The immigrant experience is of course diverse but one theme that I have seen firsthand in my own network is that of waiting on the American immigration system. Two of my friends from church got married, Ashley* was documented and Mike* wasn’t. They had a beautiful wedding and they purchased their first home together. They decided to go through the immigration system to acquire documentation for Mike. Due to their specific case, Mike and Ashley were told that Mike had to go Mexico for 10 years before proceeding within the immigration system. Mike has been in Mexico for about 8 years. Ashley, having lived in the U.S. all her life, remained here in the States, waiting for the 10 years to go by before they can proceed to the next step. They had to give up their house and Ashley moved back in with her parents and she visits Mike in Mexico every year.
This is only one example of waiting on the American immigration system. There are countless more stories like this one and even more severe ones. In the face of situations like these I turn to Scripture. The Psalms are filled with angst, waiting, desperation--human experiences. Psalm 13 is a psalm of lament and it epitomizes what waiting feels like:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
Though the situation for the psalmist looks dire for most of the psalm, the psalmist ends with a declaration of trust in God. The psalmist even rejoices in the Lord. How can this be? The commentary from The New Interpreter’s Bible says that this psalm helps us to view complaint and praise as simultaneous rather than separate experiences. This explanation also helps to illuminate the life of faith; we are constantly bringing our complaints, our achings and our hurts to God while also trusting that God is sovereign and is present with us in high points and low points.
Many who wait on the American immigration system are disappointed. This is what compels me to engage in an active waiting. While we wait we also contact our representatives, our local leaders, we share stories, we labor. I like how Shane Claiborne talks about waiting during advent:
And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work; and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release, community. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world.
I hope that during this Advent season our waiting is an active waiting and that we continue to become more aware of the stories of the immigrants among us.
*names have been changed
Ruth McPhail-Ubaldo is the director of Fort Bend Hope community center in downtown Rosenberg, just outside of Houston. Before living in Texas, Ruth and her husband, Thomas, lived in Atlanta where they attended Candler School of Theology. Ruth and Thomas share a desire to serve immigrant communities near the U.S.-Mexico border.