A Return to the Migration Table - My Story, Your Story, Our Story

In my elementary school, fifth grade was the year during which each student made a family tree,  made a binder of stories and photographs, fashioned a costume from the homeland, got help from mom or dad in preparing an "ethnic" recipe, and put on a big folk fair for all the students in the school gym.  Norway, Germany, Sweden, Ireland and Italy were well-represented.  Most of the students had grandparents or great-grandparents who traveled by ship to Ellis Island.  One girl had parents who had emigrated from Russia.  One girl had come from China. A few had Native American ancestors.  A few had roots of family trees which disappeared into the early years of the United States or even the 13 colonies.  No one had been brought to the Americas in slave ships.  None of us gave any thought to a kid who might not be able to follow the roots of a family tree.

In my community, we grew up surrounded by nostalgia for the homeland.  We grew up with stories of brave ancestors who left their homes to seek adventure, to escape famine and poverty, to escape fascism, to practice their religion freely.  Three or four generations out, we were taught children's songs in German or Norwegian,and we still ate weird foods at Christmas.  Forty or fifty years after being established in an English-speaking country, our congregations still worshiped one or more times per week in a European language.

Today I was on Facebook and through a message ended up on a site which celebrates the building of the United States by the immigrants of the past, who came "legally", who did not come to "suck resources from the country but built it up to what it is today."  The page was filled with hundreds and hundreds of comments critical of "people who do not assimilate like my family did," or "are here for 2 years and still don't know English," or "are here to get handouts and not work hard" and statements like, "my family came here the right way."  Between the lines we can read, "the white way."  This Facebook page really pissed me off.

Look, I grew up white and Lutheran.  I grew up celebrating the cultures of Europe. Good stuff and bad stuff happened in my family.  That is my story.

I am sure you have a story.  It's probably a lot more interesting than my story.  It is not more important than my story, just as my story is not more important than your story.  Neither is right.  They just are.  If there is one thing I have learned during these decades of my life it is that the more stories we listen to, the more we realize we don't know much more than we do know.  It's time we sit down at the table and listen to each other.

On May 3rd we sat down at the Migration Table.  The topic was "Migratory Laws of the United States and Their Repercussions for Salvadoran Migrants."  My husband is accompanying the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and presenting this workshop. He is a lawyer, but not a migration specialist, and has done a lot of work studying up on the laws and the changes in enforcement practices over the Obama and Trump administrations.  The goal of the workshop is to provide pastors and community leaders with the tools they need to:

  • encourage youth and families not to migrate (in fact, the title of the educational campaign is Migration is not the Solution)
  • give advice to family, friends, congregations, etc who have connections with people in the US 
  • receive deportees and prepare for a possible deluge of deportees as policies change

The seats at the Migration Table were occupied by people with hearts and heads full of stories. They listened carefully.  They wrote factual and personally important points on note paper...

People who have the legal right to be in the United States are citizens (by birth in the US, by naturalization, children born to US citizen parents) and people with documents.

  • Permanent residents have documents (green card).  
  • People with valid visas have documents - there are more than 180 different types of visas and all have an end point (examples:  student, sports teams, conducting business, tourists)
  • People with Special Protection have documents
    • TPS (Temporary Protected Status) issued to people without documents who are in the US when a natural disaster or epidemic or war hits their homeland
    • Asylum Status
    • Refugee Status
People without documents do not have a legal right to be in the United States.

  • People who are picked up by migration police typically begin a court process.  They may be detained or released with conditions.
  • Undocumented people do not receive government benefits, do have the right to receive emergency medical care (and pay the bill).  Their children do have the right to go to school. 
During 2014, 16,000 Salvadoran children and youth traveled to the US and were detained after crossing the border.  This is why the Migration Tables were formed.  Thousands more traveled north during the next 2 years.  Thousands more traveled with their mothers or fathers.  Just from El Salvador.  There were similar numbers of children who migrated from Guatemala and Honduras.  Each child, each family has a story.  These are stories filled with gruesome acts of violence in the migrants' home countries and en route.  Most will rely on these stories to apply for asylum in the US.

To qualify for asylum, a Salvadoran migrant needs to prove that the Salvadoran government cannot protect them from rape, torture, death.  Step 1 is a hearing to determine if the child, youth or family has credible fear.  If the migrants don't pass Step 1, they are deported.  If they pass Step 1, the migrants pursue a case in immigration court.

These become part of the 123,000 pending cases ONLY FOR SALVADORANS out of a total 565,000 cases pending in US Immigration Court.

Salvadoran children, youth, mothers and fathers migrate north because they already have family in the US.  
  • A total of about 2 million people born in El Salvador live in the US.  This includes naturalized citizens and people with documents (all the types described above) and without documents.
  • 280,000 undocumented Salvadorans received TPS (Temporary Protected Status) when the earthquakes struck in 2001.  200,000 of these people still live in the US under TPS. 
  • 50,000 young people live in the US under DACA (commonly known as "Dreamers") - these are children who were brought from El Salvador when they were little, and have spent their entire lives in the US.
  • Thousands of Salvadorans live in the US with permanent residency
  • Thousands of Salvadorans live in the US without documents
The faces around the Migration Table were serious. Each face told a story.

Story:  My daughter is up there.  She has the ankle bracelet.  Once she had to go to a school thing for her kids and the bracelet went off.  What happens with her kids?

Response:  There are legal things your daughter can do to protect her children.  Guardianship documents, passports.  It's really important that she has a lawyer who specializes in immigration law.  (A resource list for family members is being developed so they can prepare for whatever changes occur in law, policy or personal migration status.)

What if TPS ends?  Do 200,000 people get sent back?
Response:  The example is set.  After the ebola crisis was over in Africa, all of the Africans in the US from the affected countries who were on TPS received a card telling them they had 2 months to return home.
But those people do not even know how to live here.  They don't know anything about the situations, the dangers.  They hardly speak Spanish.

On May 3rd, people gathered around a table to learn from each other and to share their stories.  At the Migration Table, my story, my husband's story and stories from El Salvador intersect.  And I write these stories in my blog. You read the blog.  Your story is part of the intersection.

Intersected stories become our story.  We are in this together.


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