by Rev. Laura Barclay
A few weeks ago, a heated political issue took on a very real human face for my co-workers and me when one of the pastors in the CBFNC Hispanic Network of churches was arrested. Rev. Hector Villanueva was arrested at his home on the morning of Thursday, August 19, simply because he applied to become a citizen. Though he has had a green card and a social security number for decades, he once served time for trying to cash a bad check when he was homeless in California 15 years ago. Because of an inane law in US immigration policy, anyone who isn’t a US citizen can be deported if they have been convicted of a felony, regardless of whether or not they have paid for their crime.
Shortly after his arrest in California, Hector became a Christian and worked hard to share his love and ministry with others. He moved to North Carolina, married a US citizen, had four children, and is currently in the process of adopting two more. Hector started churches with the help of Rev. Javier Benitez, CBFNC’s Hispanic Leader Coach, and exhibited love for his neighbors. My co-workers and I have written character reference letters to encourage the judge to grant a petition for bond, which he did last week. Hector will now await his trial at home with his family, but I think we all still feel relatively helpless against such a confusing, overwhelming immigration system. Hector’s wife, Martha, has remained a rock to her children throughout these weeks, and I’m always amazed by her strength and composure when we speak.
One night after speaking with Martha, it occurred to me the level of privilege I have. In high school and college, I had friends get arrested for possession of drugs, driving drunk, failing subsequent drug tests and still not serve any time. Moreover, they had it expunged from their records. We see “stars” like Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson and others get slaps on the wrist for repeated crimes and misdemeanors. I find it difficult to understand why there is a law stating that any non-citizen who serves time for a crime, even though they have paid their dues, can be deported years later when they have clearly been bettering society for years through their actions.
Perhaps it is time for lawmakers to stop worrying about poll numbers, reelection, and belittling their opponents and come together to work for truly important policy like immigration reform. I think the only reason immigration reform is a divisive issue is that politicians have chosen to make it a wedge issue. There are many aspects of immigration policy that both sides agree are bad, but politicians are so busy spinning the truth that they won’t sit down to address actual problems.
Let’s ask our politicians to come to the table and do what we elected them to do—solve problems. I would much rather see Republicans and Democrats sitting down to discuss the issue, having respectful agreements and disagreements, than waste Americans’ time hurling insults at one another. Frankly, we have a lot of work to do to see the Kingdom of God flourish, and I’m tired of excuses--especially when one of our ministers recently sat in jail and still faces deportation because of our government’s unwillingness to cooperate in a bi-partisan manner.
So, I would ask you to get to know Hispanics in your area and exhibit the love of Christ to those who are treated like the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Learn more about how police and immigration officials operate in your area. What is your church doing to reach out to Hispanics? What are the concerns of Hispanics in your area, and what can you do to help? May our hearts and minds always remain open to fulfill Jesus’ summation of the law that we should love God and love our neighbors.
Bible study curriculum on immigration by Interfaith Worker Justice and compiled by the NC Council of Churches: http://www.imym.org/immigrationintervisitationproject/imymintervisitationimmigration/foryouwereonceastranger/view
Article on the browning of America by Tom Ehrich, Episcopal minister: http://www.biblicalrecorder.org/post/Time-for-a-little-honesty.aspx