Inviting and Injustice
We are frequently invited. Anyone who has the heart to travel can do so. We are invited for special events in the lives of the church and the people. We are invited to team up with leaders to work together in education, healthcare, public safety, employment opportunities.
We less frequently invite. This is not to say we don't wish to invite. We want our pastor, leaders and friends in El Salvador to participate in special events in the lives of the church and the people, and we want to team up with our friends to work together in ministry and in our home community.
Earlier this year we extended an invitation to our sister church pastor to visit us and to participate in several important events, including a big anniversary worship and pastor installation at church, and a family wedding. We thought about inviting other community leaders and church members from El Salvador, but we have never been able to get visa approval for anyone other than our sister church pastor, so we only invited him. His long-term visa had expired, so we helped him to assemble a very complete profile of his previous visits and his work in El Salvador. He was granted a renewal of his visa.
Then he waited. His passport with visa did not arrive, did not arrive. We made an inquiry at the US consulate (which cost us money) and were told that nothing could be done unless the passport had been delayed more than 30 days. We contacted friends in the embassy who learned that because our sister pastor has a common last name, the US was going to do a criminal check to make sure he had not committed crimes during his previous visits to the US. This could be a delay of "several months". Expedited process was requested.
In the meantime, the special events are passing by, and our sister pastor is not with us.
The visa process is frustrating. Good people with good intentions are invited by responsible citizens. Some visas are granted, and many are rejected. We continue to try to work with this process and talk with representatives about how to improve it.
Frustration over the visa process is one thing, yet once a visa is granted, it seems to me to be completely unjust to hold a foreign national's passport for up to several months, without communicating to that person that this is occurring, in order to conduct a criminal background check. I don't question the wisdom of conducting a criminal check (although, a pastor who presented a detailed account of every previous visit to the US seems an unlikely target for such a check), but I do question the "several month" time delay. In our sister pastor's case, he travels frequently outside of El Salvador, and the holding of his passport by the US for "several months" seems absolutely out of line.
We in the US are accustomed to flashing our US passport and quickly moving through visiting immigrant processes around the world. Some countries require us to have pre-positioned visas in our passports, which can take a week or two. This seems reasonable.
I want to ask anyone and everyone in our government who makes or implements our US visitor policies: How would you feel if another nation's government held your passport for 2 or 3 or 4 months while conducting a "check" on you? Would this be reasonable? Would this be just?
I do not believe we should continue to treat honorable visitors to our country as suspicious and potential criminals. I do not believe that we should intimidate visitors with lack of communication or by holding their passports. This is not right.
I do believe that I should be able to invite a beloved pastor and friends to a milestone event at my church or to my son's wedding.