Heydi Mejia: Why She’s Not the Real Immigration Problem

Heydi Mejia: Why She’s Not the Real Immigration Problem June 12, 2012

I’m taking a brief break from my series on President Obama’s signature health-care legislation as the case of Heydi Mejia has captured my attention – and my heart. As a school principal, I know first hand what it’s like to balance the need to enforce the rules yet  be quick to show mercy as a child of God.

Photo via http://mysterywritersunite.blogspot.com/2011/12/balance-part-two-finding-balance-within.html

In case you’ve missed her immigration problem, Heydi Mejia graduated last Friday as an Honors student from Meadowbrook High School near Richmond, VA. She had taken AP classes. Her diploma glittered with the Virginia Governor’s endorsement. She had also been living under a deportation order for the last year. She won a reprieve for one year Monday.

Her case has sparked a lot of immigration frustration and even anger. The Washington Post captured the dilemma well. Key graph:

What should the United States do with illegal immigrants who come to the country as children, grow up here, break no laws and want to remain? In Mejia’s case, what should be done with an illegal immigrant who came to the country at age 4; who speaks better English than Spanish; who wants to attend Randolph-Macon College in Virginia and become a nurse; whose knowledge about modern Guatemala comes in part from what she’s read on Wikipedia?

We should be frustrated by the Heydi Mejia case. But she is not the real immigration problem. We should direct our frustration not at Heydi or her mother. And especially not at those with differing opinions on all sides.  When we do so, we miss the real culprits.

We should direct our angst at the reason we are in this lose-lose scenario in the first place: our leaders – of both parties — who fail to consistently enforce our laws. They caused the immigration problem by failing to enforce our laws in the first place. Now they stand to benefit from our fighting about it. Let’s not be that silly.

Whenever we fail to consistently enforce the rules, we end up only hurting the very ones we claimed to be helping. It’s easy to think we’re showing kindness by looking the other way, but ignoring the standards only leaves us all in a morality morasse where nobody wins. Least of all the cause of Christ.

It happens every time:

  • It happens in the classroom. You may remember it yourself from your middle-school days. A teacher starts strong by listing the rules for the classroom. But after a few weeks of whining, brown-nosing, or just blatant appeals to be his friend, the teacher starts to let the rules and consequences slide. He thinks he’s winning favor. He’s not. He’s losing control of his classroom. All the students will soon lose respect for him and become frustrated. Parents will follow. And he’ll soon be in my office, frustrated and ready for a career change. Casualties all around.
  • It happens in the workplace. The leader states the values and vision of the organization. She may even have cool posters that preach her values. Yet when faced with her first tough call that impacts a real employee in a tight spot, she caves. And everyone realizes her words cannot be trusted. It won’t be long before key employees start leaving, productivity drops, and a lawsuit rears its head.
  • It happens in the church when a pastor kicks off his tenure with grand vision and fresh policies. A few weeks later, one of his pastoral staff is in need of tough love – maybe even some disciplinary action – and he chooses to let it slide. He thinks he’s being kind. Instead, he’s setting his team up for confusion, disappointment, and uncertainty. Soon they’re all fighting about the Sunday bulletin color while he ties to figure out where all the love went.

It is not loving to ignore the law. I say this knowing there are many laws I do not like. But Jesus made it clear: “I did not come to abolish the law(s)…, but to fulfill them.” (Matt. 5:17) Recall the words of the Apostle Paul, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:10) And, lest we forget, the Ten Commandments were given by God to his people not to make them miserable but to keep them from destroying themselves.

We find our greatest peace when we’re empowered to live within the boundaries set by our Creator. It should not surprise us that so many of our society’s conflicts are caused by someone, somewhere, not consistently enforcing those boundaries. It’s frustrating. Really, it is. But those who made the decision to ignore the standards are often long gone. Retired. Promoted. Or elected to Congress.

In this case of Heydi Mejia and the many other truly difficult immigration cases like hers, there is abundant room for mercy. Think of the mercy Solomon showed to Adonijah after his half-brother’s attempted coup. (1 Kings 1) But there is also a necessary place in the immigration process for justice – a big place. Think of how Solomon responded to Adonijah’s subsequent betrayal with capital punishment. No, I’m not suggesting the death penalty for immigration violations. Just enforcement of the normal legal standards.

I think Heydi Mejia should be shown mercy – clemency, if you will. I think she is precisely the kind of driven, ambitious, and diligent person we want to be attracting to our shores. She’s already here, for crying out loud. This is easy.

Our failure to consistently enforce the law — that is the true immigration problem. Let’s fix that problem. Let’s focus on restoring those cultural walls. Let’s not take out our frustration with that failure on Heydi Mejia.

Or, for that matter, on each other.


Leave a comment below to share your thoughts. Do you agree about why we are in this lose-lose situation? What would you do?

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  • Jay Saldana

    I would invite you to read chapter 7 of Acts. I think you would find in Stephen’s speech a large part of the conservative movement and probably a large portion of the liberal movement as well who have put “the law” in a Box and called it sacred. To tear it down would be blasphemy. The immigration law is deeply flawed with pure unadulterated bigotry, fear of cultural loss, fear of identity loss, and misapplied greed.
    I also suggest you read a book from the 60’s called “Black like me”. The true story of a Anglo who dyed his skin black so he could see how it felt. It might be an eye opener for you. We are crying like pharisees that the law is the thing and we are missing our salvation (hence Acts 7). We are stoning those who don’t agree with us, all the time saying that we can’t solve this because the law is the answer. We are wrong. The law is not the answer. There are reason culturally, economically, and legally why we are wrong. Why our current way of handling this issue is hurting our country but the political issues over ride the solution. Yes, the principal complaint – never stated of course – is that immigrants tend to vote liberal. As conservatives , we can’t have that. We are pharisees feathering our own bed and paying with our salvation. Sadly, we would rather be right -Politically and self righteously – than shakes Jesus’s hand as he greets us.

