At a corps visit recently, I chatted with a young woman. Smartly dressed in her uniform, she had participated in the service as the contemporary worship leader. Trying to get to know her better, I asked some typical “making–conversation” questions.
“Are you out of high school?” I asked.
“Yes, I graduated last year,” she answered.
“Are you enrolled in college or are you working?”
That’s when I learned of a situation of heart–breaking proportions.
My new friend is 19; she came to the United States with her parents when she was 8. She is not a legal resident, so she has no social security number, which means she must work at jobs that pay less than minimum wage. She cannot attend college either; she does not have a visa that would allow her to apply for scholarships.
She plans to save enough money to get back to her native country so that she can get the proper paperwork for legal residence in New Jersey. She wants to go to college, but she must wait. Her younger sister, born in the United States, will not have the same problems because she is a naturalized citizen.
My new friend, brought here as a child by her parents, had no choice about where she would live. But now, classed as “illegal,” she has been entrapped by the so–called “confusion” of her parents’ seeking a new life.
We’ve all heard that there are 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. New Jersey, where we live and minister, has the sixth highest illegal alien population. According to Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) figures, as of 2000, 220,000 illegal aliens resided in New Jersey. That figure is 64 percent higher than the previous INS estimate in 1996 and 133 percent higher than the estimate for 1990 (Federation for American Immigration Reform).
I feel sympathy for those immigrant adults who chose to come here looking for a better life even though they didn’t have the proper INS sanction. But my greatest concern and heartbreak is for the children they brought with them. Like my new friend, those children find themselves trapped in a situation, not of their own making, that is extremely difficult to escape.
Where can such entrapped children and young people go for help?
Back home, you might say, to get the proper visas. But that’s very costly. They can’t earn a decent wage that will help them save money to go back, and they can’t better themselves through education so that they can gain better employment. It’s actually a cyclical syndrome.
Legislators are trying to reform immigration laws, but they—and Americans as a whole—are somewhat split on the issue. The answers are far from simple, so it’s hard to find agreement.
But as for us, we can pray and we can love. Jesus found people in his homeland who were facing difficult situations. There were the hated tax collectors, for example—perhaps they were entrapped by their situations. Jesus found women entrapped by adultery, and He showed them a way out. He loved them and told them of a better way.
So what should Christians and Salvationists do for people like my friend? We should love them and show them the proper and legal way to get out of their traps. We certainly do nothing illegal to aid them. We pray for them. We pray with them. We help in every legal sense, and we become their friends.
—Major Vicki Berry is associate divisional
commander of the New Jersey Division.