Immigration Has a Name

Illustration by Ingrid Cruz, courtesy of National Day Laborer Organizing Network (

Illustration by Ingrid Cruz, courtesy of National Day Laborer Organizing Network (

by Elizabeth D. Rios

As a Puerto Rican and therefore a US citizen by birth, I've never had to face the issues that many of my Latino brothers and sisters have, but as a pastor and leader in the faith community, I've heard their stories of confusion, frustration, even agony. And as a Christian observing the discourse on the issue in the evangelical community, I am saddened by the lackluster involvement of so-called Jesus people.

The usual arguments marshaled to hinder or support immigration tend toward the abstract, and they often obscure rather than clarify. As we cite statistics, debate the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States, and argue about policy, it would be helpful for us to keep in mind that immigration has a name.

The name "Araceli Grijalva," for example.

In October 2006, while traveling between Arizona and Mexico as missionaries, Araceli and her husband, Daniel, a US citizen, had their lives turned upside down. Although her US visa was valid for another four years, border patrol police detained her without stating a reason. She was handcuffed and put in a jail cell for nine hours, during which time she was refused both water and food, in spite of the fact that she was eight-and-a-half-months pregnant with their third child. Then she was deported to Mexico.

Daniel recalls, "The officials were very aggressive and disrespectful and told us we didn't have any rights." The stress of the situation and the ensuing separation, which continues today, exacerbated Daniel's health challenges. A Type-2 diabetic, Daniel lives with chronic neuropathy, insomnia, and a host of other complications which have hampered his attempt to find permanent work and to earn the lawyer fees needed to speed up the appeal process that could  reunite  their  family. To this day they have never been told why Araceli's visa was not honored.

Daniel and Araceli attempt to see each other every three months, although with three young daughters the reunions and subsequent separations are taking an immeasurable toll on their hearts. Daniel is raising the two older girls, making ends meet by living with his parents (his mother is a US citizen, his father a permanent resident) and singing at local churches. Araceli lives just over the border in Agua Prieta, raising their youngest and working three days a week cutting cables for a US company in a warehouse that Daniel says "is no place for a woman." According to Daniel, she earns 230 pesos, or less than US $17, a week.


Araceli and Daniel (a US citizen), before she was deported. She now lives in Mexico with their youngest daughter, born after the deportation, and he lives in the US with their two older daughters.

Although optimistic about the future, Daniel still worries that any plan to afford citizenship to immigrants, especially in a time of high unemployment, will result in increased opposition, likely from both political parties. As Roy Beck, executive director of Numbers USA, a group that wants to cut immigration, told the New York Times, "It just doesn't seem rational that any political leader would say 'Let's give millions of foreign workers permanent access to US jobs' when we have millions of Americans looking for jobs."

If we care about being about the Father's business, let's not check our faith at the door when it comes to immigration. We serve a God who "defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing" and who commands us not just to tolerate but "to love those who are aliens" (Deut. 10:17-19).

It will be easier for us to love aliens if we remember that immigration has a name, and a face, and a story. These are people God loves deeply. Like our God, we, too, must choose people over policy, a stand over silence. We must let our collective voices be heard through the many efforts in our faith community.

"I am an American, but how can I believe in an America that doesn't believe in me?" asks Daniel. This is a question that demands an answer.

Rev. Dr. Liz Rios is a wife, mother, teacher, pastor, author, and consultant. She is the founder of the Center for Emerging Female Leadership.

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