without proper immigration documentation—in other words, one could not be prosecuted for this offense if more than five years had passed (some of my ancestors may have benefited from this provision). Over the years the U.S. has increasingly criminalized undocumented migration. Though being present without legal immigration status is still a civil infraction (akin to a speeding ticket), violators are now placed in civil detention facilities—which look like prisons and often are run by private prison companies. In 2005, criminal penalties were introduced for crossing the border “without inspection,” leading to prison sentences of up to 20 years. Our southern border has been increasingly militarized with fences, walls, drones, and thousands of armed border patrol agents.

Many long-time immigrants are proud of their immigrant heritage and still tell stories at holiday family gatherings of how their ancestors came to this country fleeing famine, persecution or violence—or simply seeking a better life. If faced with today’s immigration system, many of those ancestors would not have made it to the U.S.

As Jesus said in Matthew 25, when we welcome the stranger—the immigrant—we welcome Jesus himself. Yet, many are not welcome and, in fact, millions of families have been torn apart by a broken immigration system. Last summer, the U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill, but legislation has since stalled in the House of Representatives. Call your member in the House today and urge her/him to pass fair and humane immigration legislation—legislation that does not further criminalize immigrants or further militarize our borders but keeps families together.

Families should be able to spend the holidays, and all days, together and whole.

Posted: 1/17/2014 7:00:00 AM

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