By Greg Smith,
Sitting in our office reviewing his renewal DACA application (DACA stands for “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”), this older teen from Mexico hardly says a word. This is normal. Unless the subject is video games, he doesn’t usually have much to say.
But we understand. Born with spina bifida, crossing the border with his mother when he was three years old, he’s developed little interest in sports, cars or other things boys his age have as common points of interest.
Yet what both he and his mother share with our agency, LUCHA Ministries, is a trusting relationship over a decade old shaped by the many ways we’ve been there for each other. From the free or low-cost wheelchairs we’ve helped secure for our young friend, to the untold number of tamales and other Mexican delectables his mother has prepared for our ministry’s Christmas parties and celebrations, the blessings have flowed both ways. So it’s natural, when the time comes to renew DACA, that his mother comes to us.
LUCHA Ministries, located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is a faith-based, non-profit organization dedicated to serving our area’s first-generation Latino community. We believe Jesus’ call to show mercy unconditionally to “the stranger” (Matthew 5:7; Matthew 25:35) clearly defines our response to the needs and challenges Latinos and their families face.
Antonio, an immigrant from Peru, lost his right eye in a work-related accident. Defeated and depressed, all he wanted to do was return home as quickly as he could. We encouraged him to stay in the U.S. long enough to win his court case (a co-worker gouged his eye out with a broom handle). And we invited him to volunteer with our ministry, as a way of helping him find purpose again.
“After my accident,” Antonio reflected,” what I longed for the most was not money, or perhaps not anything material. I only wanted someone to give me back my sight, so I could go back to work, to continue the struggle, to continue to work for my family, for my parents, for my son, whom I love so much. And thanks to God, LUCHA Ministries granted me the joy of seeing again, not with the sight I lost, but seeing in a different way, from the heart.”
We founded LUCHA Ministries in 2004. Since then, our goal has been to embrace the area’s 30,000 Latinos with services that empower, encourage, educate and advocate on behalf of immigrants. Essentially, we seek to address the immigrants’ struggle, or lucha, in adjusting to life in the US.
“When Latinos come to this country and they face so many struggles, it’s not easy for them to trust someone,” explains Victor Gomez, LUCHA Ministries founder and United Methodist pastor. “It takes time. You have to build relationships.”
Executive director and founder Sue Smith recounts how these relationships began.
“We started LUCHA Ministries by going to the homes of Latino friends, listening to their stories and learning about their needs. We never asked questions about their legal status or made their status a condition for receiving services. Little by little we gained their trust, and the bonds were formed.”
Recently, LUCHA Ministries built upon its relationship with the Latino community by seeking, and receiving, recognition from the Board of Immigration Appeals of the US Department of Justice to offer low-cost immigration legal services to the entire immigrant community, both Latino and non-Latino. I serve as the LUCHA Ministries’ BIA accredited representative and the Immigration Legal Services’ program director.
Why plunge ourselves into the complicated area of immigration law? The reasons are numerous. Certainly a major reason stems from the large role immigration has assumed in our national dialogue. Another reason is because our laws allow qualified immigrants to legalize their status or, once having legal residency, to seek to become naturalized citizens. So it’s only fair and right qualified immigrants have the chance to pursue these options.
But another reason is that creating an immigration legal services program allows us to extend, in perhaps the most tangible and powerful way possible, mercy and compassion to our immigrant friends and neighbors in ways that honor our country’s heritage. We know that not everyone qualifies to receive an immigration legal benefit. We also know that, for those who may qualify, the road towards legal status can be long and fraught with danger.
But the road symbolizes hope, and the realization of a dream. It also fulfills the promise of America, and secures a bright future for our country which, since its founding, has been blessed and enriched by the creativity, strength and grit of the immigrant community.
Back in our office, as his accredited representative I point our Mexican teenage friend to the line he is to sign on the DACA application form. At this juncture on the road, he is not able to seek legal permanent resident status. But he is able to renew DACA, which provides him the ability to work legally in the country while protected from deportation for two years. Which only makes sense, since the US, and specifically our part of Virginia, is his home.
It is our privilege at LUCHA Ministries to walk alongside this young man and other immigrants like him in their struggles to realize a full and meaningful life.
Greg Smith and his wife, Sue, are Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving the first-generation Latino immigrant community through LUCHA Ministries, Inc., located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Learn more about and support the Smiths and LUCHA here.