You may have heard of a minister who received special immigrant status. Raul Rivera from StartCHURCH covered this and explained it in an article posted May 12, 2014.
The short story:
Carlos Alencar overstayed a visa in the US and then “after being employed by the church for 11 years, in 2009 the church filed Form I-360 on their pastor’s behalf in order to obtain ‘classification as a special immigrant.'” After a long legal process of appeal, they secured a ruling to receive this classification. Among many other legal implications Rivera points out he concludes by saying: “This ruling may open the door for many of them to finally get documented status and ultimately American citizenship. It may dissolve the cloud of doubt that has continually spoken in their ear that one day it could all come to an end.”
I am grateful to Rivera for brining attention to this matter because these kinds of problems are impacting people in our country and (more importantly) in the Kingdom of God. I’m glad he is helping us see that there are paths out of the mess. I did have an initial concern about the application of that case to other cases… so I dug a little deeper.
A few caveats first on this subject:
1) I would love to see more churches and networks get involved in the Immigration Coalition which is working hard to set up church-based legal service sites across the US. More info can be found by clicking here. if you’d like to get your people involved since this is critically needed now and will be needed even more if we reach immigration reform.
2) I am not an immigration attorney, and we should always be wary of following legal advice from people that are not. Things get bogged down pretty quick when we do so.
Now, about the article. Upon advice I’ve gained from our immigration capacity building attorney in the Immigrant Connection ministry in The Wesleyan Church, I’ve discovered that some of the broad and general application mentioned in the article might instill false hope that this process is much easier and widespread than it actually is. I’m glad that Rev. Alencar and his network were able to apply so much pressure and resources to this appeal–but that is certainly going to be a very small slice of application even in terms of resources.
While technically true in law and regulations, the practice is a little different. The case referenced is a circuit court case, which means it is only binding in one specific area in the country. If someone wanted to see if they could get this same result, they would need to be ready to go through a long appeal process as well (and the legal fees associated). Even if a person was ready for a long appeal, they would also need to fit into a very small category of people.
Also, if USCIS decided to go against the norm and allow for someone to qualify who has worked unlawfully (as is talked about above), that person would need to also qualify for or be eligible for another exception (I discovered) otherwise he or should would be subject to unlawful presence and the bars that go along with that (basically have to go to home country for several years, possibly more than a decade) and could not adjust their status to lawful permanent resident.
Because of the small group of eligible people, the impact would be small even if clients were up for a long, costly legal road.
Considering this I think my suggestions are threefold:
A) If churches are looking to solve legal problems there are a few stories such as these that hold out hope–but in every case they should seek legal counsel from an Immigration Attorney or from a certified Board of Immigration Appeals recognized representative at an approved site (such as those the Coalition is setting up.)
B) Connect with the Immigration Coalition to begin to help solve such problems at a much larger scale for the millions affected by them in the legal way. People often flippantly say “stand in line” for those affected–well, there is often no line to stand in, and these sites are helping form an actual line for those affected, in a compassionate and legally certified way.
C) Pray for Reform in our country. We need to fix these problems at a systemic level, as they are complex and not solved by bumper-sticker level politics, and the Church has a compassionate mandate to welcome the strangers in our midst.