Now on the Red Carpet: Isabel Castillo

Isabel Castillo
The Red Carpet Sized

Editor’s Note: This article is part of the NEW Red Carpet series from RLC. Find out more here!

Could it be true that a vibrant young woman who graduated Magna Cum Laude from a reputable east coast university is prohibited from working legally in the country in which she was raised and educated? It is. And she is. This has been the journey of Isabel Castillo who now advocates for countless other residents  who do not have legal documentation.  We’re delighted, today, to introduce RLC readers to Isabel.

Margot Starbuck: Isabel, tell us about the circumstances in which you were brought to the United States?

I was brought to the United States when I was six years old from Michoacan, Mexico. My mother grew up in a rural area where the highest level of schooling was second grade in her little town.  We were pretty poor and providing a second grade education for my siblings and I was not an option for my parents.  We came to the US for a better life and better economic & educational opportunities.

MS: Isabel, many Americans have no way to imagine the constant anxiety with which millions of individuals live. Help us understand what it’s like for men, women and children without documentation in the U.S.

Everyday people have to live in fear of deportation.  In many rural areas there’s limited transportation so people are forced to drive without a license to work, school, doctors appointments, grocery stores, etc., with the constant fear of being pulled over, detained and deported and perhaps never seeing their loved ones again or in many years.  Children are afraid that their parents will not come back home after work, grocery shopping etc.

Without having a legal status you cannot get health insurance. And most states will not give driver’s licenses or ID’s to undocumented immigrants, so it’s even difficult to return something at store without a state issued ID.

MS: Is the Dream Act dead? School us. Give us a brief sketch of what was contained in the Dream Act, as well as its current status.

The DREAM Act is not dead.  Senate bill S. 744 just passed, which includes the DREAM Act.  We now have to wait to see if the House of Representatives passes it too. There are four basic requirements in order to qualify under the DREAM Act, if passed into law:

1. An individual must have entered the US before the age of sixteen
2. He or she must have lived in the US for at least five consecutive years at the time of the enactment of this law
3. The person must have good moral character (meaning no criminal record)
4. He or she must have a U.S. high school diploma or GED

If the DREAM Act passes and someone meets the four basic requirements, the person must then go to college for at least two years or serve in the U.S. military for at least four years.  Once the person meets that requirement, he or she has to wait under what’s called “Registered provisional immigrant” status for five years before getting a green card.  Once someone gets the green card they then have to wait three years to apply to become a U.S. citizen.  As you can see, the process is a long one and it’s not “amnesty” like many would argue.  People have to prove themselves and work hard under the DREAM Act and any comprehensive immigrant reform bill.

MS: Can you describe the risks you, and others, have taken to advocate for the Dream Act?

Being outspoken about the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) is risky because we are exposing our undocumented status. But putting a face to a complex and controversial issue, such as immigration, helps change people’s hearts and minds. The reality is that our lives are at risk everyday because we are undocumented.  Any day, immigration (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) can show up at our house, school, church or work and deport us to a country we don’t even remember.  Being a part of the undocumented youth-led movement has taught me and many others that the more public you are about your status the safer you are.  If anything were to happen to me, I know that I have a community right behind me.

MS: You attended college at Eastern Mennonite University, graduating Magna Cum Laude. How were you financially able to attend college? Since you’ve gotten a degree, why is the Dream Act still important to your status today?

Brave New Films

I was able to attend EMU with hard work and dedication.  Growing up I saved all my money.  In high school I was a part of a program called “Cooperative Office Education” where I was placed at an office job, got paid and earned credits.  I saved all my money from this program.  After high school I worked an entire year seven days a week and also saved all that money.  My friends, family and community helped me financially, too.

I paid everything out of pocket because, as an undocumented person, I do not qualify for loans, grants, and federal financial aid. I graduated and have this degree that I cannot use because I am still undocumented and don’t have a work permit and social security number, so the DREAM Act and/or CIR would allow me to become legalized and be able to work legally by obtaining a work permit and Social Security number.

MS: How are you still involved in immigration issues today?

Currently I am trying to stay as active as I can with the immigration movement as we might be close to passing an immigration reform bill. It’s not the best bill, but we are trying to push for one.  I’ve had a number of opportunities to speak and I am also helping people who are currently in deportation proceedings.  Here is a petition of a local Harrisonburg woman who could be separated from her 5 U.W. citizen children.

Although there’s all this talk about immigration reform, unfortunately, everyday about 1,100 people get deported from the U.S.—about 400,000 a year.  Deportations should come to an end while congress tries to pass immigration reform.

MS: What biblical principles or passages should Christians consider as they think about immigration reform today?

