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Widowed by Our Immigration Laws


Jun 28 2013
How the church can support these modern-day Ruths and Naomis.

Amid the debate on Capitol Hill over the latest immigration reform bill, it's easy for us to zone out as the same terms get repeated over and over again: "border security," "economic growth," and "pathway to citizenship."

In abstraction, these broad issues can divert our attention from the flesh-and-blood people who these policies affect. I see their impact in the lives of the people in my community, my church, and even my family; their stories speak to our own and prompt the church to consider its responsibility toward these families.

More than 20 years ago, my family moved to the United States from China. My parents divorced before my mother was able to get her permanent residency through my dad's work sponsorship, so she was left undocumented. Later she married my stepdad, who was also undocumented, and started a new family and restaurant business with him. In 2008, my stepdad was arrested by immigration authorities. He was detained nine months before being deported to China with a 10-year-bar from returning. My mom was left to run a restaurant and raise two young children on her own. She has since been able to obtain permanent resident status but is still counting down the years before her husband can return home.

Thousands of women in this country, like my mother, have been effectively widowed, for short- or long-term, by current immigration laws. Their husbands are taken from them suddenly, and they are left to raise children and provide for families on their own. Many more families live with anxiety over the risk of separation due to their undocumented status.

A Peruvian woman at my church is undocumented, along with her husband and son. In 2009, her husband was arrested for his immigration status. She didn't know how long he would be imprisoned. Thankfully, her husband was released after a month, but still faces deportation orders set for this August. She's unsure what she will do if he has to return to Peru. Will she stay in the U.S. to support her 22-year-old son who has the opportunity through deferred action to study and work here legally? Or will she return with her husband? During the anxious weeks of his imprisonment and the stressful months afterward, she fell into a deep depression. She questioned God's goodness and couldn't pray or participate actively in the church. She and her husband almost divorced. She recently shared this with our church and thanked us for standing by her in those dark months.

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