Serving Immigrants within A Broken System

As a Global Mission Fellow US-2 I have been assigned to work in Miami, Florida for two years. I never expected to be serving as a methodist missionary in the United States (although some would consider Miami a whole other country in itself) but in doing so I have been forced to come face-to-face with some of the issues of injustice that continue to plague this country. One such issue is immigration policy, and in the last few months I have been on an intense learning curve, trying to understand immigration law and the needs of immigrants in Miami.

The importance of understanding the situation immigrants currently find themselves in has been magnified by the political climate over the past several months. As a staff member of South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors, an immigration legal aid ministry, I interact with immigrant families almost daily and have come to the conclusion that most of America simply does not understand where immigrants are coming from, why they seek to move to the US, and what they must accomplish to be deemed “legal”.

Our clients come from various cultures, educational and socio-economic backgrounds, and speak different languages, but everyone seems to have one thing in common: they all fled from a desperate and dangerous situation. We have teenagers who walked from Guatemala to Texas to escape gang recruitment and a constant threat of violence, or even death upon refusal to comply. We have parents who spent all they had for a temporary tourist visa and plane tickets to get their children away from the constant fear of violent political persecution. We have families who walked across a brutal dessert and scaled a wall, hoping to find work because they had exhausted all other options for feeding their children. We have individuals from Caribbean islands who put their lives at the mercy of a makeshift raft, floating north to Miami in the open sea. They are all refugees in the truest sense of the word, yet in most cases the immigration system recognizes them simply as “illegal aliens”.

cuban-raft
An abandoned raft we spotted last month while snorkeling off the coast of Key Largo.

We often hear proponents of immigration reform say “we need a path to citizenship”. These are not empty words. There are lots of reasons one would want to move to another country, but there are very few options available to anyone who is not very wealthy and educated, especially if they are fleeing for their lives. Many Americans think that “immigrating legally” must be like going to the DMV and getting a driver’s license, and that “illegal immigrants” are just too lazy to do so. In reality it’s an incredibly difficult and expensive process. Many do not fit the within the complex web of checkboxes or do not have access to the evidence required to prove their story to government officials, or do not have the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to buy their way in. Plenty of time, education, and a good lawyer are helpful, but these are not easily acquired. We need a path to citizenship because there isn’t one.

It can be frustrating to get up everyday, go to work, and try to help immigrants while working within a very broken system. Despite these challenges immigrant families are determined to build a future of hope for their children. I’m reminded of this every time a mother gives me a hug saying “thank you, thank you”, or a father shakes my hand saying “bless you, bless you all”.

South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors is a hospitality ministry that welcomes immigrants by providing affordable, high-quality immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, engaging in advocacy for immigrant rights, and offering education to communities of faith and to the public. Learn more at www.fljfon.org

Caitlin and Drew

 

Caitlin Kastner

US-2, Class 2015

South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors,

Homestead, FL

#3022071

 

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