Another view: Desperation and freedom’s hope draws them; a broken system criminalizes them

As missionaries who emigrated to South Africa to serve as a pastoral family and from South Africa to serve in a US immigrant community, respectively, we know the challenges, expenses and the time involved in the immigration process. While we didn’t flee our homelands because we were unsafe or destitute, we left because we felt called to serve our brothers and sisters in other countries.

Together we serve different cultures in a rural community in the Texas Panhandle. Cactus Nazarene Ministry Center serves refugees, asylees and other immigrants, whether with or without legal status, from all over the Panhandle. The stories of the people we serve are evidence of the need for immigration reform.

Maria was brought to Oklahoma’s Panhandle by her family when they were escaping unsafe living conditions in their homeland of Guatemala. She was educated throughout her primary and secondary schooling in the US and is fluent in three languages. She is a DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals) recipient who went to college, married her childhood sweetheart and is now the mother of three children. Maria is a youth leader at her church, supports her husband in their family business, cares for their children and is loved by her community. Like nearly 600,000 other DACA recipients, Maria’s immigration status is at risk due to legal challenges seeking to terminate DACA.

What benefit would this provide to her children, husband, church, community, and our nation? There is no good that would come out of so many families like Maria’s being disrupted. Fortunately, there is a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives that would resolve this situation. The Dignity Act, along with a dramatic investment in border security, would be a game changer for Maria and other Dreamers like her, allowing them to pursue permanent resident status and live without fear.

Jorge has been working for an agricultural business in the Texas Panhandle for the past eight years. He enters the US in April and leaves in December each year. Jorge began doing this work to better provide for his wife and children. He had come alone, but the weight of his extended absences on his family grew heavy. For the past three years, Jorge has been applying for his family to accompany him, but each year the US Dept of State has denied this request, so he continues to come alone. Jorge recently told his employer he doesn’t think he can continue to come back because it is too hard on his wife and children. He visited the ministry center to ask what he could do to bring his family, provide stability for all of them and stay in the US to work. He said his company wants to know what can be done because they don’t want to lose him as he is a valuable worker. Another provision of the Dignity Act of 2023 – creating an opportunity for long-term agricultural workers like Jorge to pursue legal permanent residence – would be an answer to prayer.

Then there are Emilia, Roberto, Pierre, Julio, Juan and Maricela, each of whom paid thousands of dollars to come to the US but had no idea they were coming without paperwork. They paid fees to a “coyote” who said they could bring them and would help them find legal jobs; little did they know they were being illegally trafficked. When they arrived, they had no paperwork and are now working long hours to pay off their trafficker. All of them we’ve met do not have criminal records and would love more than anything to pay taxes and have legal status. The Dignity Act’s Dignity Program would provide the opportunity for them to enter a 7-year path toward permanent legal status if they pay a significant fine, which they’d be more than eager to do to rectify their situation.

We believe in the dignity and worth of people. We believe Jesus loves them and calls us to love them too. We believe that the family unit is ordained by God and should be preserved. We desire to follow the requirements given in scripture to seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) and others. Help us to help these families stay together. Talk to your lawmakers about cosponsoring the Dignity Act.

Denise Anderson is the Department of Justice (DoJ) Accredited Representative at Cactus Nazarene Ministry Center. Phil Anderson is the former Executive Director of Cactus Nazarene Ministry Center, and Alshandra Visagie is the current Executive Director of Cactus Nazarene Ministry Center.

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