Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A perspective on immigration reform from El Salvador

I thought I would share with you all the letter I sent to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration reform. The legislation the committee is working on is in my opinion preposterous and in-humane, to put it mildly. Being in El Salvador has really given us a chance to look at immigration issues literally from the "other side"--and the perspective is very different. Bishop Barahona says that no human being is "illegal," that all of us are citizens of the Earth, and should have the ability to move about it freely. Recalling Matthew 8:20 ("Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head"), he points out that birds, foxes, and little animals cross international borders freely, but human beings are not free to do so. The day before my friend Becky Noonan Heale got on the plane from El Salvador to the U.S. after my ordination, she was struck by the fact that she was doing something most of the people around us in El Salvador are not allowed to do.

Here are some other resources on immigration reform:
+A recent Episcopal News Service Article
+The website of No More Deaths in the Desert

Here is my letter:

Dear Senator,
I am a 2005-2006 Fulbright grant recipient working on the subject of social justice and religion with the Anglican Church of El Salvador. I am also an Episcopal (Anglican) priest. During my six months working and studying in El Salvador so far, I have gained a unique perspective on Latin American migration to the U.S. There are the statistics: approximately 700 people a day leave this small country, which is the size of Massachucetts, to attempt to immigrate to the United States without documentation. They leave in hope of finding a job where they might make $6 an hour as opposed to $6 a day (if they were lucky enough to find work in El Salvador, which many are not). There is no one here who is untouched by immigration-- families spend years apart, without the freedom to travel and see one another. Then there are the personal connections: I experienced the angst that 700 families experience daily when a young woman from the church where I work set out with her two-year-old daughter to re-join her husband, who is working without documentation in the U.S. I was aware of the conditions of fear and deprivation that undocumented immigrants live under in the U.S. from my work with the immigrant community there. Living in El Salvador I have learned about the incredible dangers that migrants, especially Central Americans, face just to arrive in the U.S.: migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras must travel for days through Mexico without documentation-- they run the risk of capture and gross human rights abuses at the hands of Mexican police-- before they must face the well-known perils of the deserts, rivers, and trains at the U.S. borders, where people die daily, for the "crime" of desiring a better life.

I understand that the immigration bill under consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee would in fact make it a felony to enter or remain in the U.S. without documentation-- increasing the atmosphere of fear that people live under who have already risked their lives and split up their families to come to the U.S.-- not to steal, not to commit terrorist acts, but simply to work, at jobs most people born in the U.S. would never do, and to earn a wage. I also understand that this legislation would criminalize humanitarian assistance to undocumented immigrants. In that case, Senator, I have to tell you that my faith will force me and many others in the churches to become criminals. In Matthew 25 Jesus commands his followers to give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, to tend to the sick and to visit prisoners. We will continue to do these things, caring more for those in need and the state of our souls than for the Federal Government's legislation. In that case we would take our places in the prisons, like Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, volunteers with No More Deaths, who are facing 15-year prison sentences for medically evacuating immigrants in critical condition in the Arizona desert.

U.S. immigration law needs to be reformed. You have the opportunity to make things better for people who have come to the United States seeking a better life, like your ancestors. Please do not make them worse.

The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga
2005-2006 Fulbright Recipient
Iglesia Anglicana Episcopal de El Salvador


gregstephenson said...

These people would face no dangers if they simply stayed at home and built their own economy. You are wrong that Americans do not want the jobs. Americans desperately want and need those jobs but businesses will not pay what they are worth because of a flood of cheap illegal labor.
What you really mean is that you and your friends do not want those jobs. Have you ever known anyone among the ranks of the working poor? Come to America. I thought that hurricane Katrina shined a light on the plight of millions of poor Americans all over the United States. But you only care about illegal aliens not poor Americans. That is the most cruel trick of the ruling class. They pit the most desperate people against each other to enrich themselves and make higher profits.

Creative Thought said...

Your opening quote regarding Jesus is with regard to Jesus being pursued by those who sought him out.

He'd just left a large gathering, and a scribe basically said, "I'll follow you wherever you go." Jesus stated it clearly - there was no place for him to put down his head and rest - without someone (or a lot of someones) coming to him.

You quote would apply to The United States of America - a nation - more than it is would to the 700 (average) per day who start their journey in violation of local and international law.

Animals are generally free to cross borders because bird, foxes and the like aren't likely to commit a crime against a human society.

Consider this - if tomorrow, the US of A said, "Okay, El Salvador, in the next week we will swap out the entire poplulation of the US with your nation - we'll change places", do you think the lives of those moving into the US would be better?

No. It is not the place, it is the mind.

It is not a crime to desire a better life. It IS a crime to enter ANY nation on earth without the 'proper papers'.

There shall not be a nation without borders upon this earth until the return of Jesus.

Until then, may I suggest working on convincing 700 people a day to redirect their energy, to focus on changing THEIR nation into a nation which draws people to its borders instead of driving them out.

"In Matthew 25 Jesus commands his followers to give food to the hungry, clothing to the naked, to tend to the sick and to visit prisoners."

I do not recall of Jesus telling us to help others break the law, to encourage them to knowingly break the law, or to stand by and watch them as they head out to break the law. Was it not in the Old Testament that we are to obey the law of the land? (parphrased)

And note too, Jesus told us to visit the prisioners - He did not command us to break them out of jail, nor to cause them to become prisoners.

"We will continue to do these things, caring more for those in need and the state of our souls than for the Federal Government's legislation."

Remember Jesus' words regarding the coin of the realm? "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

I implore you to change your focus and redirect your radical nature towards solving the problems in El Salvador instead of encouraging El Salvadorians to flee to a nation whose law you will not and do not respect.

The 700 per day who leave are abandoning their own brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors and neighborhoods.

IMAGINE what could become of El Salvador if those 700 people per day had the guts to change El Salvador into a better place.

In one week you would have 4900 people working to change El Salvador. In a month, nearly 20,000. In a year - over a quarter of a million people would be working their hearts out to change El Salvador.

A far better future exists for El Salvador in that imagined future than any future with a continued exodus of 700 people per day.

Good wishes and good luck!

gregstephenson said...

that was deep. no further comment.Well I would also like to say that perhaps the newly minted religious person would be better placed among the American poor.

Tim said...

Hi Amy,

I want you to know that I agree with you completely. People who oppose compassionate immigration reform in the US do not understand the desperation of the migrant who must leave family, home, and country to go to a strange land, work in demeaning jobs, all so that he can send money back to loved ones in El Salvador.

We work with the Lutheran church in El Salvador and know Bishop Gomez well and have heard him speak out against the wall being built by the US and all of its symbolism.

Feel free to visit my blog at which is devoted to all issues involving El Salvador.



Archana said...

Amy - I wholeheartedly agree with your letter. Check out our blog for more on an interfaith rally held here in the Bay Area against this disturbing piece of legislation. Greg is right that there are many poor Americans, but this immigration reform bill is not the answer to their woes.