More Soulish Food | Hungry Souls Home

Issue 9-03

Immigration Over My Shoulder

I always laugh inside (maybe sneer is a better word) when I encounter Christians who consider the theology of hospitality to be a “woman’s issue.” (What do they know?) Rather, practicing hospitality is the expression of a radical life view that often pierces to the heart of justice issues and demands of its practitioners a stance of either civil disobedience or some kind of cultural radicalism.

This is so important. Let me repeat: Hospitality is the expression of a radical life-view that often pierces to the heart of justice issues and demands of its practitioners a stance either of civil disobedience or of some kind of cultural radicalism.

One pastor once told me he couldn’t think of four sermons that he could preach on hospitality! I was amazed. I could spend a whole year sermonizing about this topic.

Let me illustrate. Scriptural hospitality should be the basis of the church’s position on the knotty immigration issues that now face our nation. Instead, we are caught in debates that have nothing to do with Christian conversations but everything to do with personal opinions. For Christians, the dialogue (or shouting matches) should begin with, “What does the Scripture have to say about this issue?” This may be due to the fact that our premises are faulty—we assume the Bible has nothing to say about this contemporary issue (according to statistics, some 200 million people are on the move globally!) In fact, the truth is diametrically opposite—Scripture has everything to say about the immigration issue, and the sheer volume of passages alone should inform our thinking about how we treat the immigrants (legal and illegal) among us.

Our son, Jeremy Mains, in addition to teaching Spanish as an adjunct professor at Wheaton College (and teaching citizenship at the local community college), is building an immigration counseling service in our small suite of offices—Dynamis Immigrant Aid. My desk faces away from the door to his office, so I catch snatches of conversation; immigration over my shoulder, so to speak. The stories are overwhelmingly poignant. We are thrilled when Dynamis is able to help folk who’ve been caught in immigration perplexities, often not of their own making. I have become convinced that most of the difficulty we face in the immigration system is due to the fact that our system is often inhuman, inappropriate and badly broken. (Remember, 200 million people are on the move globally.) This is not just an American dilemma.

A quote from the Immigration Policy Center, which provides factual information about immigration and immigrants in America (, gives this succinct review:

America’s immigration laws are some of the most complex and archaic provisions that can be found in the U.S. statutes. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) rivals the tax code in the level of detail, confusion, and absurd consequences produced by years of layering on provisions without systematically reviewing their results. Since the 1960s, Congress has periodically overhauled the INA, but has tended to focus on one hot-button issue at a time, resulting in a patchwork of outdated laws that fail to reflect the realities of the 21st-century America. The necessity of comprehensive immigration reform stems from years of neglect and failure to respond to incompatible interactions between different parts of the system, resulting in breakdowns that have crippled our ability to regulate immigration adequately, protect our borders, reunite families, and foster economic opportunity.

How frequently I ask my son, the immigration specialist, about one of his clients. “Can you help them?” Immigrants are often ill-advised by lawyers (to whom they pay outrageous fees, many of whom are not familiar with the Byzantine INA immigration rulings and actually have no business taking on the woes of these complex needs). Or, worst of all, eager opportunists from their own nationality groups defraud them and prey upon the bewilderment that results in the immigrant. I often hear stories from my son of his clients moving their residences. Mail from Immigration Services, giving pertinent instructions with timelines, is not forwarded. Sometimes, the complexities (in addition to the perplexities of acculturation) are so overwhelming that, like other humans, the immigrant just closes down. He/she doesn’t know where to go, what to do, whom to ask; they are all too often informed by the immigrant grapevine which may or may not convey correct advice.

Think how confused you are, if you have traveled in a foreign country, where you do not know the language, can’t read the street signs, have no friends or advisors, are unfamiliar with the local customs—then multiply this 100 times over for the foreign-born who come to our shores and must navigate grocery stores, housing, schooling for children, medical care, social networks, then face an often hostile dialogue about your presence going on in the broader culture. How wonderful it is when someone asks, “Can I help you?” This is a basic act of hospitality—extending ourselves to strangers in need.

Let’s turn to a story from a “immigration over my shoulder” experience. One morning Jeremy came into my office with a file about an inch thick. This was a case he had been working on for months. Andres (not his real name), now a naturalized citizen, had been born in Mexico, but raised in the U.S., where he went to middle school and high school and entered the job market. He married a gal, Carla, some years older than himself, who in my son’s opinion had “kind of made a man out of him—challenging him to grow up and get his act together.” She was not legal and had a daughter (also undocumented) by another man and now two granddaughters, who because they were born in the States are citizens.

The couple owned a house in a nearby town and had also invested in a condominium. Obviously, these were hardworking members of society, paying taxes, and contributing to the GDP. (Are you aware that a mass deportation of undocumented workers, as lobbied for by some, would reduce the U.S. GDP by 1.46 percent, amounting to a cumulative $2.6-trillion loss in GDP over 10 years? In addition, the Center for American Progress has estimated that mass deportation would cost our government between $206 billion and $230 billion over five years. There’s gotta be a better solution, folks.)

They came to Dynamis Immigrant Aid to apply for legal permanent resident status for Carla. There are three ways this can happen: (1) if the applicant is here legally; (2) if an immediate relative is a U.S. citizen and can apply for them and if there is proof that the applicant entered the States legally; and (3) leave the States, go back to a consulate of the country of origin (in this case, Juarez, Mexico) and file a request for a waiver against the ban that prohibits an illegal from re-entering the country for 10 years. This request must prove that extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse or parent would occur if the applicant was deported from the U.S.