In Matthew 25 he said “you should welcome the stranger.”  We are all God’s children regardless of our legal status.  We are citizens of God’s Kingdom not a country! Christians should read Matthew 25:31-46 and should consider participating in the “stranger challenge” by visiting this website.

Find out more about the Red Carpet:
The Red Carpet Sized

Margot Starbuck, the author of Small Things With Great Love, is a writer and speaker in Durham, NC. Connect on facebook or @

Photo Credit: Steve Pavey

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About the Author

Margot Starbuck

Margot StarbuckMargot Starbuck, is allowed to say our faces and voices are more important than books we write because last year she wrote a book about loving those who are other than we are,  Permission Granted, and she just released one about reflecting the gracious Face which is true— Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God. More @ MargotStarbuck.comView all posts by Margot Starbuck →

  • otrotierra

    Thanks for putting Jesus back into immigration debates, no matter how terribly unpopular it is to do so. Accepting Jesus as our point of origin leads us to startlingly radical conclusions.

  • 22044

    Isabel seems like a good kid – hopefully something can be worked out for her to allow her to stay and pursue a good life in the United States.
    However, nobody seems to mention this: millions of people emigrate legally and that process seems to be disrespected whenever this discussion comes up.
    Additionally, a more generous immigration policy probably exacerbates the economic problems in the United States, as we end up with more people pursuing the same amount, or even less, work, as we are not living in an environment that encourages business growth or start-ups.

    • 22044

      By the way, since someone from Canada posted some thoughts here, I’m genuinely interested in what Canada does.
      Canada’s regulatory policies and environment has been suggested to be friendlier to businesses to grow or start than the United States, according to at least one reputable study.
      I’m wondering how Canada accepts immigrants. Is it a generous or restrictive policy? Who is allowed to work or attend school there, and who may become a citizen?

  • Frank

    So someone is complaining that they don’t have have protections because they are breaking the law and are here illegally? There is a legal doctrine called Clean Hands. Look it up.

    That’s being said we have to do something soon to solve the illegal immigration problem.

    • Sheryce

      I agree, the illegal immigrants in the US are just overwhelming. It’s almost impossible to find someone legal these days. They’re horrible, they take our jobs, they think nothing of the legality of their status. I mean, they came here in 1500 and haven’t left since — what’s the deal?!

      • Frank

        They are breaking the law being here unless they have gone through legal channels. Are you supporting breaking the law?

        • Drew

          It’s clear that respecting the law and authority is not as important as it is to support the Democratic National Party.

          • Sheryce

            I’m not even from the US, but uh…nice assumption?

          • Drew

            You never responded to the first part of what I said. As for the second part, one need not be from the United States to support the U.S. Democratic Party Line.

          • Sheryce

            Read above where I responded to the whole “law and authority” stuff. Sometimes laws are unjust. Sometimes we have a responsbility to stand against them. I don’t really know what to say to you beyond that.
            And, weird assumption again. I don’t even know how to respond to that.

          • Frank

            So if I think a law saying gay people can get married is unjust I can ignore it, refuse to serve them cake and refuse to let them use my facilities? If I think the law that bans automatic weapons is unjust I can have them anyways? Who gets to say which laws are rightly stood against and which are not?

          • SamHamilton

            That’s up to each of us to decide. As Christians, we should look at the Bible and Jesus’ teaching and decide what human laws go against God’s law. We should also consider what would happen if everyone broke the law we intend on breaking and whether would we want to live in that type of society. However, we should also be prepared to face the consequences for our actions (prosecution, jail time, etc.)

            If you think that a law preventing the ownership of automatic weapons or that requires you to make a cake for a gay wedding conflicts with God’s laws then I would argue that you are right to break those laws and be prepared to be go to jail as a martyr to justice.

          • Frank

            Well that’s good to know. So then people shouldn’t be hypocritical and be accusatory towards gun owners, those challenging Obamacare or businesses that refuse to serve gay couples. Of course we know the hypocritical left will still complain “its only when we fight against the laws we don’t agree with that we are being Christlike.”

          • SamHamilton

            I’m not quite sure I understand what you’re saying here.

          • Drew

            I find it odd that you want to be intimately involved in U.S. politics yet do not want to be associated with U.S. politics. But that is besides the point.

            I agree with you that the process is broken. However, I don’t think the solution is to reward folks that broke the law. How about all the folks that are following the process – where is the justice in that? What prevents folks from breaking the law in the future, hoping that the law is changed again to “grandfather” them in?

            Besides the clear Biblical command that the law should be respected (Romans 13), which you clearly write off, the fact is that folks who break the law should not be rewarded over those that followed the law.