    • Steven

      Jay, Maybe the right thing to do is take a stand in Mexico (insert your country here) and have faith that you don’t need to break the law for God to bless you. Why not cry out to God to bless Mexico or whatever the country may be? My guess is because you want the easy way out. My idea would require deep faith. A faith that says you don’t have to be an illegal immigrant for God to meet your needs and bless you!

      God said He will supply all your needs. He didn’t say a person needed to break the law for Him to be able to do that. Do you condone stealing to meet your needs? What about murder? Is not the illegal immigrant taking jobs from a legal citizen, taking resources from a high taxed population? Is not the illegal immigrant depriving the legal resident of the fruits of his or her labor by forcing them to pay higher and higher taxes to feed, clothe, educate, and heal their children?

      How can a lover of Christ say it’s ok to break the law as a means to an end?

      Lastly the law is not racist or bigoted. Country boundary laws are Ancient. The law sets up a boundary marker on both borders, North and South which sets apart 2 distinct peoples from our nation.. You’re just plain wrong. You act as if we have no border with Canada. The citizens of this country also have the right to protect their culture and sovereignty. BTW have you read Mexico’s immigration laws? If not you might want to and see the hypocrisy.

      The Jews were a distinct people by God’s command to be separate. God is not a bigot.

      The bottom line is seek God to bless Mexico instead of demanding Americans force to do your will!

  • Jennifer

    If you are to “consistently follow the law” and if Heydi Mejia is here against the law then she must be deported. Those who uphold the law swear under oath to do so:
    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution
    of the United States and the constitution of this state, and that I will faithfully
    discharge the duties of the office of ______ according to the best of my
    They would be violating this covenant if they allow Heydi to stay.

    Would I deport her? No. But then how many more thousands of illegal immigrants would also need to be granted clemency? And who is given the power to judge who is worthy of this clemency? Whose standards do we follow?

    • Jennifer,

      My point was to point out the reason we are in this position, not to disagree that according to the law she should be deported. If the law does not currently permit some avenue for appeal, it should. Otherwise we end up with these tough calls to make. Perhaps we can appoint school principals, pastors, military colonels (Hat tip Hugh Hewitt) — people with experience evaluating character and making tough calls to sort through these difficult cases when they arise.

      But let’s not lose track of why this is happening int he first place — and fix that problem. That’s the real immigration problem. We were promised it would be fixed in 1986. It wasn’t. They didn’t. And now Heydi and all of us have to suffer trhough these painful ordeals. Follow the law at the outset. Change the law if we must. Then we can avoid these scenarios.

      Thanks. By the way, what does your son think about Heydi’s case? 🙂

      • Jennifer

        My son thinks it’s a “no brainer” that she should stay (as do I). I completely agree with you that the immigration laws must be fixed – in our Country, too.. I was taking issue with the blanket statement that we need to follow the (flawed) law consistently.

        • Well, I still say we must follow the law while we work to change it. unless that law violates our conscience. See my latest post on that point.

  • Amen, brother. I taught in public schools in California and was always saddened by the plight of these students. Any party or ideology that does not leave space for this human situation is not good or Christian. Thanks for voicing this.

    • Greg,

      Thanks for your service in a tough teaching task. We just do not have to compromise our insistence on justice to also be quick to show mercy for the mistakes of countless fools.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • jerry lynch

    Bill: “They caused the immigration problem by failing to enforce our laws in the first place.” I feel this blame is not only misplaced but misconceived. And “blaming’ isn’t as great as some people may think.
    Where is the failure to enforce our laws? Those caught are promptly deported. The law is fulfilled. Those not caught, such as Heydi Mejia, present us with a dilemma. Everyone agrees that the laws are flawed. Your solution is just consistently enforce those laws. The inconsistency comes in the resolve of those once on the other side of the border eluding capture. The new urge is to respond in fear with “Show Me Your Paper Laws.” Tougher and more encompassing laws with stricter punishments is the usual, and wholly ineffective, right wing response to these problems.
    You suggest that maybe we need to “appoint school principals, pastors, military colonels”: what about adding mothers and immigrants?
    The tremendous poverty abutting tremendous wealth may figure in the problem somewhere. Not enforcing the law doesn’t cause that piece and enforcing the law doesn’t fix it.
    You mention love and then choose law: how is the law fulfilled?
    Sorry, Bill, but for me, this article goes nowhere.

  • David Davies

    As the husband of a lovely lady from Bolivia and the sponsor of two other immigrants, I think that the assumption that people from Latin America are INCAPABLE of obeying laws is racist at its core.

    • David,

      I couldn’t agree more. Anyone who assumes that people from Latin America are incapable of obeying laws would be — after stupid, of course — also a racist or at least a predujuced bigot of some kind. Just as anyone who assumes that people from elsewhere, say Washington D.C., are incapable of obeying laws would also have to be — hmm, what exactly?

      Thanks for the comment!