In some respects, it had been a normal day, with the normal interruptions of neighbors stopping by and staff popping in with questions.
What stood out to me about the day was that each interruption, the answer to each question asked, the solution to each problem, was blocked by our broken immigration system. It felt like we couldn’t get anything done without fixing immigration first.
Ricardo came by to type up a letter for the school district to prove his income so his kids could get bus passes. He works as a day laborer and has no proof of income.
With tears in his eyes, he shared his frustration when the school district asked if he gets food stamps. He told them that he doesn’t take any government aid, and I could see that this was a point of pride for him.
The school district’s response was, “Then how do we know you’re low-income?”
“It’s so hard,” he whispered, shaking his head.
Anger welled up in me to see this proud man, a strong brother in Christ, hanging his head in defeat. What kind of system punishes people for not taking government aid?
When my anger had subsided to a slow burn, Walter popped in my office. He was buying plane tickets for an upcoming conference and realized that one of our partners doesn’t have an ID.
Just the day before I had sat with our friend to finalize the partnership between her church and our community. She told me of her deep desire for training and excitement to learn all she can about community development.
Her work speaks for itself, though. She is making huge changes in her neighborhood, even before she has models and language for the work. And now we weren’t sure if she could come to the training. How can we move capable, willing people forward in their development if we can’t move them around the country?
These questions swirled in my mind as I got ready for bed. And I thought of my privileged upper-middle class upbringing and how I have rarely been told “no.” I rarely had to accept the status quo. I could always find a way.
Except for now. I sit with the way things are. Instead of making a call to an important person, I stand with my neighbor and cry. Instead of laying down more cash to make a way, I shrug my shoulders and say, “You can’t go, and that’s how it is for now.”
This may sound like a horrible, hopeless resignation. It is, however, the acknowledgment of the way things are now that presses me on to fight for change. The reality that there is nothing I can do right now to change the broken immigration system strengthens my resolve to keep pushing until there is change. Recognizing how broken things are gives me courage to go on yearning.
As I brushed my teeth, a quote from a hero of mine, Jackie Pullinger, came to mind, “Practice, weep, pray and go on yearning.”
I repeated it in my heart, “Practice, weep, pray and go on yearning.”
Today, my heart yearns for comprehensive immigration reform. Late last week, the president’s office announced a process to review the 300,000-plus deportation cases to identify which are low-priority, non-criminal cases and use the office’s resources in order to remove high-priority criminals and those who pose a national security threat.
This announcement was an encouragement and yet still far from the kind of comprehensive change our system needs.
I prayed, “How long, Lord?”
How long until we have courage to face this dilemma affecting millions of our neighbors? How long will be do nothing, pretending that we are not affected? How long? I saw the question in Ricardo’s humiliated glance. I heard the distress in Walter’s long sigh.
Our momentum seems stalled by all these obstacles and yet, perhaps this is our momentum. Each obstacle is another push to keep practicing, weeping, praying and go on yearning.
CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.