            In any case, I do agree that immigration is broken, and hope that the laws are changed, and support the efforts to do so. That is where we completely agree.

        • Frank

          Silence as expected.

          • Silence simply shows I’ve finished engaging the same 3 argumentative people. The same might be true for Sheryce and others :)

          • Frank

            We get it. Unable to actually refute whats said so ignore is the next best option. Very telling indeed.

        • Sheryce

          No, I’m not necessarily supporting anything. I’m trying to point out that if we look at all of our roots, unless we’re Native Americans, we are all illegal immigrants, and I really think we need to remember that. It changes things.

          My Oma escaped illegally to Canada when she was a child to escape being killed for being German post World War II in Poland. Did she break the law? Yes. Do I blame her? No. If anything I’m grateful. I probably wouldn’t be here if she hadn’t. She was a child. Her parents were doing the only possible thing they could think of to ensure the safey of their family.

          The current “legal channels” you keep talking about are bureaucratic nightmares filled with all kinds of inane reasons to turn away innocent people. In school I learned about a family that had come to America illegally after constantly being threatened by druglords. They had tried to go through the “legal channels” but were turned away and stuck in red tape over and over. Time ran out. Their legal chances ran out. They came illegally to save the children. Would you do any differently?
          If anything I believe we need a huge amount of immigration reform to improve conditions. I also believe we need a nice big helping of perspective to see the undocumented as human beings, worthy of protections and rights just as much as us. What did I do to deserve to live in Canada? I just happened to be born here. I never once had to work for it or prove myself. My humanity was valued. I owe others, all others, the same. You, especially as a fellow believer, do too.

          • Frank

            I come from an immigrant family as well but they came through the process at Ellis Island.

            If the legal immigration system is broken then lets fix it. That however is no justification for illegal activity.

            Everyone always pulls out a case that is fairly unique and rare to support the illegality of everyone else. Sounds like that family should have applied for asylum.

          • Sheryce

            Maybe the fact that “everyone always pulls out a case” like that is because they’re not actually really that rare at all?

            And the point is, regardless of whether or not your direct ancestors came here legally, if you are European you have ties to people who came here very much barbarically and very much (what we would consider today) illegally. Maybe if you thought about that for a moment you’d have more empathy.

            I’m done engaging with you. I’ve said my piece and that’s that.

            *Lotsa edits. Done messed up the grammar on this one!

          • Frank

            There were no immigration laws for a long time. Now there are. Whats your point? And yes you were done awhile ago.

          • Well said Sheryce. Jesus was clear on how he wants his followers to treat and welcome the strangers amongst us. Most of the undocumented people are heard working, morally upright folks who want the opportunity to work and provide for their loved ones. For those who are dangerous, or with criminal records, those folks should be deported.

            If we had a reasonable immigration process that lead to a path of citizenship for the non-elite, I am sure regular folks most would choose to go thru the process. Sadly, our immigration system is broken and primarily designed to only let the wealthy and educated elite in.

            We should see hard working undocumented folks as a part of our nation’s solution—not a part of a problem. We need to create a fair path to citizenship for all people—not just the rich.

          • Frank

            Believe it or not we agree. See its not an us vs. them afterall.

          • SamHamilton

            Hi Sheryce,

            I agree with you about seeing others as human beings. I don’t like the “illegals” terminology. But I also don’t think that requires an open borders policy either. In the U.S., I think at times we’re too flexible (why are immigrants who commit crimes allowed to stay here?) and at others too inflexible (your drug lord escapees are a good example). I think that’s what causes a lot of the division here.

            I’ll add that we’re not all “illegal immigrants.” But, at some point or another, all of us North Americans have ancestors who were immigrants. “Native” Americans weren’t even native. Everyone came from somewhere else at some point in their ancestory.

        • SamHamilton

          I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Isabel didn’t actually break any laws herself. Her parents broke the law, but she didn’t actively do anything to break any of our laws. Do you think it would be just to pardon her and others who are in her situation?

          • Frank

            I think their should be a process for children brought into this country, through no fault of their own, to become a citizen.

            However by staying here now she is breaking the law.

          • SamHamilton

            But you seem to be bothered by the fact that she is “complaining” about not being able to work legally here. You and she seem to want the same thing – a process of citizenship for people like her. Why do you consider what she wants “complaining” when you seem to want the same thing for her?

          • Frank

            I don’t fault her at all. I fault those that will try and use her for their own agenda while ignoring the fact that she is an illegal immigrant. Very few would argue that she is someone we want to stay in the country.

          • SamHamilton

            It certainly sounded like you faulted her in your original comment, but perhaps I misread it.

