As I drove through my Waco neighborhood on the way to work on Nov. 9 a year ago, the day after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States of America, I waved to José (not his real name). José, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was raking leaves in the yard of one of my neighbors. In my neighbors’ yard were two “Make America Great Again” signs posted in front of their flag pole flying the Stars and Stripes.
José has worked for my neighbors William and Cindy (not their real names) for more than 10 years and so I’ve made an acquaintance of him. He almost seems like one of William and Cindy’s family members since he takes faithful care of the beautiful gardens and lawns of the elderly couple nearly every day of the year — fall, winter, spring and summer. I couldn’t help noticing the incongruity of this scene.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Amos 5:12
Later that day, I encountered Maria (not her real name) as I entered the room where I get my coffee. I’ve known Maria, also from Mexico and undocumented, for three years. Our eyes met. “No bueno,” she said. I nodded knowingly and Maria moved on to begin her day of cleaning in the building. An hour later, I went back to pour another cup. Maria was on her knees in the corner, wiping up a spill on the floor. I walked over to her and touched her on the shoulder.
“Maria,” I said, “are you OK?”
She looked up. Tears streamed down her face; she had been crying.
“No,” she sobbed. “My children — they were crying last night. They are afraid.”
Nothing more needed to be said. I knew very well why her children — ages 12, 9 and 8 — were afraid. Maria and her husband have three children who attend Bell’s Hill Elementary School in Waco. Two of the children were born in Waco but the oldest is undocumented, one of an estimated 800,000 so-called “Dreamers” in America. What did the election of Donald Trump mean for her family? Arrest? Deportation? Separation from her children?
They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Amos 2:6-7
Dreamers are minors who were brought to the United States by their undocumented parents. In exasperation over the Republican-led House of Representatives refusal to consider the bipartisan Senate bill to address the injustices of current immigration law that, among other things, leaves hundreds of thousands of immigrant children (who have come to this country through no fault of their own) in the shadows, President Obama signed an executive order in 2012 known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). DACA currently protects hundreds of Dreamers who attend Waco schools like Bell’s Hill Elementary, Alta Vista Elementary, Cesar Chavez Middle School, Waco High, TSTC, MCC and Baylor University.
There are those who turn justice into bitterness and cast righteousness to the ground. Amos 5:7
Meet one of our Dreamers at Baylor. Francis (not his real name) was born in Zambia and moved to America with his mom when he was a year old. His dad came to the States a year earlier to seek a bachelor’s degree at Christ for the Nations Bible College in Dallas and study evangelism, church planting, worship and music ministry, cross-cultural disciple-making and ministry to orphans. Two years later Francis’ mom gave birth to a girl, Angela (not her real name). Unlike her brother Francis, Angela has legal status since she was born in America. Both children grew up in Oak Cliff. Francis, now a junior at Baylor majoring in psychology, will graduate in 2019. He is active on campus in the Multicultural Association of Prehealth Students. I spoke with him the other day at a campus Starbucks about his hopes and fears.
“After I finish Baylor, I’d like to do a one-year internship before getting a master’s degree in counseling,” he told me. “Then, I want to open a health clinic for the impoverished in the Oak Cliff area. There’s a big need for mental health care there.”
“What’s it like being undocumented?”
“You know, I look and sound like a normal American,” he said. “But I’m afraid for my parents who have no legal status. Since Trump was elected, there have been some raids by ICE in Oak Cliff; a friend’s older brother from Mexico was arrested and is being detained. My parents have thick accents so I’m worried.”
“What about you, Francis?” I asked. “Are you worried for yourself?”
“I’m mainly worried about how I can pay for graduate school,” he replied. “I feel like I am an American. It’s the only country I have ever known. In fact, I’ve never even been to another country after I came to the States as a baby. But since I’m undocumented I won’t be able to get loans for graduate school.”
“How does being a ‘Dreamer’ affect you at Baylor?” I asked.
“Well, I can’t study abroad which some of my friends are doing this summer. That’s out of the question. The staff at the Baylor Immigration Clinic [of Baylor Law School] has advised us not to do anything that might expose us.”
As we finished our hot drinks, Francis and I walked toward the Sid Richardson Building where he was going to meet someone to study for a test.
“I hope my children never go through what I’m going through,” he said as we parted. “I want them to be able to travel anywhere they want and not be afraid.”
“Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?” Amos 9:7
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in September the administration was rescinding DACA. If Congress doesn’t act, starting March 6, 2018, hundreds of thousands of individuals will face deportation and slip back into the shadows where they will have second-class status and face an uncertain future. They might even lose the only country they have ever known. Imagine what it must be like to be an undocumented student at Bell’s Hill Elementary or at Baylor.
Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria, you notables of the foremost nation. Amos 6:1
Let’s not be complacent. Whether Republican, Independent or Democrat, you can help. Call U.S. Rep. Bill Flores at 202-225-6105 and urge him to pass clean Dream Act legislation by year’s end. As an educator and as a Christian, I urge you to act on behalf of these students. These are our children. These are our family members, church members and business colleagues. As a member of the Central Texas community now for more than 40 years, I know my neighbors to be caring and compassionate people. We will not tolerate injustice done to our children.
Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy. Amos 5:15
Blake Burleson is a lecturer in religion and associate dean for undergraduate studies of Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences.