Noemi eased into my office with her husband one day. Eager to finally get a conversation with a lawyer, they were ready to hear some good news about how they could move on with their lives. Noemi is an undocumented immigrant. She lives in the shadows. Has her whole life. From the time her parents brought her to the U.S. from Mexico as a young child, Noemi has lived on the margins. Yet, she had grown up in U.S. communities, attended and graduated from U.S. schools, participated in U.S. neighborhood life and worshipped in U.S. churches. And now she was married to a U.S. citizen and had U.S. citizen children. Over 20 years of life in the U.S., and now she had heard that there were some changes in the immigration laws. Surely now was her chance to remove the clouds and walk in the light of the only home she had ever known. But it wasn’t.
Noemi is barred from immigrating to the U.S. lawfully for at least 10 years. As a young child, Noemi’s parents brought her to the U.S. illegally, entering without inspection. Escaping from miserable conditions and vast barriers to opportunity, they found a new life in the U.S. A productive, full, and beneficial to all kind of life. But they still had family back in Mexico. Family that got sick and needed their help. So Noemi’s parents went back and forth from Mexico, “illegally”, a couple of times so they could care for their family. Noemi, a child, of course went with them. Now, she not only is barred from immigrating to the U.S. lawfully for at least 10 years, but she must leave the country for those 10 years. And wait. Apart from her family and the only country she has ever known. If an immigrant has previous immigration violations, such as entering without inspection, and they leave the country and return again without inspection, they trigger what in immigration law is known as this “permanent bar”. The only way over this bar is to wait outside the U.S. for 10 years and then apply for a waiver of this bar. And hope.
So Noemi. Wife of a U.S. citizen. Mother to young U.S. citizen children. Graduate of a U.S. high school. Loving member of a U.S. community. Never in criminal trouble. U.S. taxpayer. Employable U.S. employee. Lover of her home country, the United States. She does not belong. We don’t want her. All because her family, not even herself, made decisions that every single one of us would have made if it meant feeding our children or caring for our dying parents. Now, anyway, Noemi’s family could be ripped apart. Tearing these elemental threads of family that we pay such lip service to in our society. We care deeply about family, just not those families. Our focus on the family is vital, just not families that we don’t want. Love for family. Love for country. Love for our neighbor. Hypocrisy. You can see it in our laws. In our systems. In our blighted cities and stunted social consciousness. Noemi felt it in the tears that flowed down her cheeks as she heard me bring a message to her from our so-called melting pot, American Dream, give me your tired, your poor nation that she doesn’t belong and her family doesn’t matter.
May we have the courage to confess our hypocrisy. And turn away. Seek forgiveness from Noemi. And together find Life.