By Elvira Arellano
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would
later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even
though he did not know where he was going. By faith he
made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a
foreign country… (Hebrews 11:8)
In the last year no action has been taken in the Congress of the United States to fix the broken immigration law – but the battle has continued. Some states have followed Arizona’s example and have passed local laws to authorize local police to push immigration enforcement. Homeland Security has also pushed its plan for involving local police and jails through the Secure Communities act.
On our side, some states have refused to participate in immigration enforcement and some cities have or are considering refusing to cooperate with ICE in holding and turning over people to ICE. Cook County in Illinois has passed a law refusing to hold undocumented persons when ICE requests them, arguing that ICE doesn’t pay for these expensive detentions. New York may soon consider a similar law.
Most important, this year we waged a campaign to convince President Obama to use his “discretionary power” to stop the deportations of young people who had come here at a young age and the parents of the four million U.S. citizen children. According to this new agreement, such people, if they have no serious criminal records, should be let go if arrested and should have their cases closed if they are already in the process of deportation. Congressman Luis Gutierrez will be coming to New York on October 1st to explain this new victory and to help organize people to use it to defend themselves and their families.
So the battle is continuing. It may be a few years before we get a make-up in congress that could actually pass a fair comprehensive immigration law. This period is a test for the authenticity – and the faith – of our movement.
For families that face separation or young people who face having their lives taken from them, the battle is to defend the lives and the families they have built. Parents are working hard so their children can have the lives they have a right to. They are working without rights. Even with the new protections, they are always looking over their shoulder. They have no access to health care benefits – and won’t get any through the new national health insurance law. It is a hard life with a lot of sacrifices.
When I was in the last few months of sanctuary in my church in Chicago it was also a time when Congress had decided to do nothing. I asked Familia Latina Unida to go to Washington to tell Speaker Pelosi that we would accept a temporary status, without a road to citizenship, without access to benefits. I said, “My son has a right to grow up here but he is too little to stay here alone. So let me stay and support him at least until he is old enough to support himself and make his own decision about where he wants to live.”
There are some in the United States who do not want the Latino community to grow in numbers and power. They are fighting for stronger enforcement. We are fighting to defend the undocumented – because our people deserve justice. We did not create the system of undocumented labor, corporate greed did that. We just determined how to live in it. For reasons of justice, the undocumented should not bear the blame for this system. But there is another reason to continue the battle.
I believe that God gave the undocumented a mission. They were called to go “to a strange land” like Abraham. First we went to send money back home. Then we stayed to raise our children. By the millions, we are changing the face of the United States. As they grow in numbers and power, as these millions of children grow up to be citizens, Latinos will make the United States a more just place for Latinos and make the United States play a more just role in Latin America. I believe that is our destiny.
Everyday in Mexico we are fighting to protect migrants from Central America to survive the dangers of death and rape and robbery as they travel north, many to be reunited with their families. What I see in them is the same faith I saw in the families fighting to stay in the United States – working hard, trying to raise their children in the ways of righteousness.
What I see, what I feel, is the “Faith of Abraham” when God called him to go to a strange land. It is a call we see in the eyes and often the tears of our children. It is more powerful than all the hate and politics that anyone can bring against us. Our victory is already won in heaven.