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Two sides of the border
Lazarus lies at our gate1998
by Betty Puricelli
Betty Puricelli has been Co-Director of the Mennonite New Life Centre of Toronto since its founding in 1984 by the General Conference Mennonite Church. The Centre provides counselling, emotional support, language instruction and settlement services to refugees and newcomers to Toronto, Ontario.
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, . . . who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man's table (Luke 16:19-21, NRSV).
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is being relived at the gates of the rich nations of our world. The plight of 40 million refugees and displaced people today is the plight of Lazarus. They beg for mercy at the gates of the wealthy nations and are ignored, or feared. Their longings are answered with iron bars that cover doors and windows.
Canadian immigration policy has been changing in the past few years. Before the change, any person deemed a refugee according to the criteria of the Geneva Convention was readily accepted as a landed immigrant. Since the change, refugees' ability to contribute to the Canadian economy is the overriding consideration. Now the needs of the Canadian economy take priority over the needs of refugees.
The change has affected private sponsorship of refugees through Mennonite Central Committee. MCC was the first to sign a master agreement with the Canadian government. This private sponsorship agreement enabled MCC to bring more refugees into Canada. But in some recent cases, MCC sponsors have been rejected and refugees have been refused immigrant visas, despite letters from Canadian consulates recommending them. The reason the government gave for refusal: the applicant would not be able to find work and become self-sufficient.
This takes its toll on family members who have settled legally in Canada. They worry about relatives who remain in areas of conflict. Their own settlement process is put on hold, as their concern for those left behind becomes their focus.
The policy changes have also meant increased funding for the enforcement arm of the Canadian immigration service. The result has been more violence and more inhumane treatment, even toward those who have met the requirements for continuing to stay in Canada.
The new realities are alarming to those of us who work with refugees here. We wonder what the future holds for the increasing numbers of refugees in our world. How will we respond to the Lazaruses at our gates?
Two sides of the border:
Maria's family lives with daily traumaby Zulma Ramos Prieto Zulma Ramos Prieto, Goshen, Indiana, edits El Puente ( The Bridge), a Spanish language newspaper, and helped start the Hispanic Council of Elkhart County.
We heard about Maria a year ago. She was one of 60 people who were deported after an Immigration and Naturalization Service raid on Gleason Industries in Goshen, Indiana. The December 1996 raid was the first of five INS raids in Elkhart County in the past year.
Maria is married and has three children. In Mexico she never had the money to support herself and her children. Her husband is a legal resident of the U.S. Three years ago he applied for a resident visa for Maria. Her papers have not come through. When she joined her husband in the U.S., she did not want to steal or become dependent, so instead she chose to get a job under an assumed name, as an "undocumented worker." She couldn't use her own name because that would have ruined her chances of ever getting a legal resident visa.
On the December evening of the INS raid, Maria's family waited for her. She didn't come home. The next day her husband had to choose between taking care of their children and going to work. A year has passed and the family has not recovered from these experiences.
Under U.S. law, Maria is a criminal. She has committed the crime of belonging to the poor of the earth. Like many immigrants long ago, Maria came to this country to work. She fled from an economy that suffers because of "free trade" practices that benefit not the impoverished people of her country, but those wealthy enough to move capital across national boundaries.
When they arrive in the U.S., people like Maria, desperately seeking a way to support their families, get the lowest-paying, least desirable jobs. A U.S. visa is a big expense for third world people who have little formal education, no property, no land. The wealthy amass more excess wealth at the expense of these new arrivals. The immigrants support the U.S. economy with their labor, and also by buying goods and paying for services they use.
But these undocumented workers live in fear. They fear the new immigration law and the agents who enforce it. They fear people who can abuse them and get away with it, because they cannot appeal to the law for protection.
For all the Marias there must be hundreds of Janes and Johns who wonder about these brown people. What can you do? How can you contribute?
Above all, get to know your undocumented neighbors, co-workers, employees. Put a face on the problem. People who are able to establish and maintain sometimes uncomfortable relationships can make the most difference. Understand that pain of these immigrants. Unite around them. Pray and love with all your might.
MCC US prayer cards for Zulma and instructions for braided prayer hearts are available from PJC. This activity creates a visual aid to remind us to pray for Christ's peace.