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Too Many Lack Compassion Over Plight of Undocumented

The story of Jorge Garcia is heartbreaking.

His parents brought him into the U.S. at 10 years old. Just like with my 10-year-old, when the family goes somewhere, he has to come and doesn’t have a choice in the matter.

The difference is that our life of privilege and comfort has us going to places like the grocery store or the local zoo.

This family, like so many others, was desperate to find a safer living situation, work and a chance for their children to have a better life.

Garcia has spent 29 of his 39 years on earth in the United States. He considers this home.

He went to school here and has pledged allegiance to our flag countless times. He works here, pays taxes here and made a family here.

Back in January, he was ripped away from that family and deported to Mexico, a country he hasn’t been to in 29 years because he does not have legal status here. His wife and two teenage children are citizens.

There are a disturbingly large number of immigrant stories just like this.

One online commenter said about Garcia’s situation, “29 years to do it the right way. I have no sympathy.”

This response is representative of how many people think about such stories, but it shows an utter lack of both information and compassion.

Jorge Garcia literally had no “right way.” It was for people like him that President Obama instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but Garcia is one year too old for it.

People brought here as children are called “Dreamers” in reference to a 2001 congressional bill, called the DREAM Act, that never passed.

A new bipartisan DREAM Act was introduced in the Senate in July 2017 that was referred to the Judiciary Committee but has not progressed beyond that point.

Even for those who qualify for DACA, it is not a path to citizenship. They cannot get permanent resident (“green card”) status or citizenship. The best they can do is renew it every two years for a hefty fee of $495, which many can’t afford.

It would require an act of Congress for Dreamers to be able to get permanent legal status or citizenship.

There is supposedly enough bipartisan support in Congress for a “clean” DREAM Act (one that does not link the status of Dreamers to other legislative proposals).

There is also widespread public support, as demonstrated by a Feb. 26 Catholic call-in day initiated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and an Ethicsdaily.com-initiated Baptist call-in day on March 1 urging representatives to pass a clean DREAM Act.

No legislation has been passed.

Contrary to the assumption of many that people like Garcia have been wantonly living in the U.S. under the radar, he has been doing everything he could possibly do, as his wife has detailed on some television appearances.

A part of their story includes lawyers and other outside help who, in some cases, did them wrong or took advantage of them.

It is not only Dreamers but also undocumented immigrants in general about which so many U.S. citizens blithely say, “Why can’t they just come legally?”

It is extremely difficult to come here legally and requires three things that desperate people do not have: time, money and connections.

Application fees are out of reach for many. The system is backlogged and can take an unreasonable amount of time.

But even if an immigrant has time and money, there are very few legal avenues, and most must have a family connection or an employer who is bringing them here to work. Forms and instructions are complex and confusing.

Compounding misinformation is the constant rhetoric suggesting that most immigrants are “fence jumpers” – lawless people covertly and illegally sneaking in.

But a report from the Center for Migration Studies found that, in recent years, visa overstays account for the majority of new undocumented persons.

These people came here legally but no longer have proper authorization.

More often than not, these people came here by plane, exposing the idea of a $20 billion border wall as an effective deterrent as asinine beyond description.

Of course, there are lawbreakers and troublemakers, and we should deal with them appropriately. But it is well documented that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens do.

These facts and practical realities can help explain things, but there are more pressing questions: Where is our compassion? Why are we so uncaring and unable to love our neighbor as ourselves? Why can’t we put ourselves in their shoes and see their families as our families?

Even if Jorge Garcia had not done all he could, how can anyone see his sobbing family and say, “I have no sympathy”?

In an episode of the dystopian television series, “Black Mirror,” a soldier hunts down and kills hideous humanoids called roaches.

However, we learn later that he and his team have brain implants that make them see the faces of humans as monsters, and hear their voices as creaturely squeaks.

The human problem of sin – fed by cable news, xenophobia and racism – has served as our own “implants” causing us to turn a blind eye to the humanity of the other.

Were our hearts ruled by love of God and neighbor, we could not so flippantly turn away from the drowning of a refugee or the deportation of a loving and hardworking father.

We have much work to do to fill our minds with better information and our hearts with more compassionate vision. Even so, we must.

Corey Fields is senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Newark, Delaware. His work has included cultivating congregational vision for missional ministry and ecumenical social justice efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @coreyf_4.