Guest commentary by Cindy Kohlmann
Jane and Joe (names have been changed) are standing in front of me, the perfect picture of a young American family. My husband performed their marriage almost two years ago, and Jane is nine months pregnant, ready any day to welcome their newest family member into the world.
They both work hard and are extremely active in their church, a Presbyterian congregation in New Hampshire. The large group of young adults in the church have grown up together and meet regularly for Bible study, shared meals, fellowship and fun outings throughout the Northeast. Jane is ordained as a deacon and fills the role with joy and determination.
The one worry they have, in the midst of a large and supportive community, is that they were both brought to this country as children.
Jane was 4 years old when her parents fled their home, running away from violence and persecution targeting the Christian minority. Neighbors had been killed, homes had been destroyed and her parents knew that they needed to raise their children in a better place.
They brought Jane and her siblings to the United States, believing in the promise of freedom and justice for all, and confident that they could build a new life. Through their own hard work, they created a new home, founds jobs that could support their family and made sure their children took advantage of the right to education extended to every child in this land.
Joe’s story is similar. He was a few years older when his parents fled the same country for the same reasons. He remembers a little more of the place where he was born than Jane does, but neither have been back. They have no idea how they would begin to find their way in such a foreign environment.
Jane and Joe met in college, which they paid for with their parents’ help. They’ve graduated, married, found jobs and a place of their own, and are starting their own family.
But now everything is uncertain and their lives feel precarious. The joyful event of giving birth is overshadowed by the fear of what the next six months will or will not bring. Will they lose their jobs? Will they be deported? Will Congress act to protect them and hundreds of thousands of other young men and women and children? Will their hopes and dreams and plans amount to nothing?
This is one story of a family impacted by the announcement to end DACA on March 5, 2018. There are at least nine other DACA recipients in this particular congregation, all in the same situation. Some are younger, but most are either in college or graduated and working in the community.
Living under DACA has not been a free pass, but it has allowed Jane and Joe to openly live in their communities. Another member of the church also under DACA was stopped for rolling through a stop sign about a year ago, and was deported for breaking the law. One traffic violation, one late payment, one slip and everything can be lost.
This congregation has such a vibrant young adult community, such an active youth group and such a large Sunday school that it’s sometimes startling. Joining them on Sunday mornings for worship means being surrounded by people of all ages who sing boisterously and give enthusiastically to the work of the church.
In a recent meeting with the congregation to discuss immigration issues, one person stood and said: “The loss of one member will cut to the heart of this congregation. The possibility of losing these young people, their families, their parents will destroy us.”
Because it’s not just those under DACA who are experiencing increased risk and the withdrawal of mercy related to the immigration system. The parents who risked everything 15, 20, 25 years ago to bring their children to a new start in America are now being told to buy plane tickets to return to the country they fled. A combination of missed deadlines, bad and fraudulent lawyers and an ingrained fear of government has contributed to many in this particular congregation being at risk.
Jane and Joe have tried to help their parents navigate the legal system by translating documents, interpreting in meetings and contributing to financial costs. Now Jane and Joe have to turn their attention to their own situation, worrying over what they will do if Congress doesn’t act, what will they do if Congress does act and they’re left out of the solution, what will they do if, if, if, if, if….
This congregation was chartered in 2001 and bought their own building several years later. Now, because of a broken immigration system, ramped up deportations and the termination of DACA, they are facing the very real possibility of losing their community. Families are being torn apart, people are being sent back into danger and communities and congregations are being shattered.
Jane and Joe were raised to love America, to believe in its goodness and mercy and to honor this country their parents chose to trust with their lives. They still hope and believe and pray that this period of fear, insecurity and uncertainty will come to an end and they and all the people they love will emerge on the other side. But I see that hope dim a little more each time I talk with them. As the news about DACA echoes around us, I see their eyes shine with tears, their faces clench with fear and their hands intertwine. I want nothing more than to tell them it will all be okay, but we all know that is far from certain.
CINDY KOHLMANN is the resource presbyter for the Presbyteries of Boston and Northern New England, a position that replaced the former executive/general presbyter positions. She lives in Marlborough, Massachusettes, with her husband, Eric Markman (also a pastor), and their two cats.