I often wonder how many straight families are weeping over the “demise” of their own families as Prop 8 was struck down by the Supreme Court- do they cry as much as my mother on every major holiday while she stares at a table with an empty chair, waiting for me?
You see, I was an undocumented immigrant, and was sent back to Mexico via a “voluntary departure” which is about as voluntary as walking the plank into shark infested waters. In staying in the U.S. I’d face federal jail time. In going, I faced a death of all I knew, and an uncertain future on ever seeing my family together again, at least in this life.
As it stands the LDS church’s continued success in the U.S. is due to Latino immigrants, many of whom are undocumented. Though most are raised in the Catholic faith tradition, the church has persistently courted the Latino population by teaching family and community values, both central to Latino culture. Thanks to this, the church has experienced considerate growth and expansion, by baptising Latinos, the biggest number of new converts of any ethnic group.
Aside from the membership numbers increasing, faithful Latino members are allowed to serve in congregations in various functions, as well as hold temple recommends regardless of their documented status. Still, in spite of their current standing with the church, undocumented immigrants are suffering from the lack of comprehensive immigration reform- and, for Mormon immigrants, the double whammy of practical silence from their church community.
Sure, President Uchtdorf spoke approvingly of President Obama’s immigration reform. Sure, there was an attempt to bring the Utah Compact- a document that would allow for employees to hire undocumented immigrants at a lower wage than U.S. born citizens and attempt to provide “protection” for them-which failed to pass by the Utah Senate. Apparently, not even indentured “servitude” will suffice if it bears any form of benefit to the undocumented.
Debate over worthiness of current undocumented members is still highly debated among the American citizen members, and since no official church stance has been taken in regards to immigration reform, the cultural racism embodied in more traditional church circles is alive and well. But what of President Uchtdorf praising Barack Obama’s immigration reform bill- surely that’s taking a stand, isn’t it?
For Latino members who watched their religion come to the aid of the “protection of the family”- under the “threat” of gay marriage- there was an undercurrent of hope. Surely, we were next- surely the church would see how the need for more compassionate laws to keep those families that were routinely being torn apart by an unjust system and come to the aid. They had demonstrated an ability to do so along with the resources to make that stand. The talk of freedom, of protection was one that many an undocumented heard with expectation.
At the time many of my Mexican friends were expressing those sentiments- we had to be next, didn’t we? We payed tithing. We were obedient. Our numbers were counted in the membership records. Latino men had been serving as bishops, boys had been going on missions regardless of documentation. We were having to jump through a lot of loop holes (i.e. undocumented boys only serving stateside missions and and no airplane travel to get to their destinations, the unofficial “Don’t ask, don’t tell” stance that church authority takes with undocumented members by not asking their legal status), but we were still there, we were holding on.
And still, nothing. The gay marriage debate continues but for the bishops who continue to be deported, as well as missionaries who after two years of service find themselves exiled from their homes there is no defence. The church has found ways around some of these issues (i.e. missions) but has done nothing to bring unity to the situation. Anti-immigrant members often quote the 12th Article of Faith, while failing to realize that 1) a considerable number were brought over as children (which would not include them per the 2nd Article of Faith) and 2) we believe in doing good to all men (touched upon in the 13th Article of Faith). Not just white men. Not just straight men. But all men.
The Savior always took in the oppressed, the less fortunate- in The Parable of the Good Samaritan he highlights the literal importance of serving, and saving those who are not like us. In Matthew 25:36-37 he reminds us that shelter, food, and open arms provided to others would be service unto him. Christ did not exclude based on geography or documented status. Christ welcomed, and made safe.
As for myself, it has been over 4 years since I’ve seen my sister, and my nieces and nephews. I was unable to attend my sisters wedding, I have not met my youngest nephew or niece and I have not sat at the table with my family for 1,485 days. There is an empty chair waiting for me somewhere, gathering dust as well tearful reminders in different voices that we as a family, are not together now. I’ve been denied before as a woman, and now I am rendered invisible by my (former) undocumented status.
The resounding silence in regards to immigration should surprise. But a community who is continually overlooked, maligned and disenfranchised still waits. We are in need of more than feeble words asking for a more compassionate set of laws; we wait for more than a desire for the good to succeed but action to ensure that it does. Latinos look on as the church we have claimed as our own does nothing to protect our families even as they speak of the protection of those very same families we also are a part of. We long for the same response, the same hurried action. The church benefits from Latino numbers, Latino tithing, Latino service and Latino families. It seems that in the end all families are equal- but as the church has demonstrated, some are more equal than others.
Azul currently resides in Merida Mexico, with her cat Chloe. She blogs on assimilation, books and immigration, which you can read here.