In light of the U.S. president’s announcement earlier this month to end DACA, the “dreamer” legislation protecting more than 680,000 residents living in the United States from deportation, I was compelled to revisit some of my journal entries from when I was an undocumented immigrant living in Costa Rica. It was, as one friend commented, “an ironic reversal of the usual situation.”
After moving to Costa Rica from the United States and living there for several years, I let my residency lapse after an extended period outside Costa Rica. By the time I finally renewed it, my residency had been expired for more than eight months. During that time, I lived fearing that the tiniest slip-up or the smallest infraction would uproot me and eject me from my new home back to the United States.
I spent most of my time in Costa Rica living, worshipping, and working with foreigners – immigrants – many of them vulnerable without legal status. After my residency expired, I forcefully tucked dark fears and anxiety into the back of my mind and kept going through my daily routine, trying to not let my hidden uneasiness surface. However, my journals, prayers, and to-do lists were all filled with emphatic reminders: RENEW RESIDENCY.
Keeping up legal residency is a constant source of confusion and a drain on one’s time, resources, and emotional well-being. Not that it isn’t important. When immigration law finally gets enforced, it tears families apart and destabilizes the home.
To illustrate this reality, let me recount another memory from eight years ago in Costa Rica from my writings:
Things aren’t so much falling apart right now as changing more quickly than I can take in. A lot has changed in the past few weeks to really destabilize the household I’m living in. My host parents were deported and had to return to their home country, leaving their two kids and me to care for the house for a month.
My host parents had been living in Costa Rica without proper documentation for over four years, so what prompted the immigration officer’s knock on the door and the deportation papers? To make a long story short, she had called animal control to look into the vaccination status of a dog that had bit one of my classmates, a fellow language student, while we walked home from church. At some point in the conversation, ‘Maria’ gave her name to an officer, and the next day Immigration knocked on our door.
‘Maria,’ my host mom, explained to me that her request for residency was “durmiendo con sueños de justicia”… that is, “sleeping with dreams of justice.” The first four years, they lived in Costa Rica on invitation by the Salvation Army, after which they applied for residency. But in the last four years since they applied, nothing has materialized yet. Their papers are still “sleeping with dreams of justice.” At this point, I have been working on my own residency process for 10 months. Many of my missionary friends residing in the country have been working on it for several years and still have nothing to show for it.
My situation was nothing compared to this, nor compared to the harrowing border-crossing stories of my Nicaraguan and Columbian friends. And I also wouldn’t for a moment compare my situation to the national drama we are now experiencing in the United States at the whim of the reality entertainment host staging the shots from the Oval Office. The uncertainty and confusion that our politicians have caused from D.C. now hits home where I live in Idaho. It has affected people at my local church, the university where I work, and several ministries in the area.
When our small group recently discussed the DACA remission and its impact on our church family, revisiting these memories from Costa Rica reinforced for me the verse about God giving the law to the Israelites: “Don’t mistreat or oppress an immigrant, because you were once immigrants in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:21)
For myself and for many of us, the meaning couldn’t be clearer.
Remember when you were an outsider, anxious and confused, constantly under the iron grip of those in power, squeezing every last ounce of God-breathed life out of you? Remember that, and in remembering it, be a different people.