          • Frank

            Well maybe a little. I just think that if you are doing something wrong its hard to demand something or complain about it. It was less about her personally than about the system.

          • 22044

            Since she is a college graduate, I think it should be OK for her to receive a work visa & a social security number, as those privileges are extended to other people who aren’t citizens.
            But at some point she should apply for citizenship as well.

          • SamHamilton

            I agree 22044. This is the type of person we should encourage to stay here.

        • LInda

          I smuggled bible’s into Vietnam 20 years ago when it was against the law. It is against the law to own a bible or be a Christian in many countries in the world. Yet Christians are breaking many laws while they obey God, rather than man. I guess some laws are up for discussion and possibly meant to be broken. Borders are man made and I would have to say that North American borders are questionable considering the bloodshed and unethical practices that went into forming them. I have my doubts that Jesus supports a protectionist attitude. I don’t know that there is a place for Christians to be righteously indignant at the lawbreaking done by undocumented citizens to attain a better life that we so greedily hoard for ourselves.

          • Drew

            The tension is between Romans 13 and still following Jesus and His commands. Obviously, carrying out the Great Commission trumps any man-made laws. However, I cannot find a “command” for illegal immigration.

            “Hoarding for ourselves” is not the primary reason immigration laws exist. It is for the safety and welfare of the country. “Undocumented citizen” is also doublespeak; there is no such thing.

        • Val

          I support these immigrants coming here and thriving however they can get here. Anyone who is brave and courageous enough to risk absolutely everything, including their very lives, for just the mere hope of a better life for them and their families have earned the right to be here in the land of the free and home of the brave, and should be welcomed with open arms.

          I doubt Jesus would call anyone “illegals” These laws that are being broken are unjust, and must be opposed and overturned.

          You want to push things like Leviticus in the faces of LGBTQ people, well here ya go Frank. Back at ya, baby.

          “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him
          wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native
          among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in
          the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

          Leviticus 19: 33-34

      • Sheryce wins the Internet today. :-)

        • Frank

          How sad that you see things in terms of winning and losing. Says a lot about who you are.

          • Sheryce

            It’s a figure of speech. It just means he appreciated my comment. Relax.

          • Frank

            I know what he meant. Words matter. Its just an extension of the us vs. them binary that has gotten into this trouble in the first place.

  • SamHamilton

    If the debate about immigration reform were merely about what to do about people like Isabel Castillo there would be little to no debate.

    • SamHamilton

      I’ll add that I think it’s a shame that our government has not found a way to ensure that people in Isabel’s situation can’t stay in the country legally and eventually become citizens. But one could make a good argument that the reason that hasn’t happened yet is because the advocates of “comprehensive” immigration reform have resisted every effort to separate situations like hers from the millions of other undocumented immigrants in the country. Even the President’s Executive Order based on the Dream Act, the purpose of which is supposed to be to allow people like her stay legally, is being used to let criminals out of jail. That’s what the head of the ICE labor union is telling us:

      http://dailycaller dot com/2013/05/07/violent-criminals-released-by-ice-if-they-are-obama-dreamers-video/

      Do we have to pay this price in order to give people like Isabel legal status? Of course not. But the “comprehensive” immigration reform advocates won’t let it be any other way. It’s “comprehensive” or bust for them.

  • LOVE this series.

  • SamHamilton

    So I realize this is a bit off topic, but those of you who are regular commenters here will know that I don’t like it when people down vote comments that are expressed civilly and respectfully. I believe that if you disagree with what someone is saying, the proper response, particularly on a Christian blog such as this, is to start a conversation and discuss it with them, not just vote down their comment.

    Disqus recently began identifying people who have voted “up” on a comment. But they do not do so for “down” votes. On the FAQ portion of their website, it says:

    Can I see who down-voted a comment?

    No. In the spirit of keeping communities positive, we only show people who have upvoted a comment.

    I don’t understand this logic at all. I would think that forcing people to identify themselves would reduce the number of down votes, leading to greater dialogue, interaction and understanding. They are soliciting feedback on their new system. If you agree with me about down voting, I’d urge you to give them your feedback and tell them. At the top of this page there’s a link to do just that:

    http://help dot disqus dot com/customer/portal/articles/658811-how-voting-works

    (replace the “dot” with a period)

  • Michael

    There’s already a way for people to become US citizens. It’s way to hard, and this needs to be fixed. But no one seems to care about the people working in the U.S. on a visa for years before they can even hope to even get a green card (more less citizenship). When Democrats start caring about them then I might start to believe they care about the “undocumenteds.”

    Also, what happened to “Hitler in Heaven?” also posted today.

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