This is the refrain from the hymn All Are Welcome I sung not more than a couple of weeks ago at mass. It’s an upbeat tune and one that gets my energy flowing during the liturgy. I have visions of Christ opening his arms wide to everyone in this song — men, women, black, white, gay, straight, those that believe in him and those that doubt him.
I used to have the same vision of America when it came to those who emigrated from other countries, that all were welcome. But my faith in that vision has been considerably shaken over the deportation of Jesus Lara recently. After reading of Jesus’ situation, I felt the need to take action. So, I gathered all the phone numbers of United States Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and Congressman Robert Gibbs, who represents the fourth congressional district in Willard where Jesus resides. I made phone calls, sent e-mails to friends and put a Facebook posting in hopes that people would make time to act on Jesus’ behalf and ask these representatives to stop the deportation. Only Senator Sherrod Brown’s office returned my call.
Now, before this paper gets inundated with phone calls, letters, and e-mails in protest of my view being published, let me just say I get it. I do. I understand. I, too, want some type of reasonable immigration policy put in place to deport those who have committed serious crimes. But there is also a larger human issue that needs to be addressed for those who did enter illegally but have kept themselves out of trouble, are productive members of their communities and paying taxes.
Along with a friend from Willard, I visited Jesus and his family twice over the last two weeks. The latest was the night before his scheduled deportation. He was still positive and more concerned about the fate of his family than his own. I told him I would continue to pray for a positive outcome. That positive outcome never came. He was indeed deported the next morning. While I was sad and disappointed, the true emotion of the moment never hit me until later that day.
While driving past the Huron County Job & Family Services building that same morning as Jesus’ deportation, I noticed Jesus’ wife and her four children in tow going into that office to apply for assistance. Jesus had taken such great pride in being able to support his family financially that he never asked for any public assistance through our government programs. But now, in order to make ends meet, here was his wife having to apply for that same assistance he tried so hard not to take. The oldest son, Eric, saw me first and pointed to his family my presence. I ran to them, gathered them in a circle and held them tightly. Tears streamed down all of our faces. I told them I would continue to pray for them and said I would visit occasionally to see how they’re doing.
At first my tears were of sadness and then turned to downright anger. We assail (often unjustly) those who are on public assistance and label them as lazy free loaders. For the sake of making a point to deport everyone who came in this country illegally, our president and those who believe in his deportation policy, have now literally forced a family to survive, in part, on the public assistance these same leaders frown upon. All are welcome? I have my doubts.
Immigrating to America is not as easy as “getting in line.” If you really want to know about our country’s immigration policies, read the article re-printed in this paper from Michael Sangiacomo of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Not only is the process lengthy, it’s expensive and sometimes just impossible. I have put myself in Jesus’ shoes and asked if I would dare to try and escape a repressive situation as his was to make a better life in America. My answer was a hesitant yes. But to be honest, I’m not sure I’d have the guts to withstand the physical and emotional toll what he and many others experienced to make it here. It’s a dangerous journey across that border and not for the faint of heart.
But although my faith in the vision I spoke of at the top of the article has been shaken, it has found some renewed strength. A friend, who supported President Donald Trump in the election, pulled me aside after Mass to tell me he’s for deportation, but it has to make sense and he made the calls to support Jesus I had asked for in my Facebook post. I thanked him and told him there is indeed room for us to work together. There has also been a bi-partisan effort in the U.S. Senate by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Richard Durbin to reintroduce the DREAM Act that failed previously. It gives hope to all those children who came here undocumented and outlines a path for them to gain permanent residency.
All are welcome in this place? I still have my doubts, but just as Christ’s arms are open to everyone, I hope ours can do the same for the Lara family and all immigrants in their situation. The next time I sing this hymn, they all will be on my mind.
Dennis Stieber is a Norwalk resident.