Becoming the Answer to Our Immigration Prayers

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I just returned from an amazing week with a group from our church who went through a 40 hour immigration law training put on by World Relief. It’s the first step in becoming Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) accredited, meaning we can provide legal immigration counsel.

Ay caramba! It was intense. Our textbooks were 2,000 pages long. From 8am-5pm each day, we sat under fluorescent lights listening to legal jargon (there’s a long document of JUST the acronyms folks were dropping all day long). But there was chocolate, good friends, and legit tacos around the corner for lunch – so we survived.

It was also exciting to think about becoming an advocate for our immigrant neighbors! I had the realization that I was becoming the advocate that Karlos and I so desperately searched for when we were going through the immigration process.

In the book Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, Shane Claiborne put it so well:

“Prayer is not so much about convincing God to do what we want God to do as it is about convincing ourselves to do what God wants us to do.”

I walked into our immigration journey wide-eyed, lovestruck, and naive. I didn’t know how to advocate for myself or where to turn with questions along the way. I prayed that the Lord would raise up someone to help guide us because we had no money to pay an attorney.

He sent a church family that surrounded us during that time, parents that prayed for us, and countless friends that sacrificially gave us their time and financial gifts.

But no immigration help.

Nevertheless, He absolutely softened my heart to the plea of the foreigner among us, especially for the families that desire to remain intact and in the country they call “home”.

So when I sat in last week’s training, it was life giving to see each person sitting there – representing an organization that is doing exactly what I prayed for (our church included!)

If you’re embarking on your own immigration journey, here’s some hindsight advice for you:

  1. Be your own advocate! We learned in our training that most attorney-client relationships place the power in the attorney’s hands. But that’s not true! Immigrants hold the power of their story and the keys that may unlock different options. Become super familiar with your own story and be prepared to clearly articulate it to someone that knows immigration law. Together you will be a dream team
  2. Find legitimate legal advice! Use the American Bar Association’s website to locate legal advice in your state. If you can’t afford an immigration attorney, locate a BIA accredited office near you. They are required to keep their fees low and may even be able to offer you more of a discount based on financial need.
  3. Know your rights! The Immigration Legal Resource Center has a great page dedicated to informing you of your rights as an immigrant in the US.

A big thank you to our church for making this journey possible!

Stay tuned as our organization, Open Door Immigration Services (ODIS), continues to develop and serve as Jesus’ commanded us: “I was a stranger and you invited me in…’When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’” (Matthew 25:35, 40)

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Finding an Immigrant-Friendly Church

When we first visited our church community, many people asked us “How’d you find out about us?” I think most people were taken aback when I let them know that it was because of the denomination’s stance on immigration.

See, we’re an immigrant family. And though we’re done with the legal process, we cannot forget the eternal call we have as Christians to love and serve the foreigner among us. We were excited to find a church who’s heart to serve the foreigner aligned with ours.

Last year, I bumped into our Associate Pastor at Trader Joe’s. She was serendipitously perusing the goat cheese section as well. We started chatting about ways our church could think outside of the box and be intentionally serving the greater community. I mentioned to her that our immigration journey was TOUGH and that there’s a lack of resources for those on a similar journey in our area.

We went out and started researching the need and what other churches have done in similar situations. It turns out that the body of Christ is doing amazing things as they answer this ever-present call to love the foreigner among us!

Organizations like Immigrant Hope and The Immigration Alliance are empowering local churches to become legal advocates for their immigrant neighbors. After many discussions over chips and queso, ODIS (Open Door Immigration Services) has been birthed as an official non-profit – the first legal service site for the Evangelical Covenant Church. Holla!!

To share this news with our church family, our pastor recently challenged our congregation to do two things in light of this call:

  1. Pray for 40 days (check out the I Was a Stranger Challenge Toolkit).
  2. Learn 2 immigrants’ stories.

So simple, yet somehow in that still, quiet time with the Lord and in a personal relationship, our worlds expand.

We had the opportunity to help our church family with part of their homework by providing the first of the two immigrant stories they’d been tasked to learn. You can hear the awesome sermon and my shaky voice here 🙂

Not every church is called to provide legal assistance to their immigrant neighbors. Maybe there are already plenty of resources in your community – awesome! BUT every church is called to be the body of Christ to every person in their community. No matter what their status, race, or religion.

Genesis 1:27 says “So God created mankind in his own image” – we are called to love our neighbors exactly as they are created to be. Image bearers of God. If a church body believes this, they will take seriously the call love and serve the foreigner among them.

How is your church an “immigrant friendly” congregation?

Our Immigration Journey


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We’re engaged!! That’s it – right? He asked and I said “¡Si!” 

The rest was meant to be “happily ever after” (or at least just overwhelming guest lists and cake flavor choices). But alas, for us, and any couple that come from different countries, engagement sets in motion the big questions of WHERE do we live and HOW do we make that possible?

Though we met in Mexico and love that country, we knew that starting our life in the United States (and tackling our immigration journey head on) would open up more doors later on in terms of giving us a choice in where we could live. The short-term sacrifices would lead to more long-term opportunities.

Most folks are taken aback when they learn that marriage ≠ automatic citizenship.

For us, the journey to citizenship lasted nearly six years – from submitting our first application to receiving his naturalization paperwork. Even just typing that one sentence makes it feel like a nice and neat process.

What we learned in those six years of mess, anguish, fear, and countless prayers made us grow up quicker – and closer. Here’s what it looked like:

  1. Fiance visa – 1 year wait (If you are engaged and plan to live in the United States, this visa allows your novio(a) to cross the border and then you have 90 days to get married #reallife90dayfiance)
  2. Temporary permanent residency – approx. 6 month wait (SUPER fast in immigration standards – BUT during that waiting period Karlos wasn’t allowed to drive, work, or leave the country. It was the most stressful step of the process!)
  3. Permanent residency – 2 year wait (If you become a a resident based on marriage, your first step is “temporary permanent residency”. You have to reapply after 2 years to have that temporary status removed and prove that you’re happily, legitimately married.)
  4. Citizenship – 1 year wait (If you became a resident based on marriage, you can apply for citizenship after 3 years of being a permanent resident. So you basically pay for the non-conditional permanent residency and then immediately pay for the citizenship process to begin).

Total cost: $2,680*

*That’s just the total to file the correct paperwork. It does not include any lawyer fees, travel costs to get the in-person interviews, required medical exams, loss of income during “wait times”, etc.

We could not have made it through those first six years without nuestra comunidad. The folks that…

…cheered us on and double checked our paperwork

…moved all our earthly possessions and filled our fridge when we were on our honeymoon

…hired Karlitos when he was finally able to work, but still just learning English

…let us sleep on their living room floor when we moved across the country

…(parents that understood that) we did not want to start a family until Karlos received his citizenship for the very real fear of deportation that so many families face on a daily basis

…church families and our CSM family that prayed over us for years – speaking truth, calming fears, and giving encouragement along the way

So many prayers, tears and cashier's checks went into the making of this photo!

So many prayers, tears and cashier’s checks went into the making of this photo!

From the moment we submitted our first round of paperwork to the moment Karlos received his US passport, three things have become glaringly clear – we are grateful that mi amor had a “line to wait in”, our current immigration system is broken, and we pray for reform of that system.

Throughout this journey, our paths have crossed with some amazing families, each having their own unique immigration story – whether having come to this country this generation or a few back.

What’s your family’s story?