Carla fell into the last category, obviously. Her daughter, having come to the States with her mother as a child, was also illegal. An undocumented immigrant who had a petition filed for them prior to April 30, 2001 could pay a $1000 fine to begin a process that would erase their illegal status and allow them to file in the United States. But for any undocumented immigrant without a petition filed by that deadline the granting of a waiver for extreme hardship is the only hope of receiving legal status in the U.S.

Jeremy says that the consulate in Juarez used to publish the names of Mexicans who had been granted waivers. Some 98-99% of the applicants were granted waivers. However, when a new director took over the immigration proceedings in Juarez, the percentage of those receiving waivers ceased to be published. Through the immigration grapevine, under a stricter regime, it was estimated that only around 50% received what they requested. So Jeremy warned Carla and Andres that he could not guarantee that a waiver would be granted, but they insisted on proceeding.

The thick file was filled with pleas from Carla’s granddaughters to grant a waiver. Andres built a case for the separation of wife from husband, the loss of her income (which also supported her parents in Puebla), etc., etc. They traveled to Juarez where Andres was kept out of the interview process. Her file was plunked on a stack of other files. In an hour (they estimated the immigration officer took about five minutes to look over their file), Carla was told her request had been denied and that she could not reenter the United States. This couple had not proved that a ban against her would cause extreme hardship.

She is now living with her parents on a small ranch outside of Puebla and cannot reenter the United States. The income she provided for them is no more. Andres has lost their house because of the loss of her income and of course, he does not have enough money to go see her on a regular basis (neither can her grandchildren). Nor can he go back to Mexico to work. He is a United States citizen who can earn more in one day here than he could in a week there. During this, after the application for a waiver was entered, Carla developed adult-onset diabetes and lives far from medical care.

Who in heaven’s name defines extreme hardship? This is not extreme hardship?—a family severed in two for 10 years, losing crucial survival income, having four generations negatively impacted by a casual five-minute decision (some kind of arbitrary quota like policemen who need to give out so many parking tickets?), and now a middle-aged woman dealing with separation, deportation, poverty and medical crisis.

This is a cruel system, far from the American ideal of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” I’m ashamed we can’t compassionately fix this. If it were one case, that would be bad enough, but it is thousands of cases; lives carelessly and wantonly impaired. Yes, let’s make our borders safe. Yes, let’s exercise caution toward criminals and terrorists. But please, let’s find a way to charitably forgive the mistakes of ordinary people who simply want a better life—a better life, by the way, that we are all privileged to enjoy because some ancestors of ours crossed the waters, risked everything, left country and language and family behind for a dream and a promise and a better way.

    Lord, Oh Lord, help the church to begin to be no longer silent.
    Let us stand together and cry out against an unjust system that
    has evolved monstrously. Let us pray for people with the courage
    to enact compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform.

Next Soulish Foods will cover some of these topics:
    A Biblical Theology of Immigration
    What Is Comprehensive Immigration Reform?
    What Is Myth and What Is Fact?
    What Can We Do?

Karen Mains

Wannabe (Better) Writers
Telementoring Program Is FULL!

If you are interested in joining this course on memoir writing (or personal story-telling), we will offer another cycle as soon as enough people register their interest with the Hungry Souls office by e-mailing:

“Listen to My Life” Listening Group Is FULL

The "Listen to My Life" Listening Group is now full. More information about the life-mapping process can be found at

Three-Day Retreat of Silence

We have quickly filled the April 3-Day Retreat of Silence. There is room now only for a waiting list. If you want to be added to our waiting list, contact Susan Hands at

For details about the Retreat, visit the "Retreats of Silence" page on the Hungry Souls Web site.

Recovering Your Inner Child

This course is an exercise in guided self-reflection—one of the hallmarks of spiritual and psychological maturity. We still have room for a few participants. We will begin Thursday, March 4 at 10:00 a.m. Meeting place is the Mainses’ home. We will be using the workbook by Dr. Lucia Capacchione, Recovery of Your Inner Child: The Highly Acclaimed Method of Liberating Your Inner Self. Susan Garrison, LCSW, will co-lead with Karen Mains. This will take 2 hours and will continue weekly through the months of March and April. The fee for the course is $75, which includes the price of the workbook. We need to know if you are interested ASAP since we will have to order the workbooks. Capacchione employs the technique of dominant/non-dominant hand communication. Register or make inquiries at  .

Play for the Play-Deprived

Guess what? We’ve just discovered we can do some of this play work using our teleconference line. If you live outside of the Chicago area, and would like to be part of the following, you will not be excluded!

Some of us, sorry to say, just don’t play very well. We either never learned to play or we’ve forgotten how! And yet, scientists are discovering that play is an essential part of well-being, reaping huge benefits spiritually, physically and relationally when we practice it.

Sue Higgins, spiritual director, and Karen Mains will be experimenting with play (some of it outrageous) in the days ahead. We will be using the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. As soon as you are interested, let Karen know. When we have four to five at a minimum ready to read the book, mark passages for discussion, take the “play history” provided, and determine your play type, then we will gather. Let Karen Mains know at or Sue Higgins at .

Our initial thinking is to design a once-a-month Play Date out of these discussions. We are embarking on a journey of discovery with one another and with God, for the sake of improving our own play capacities certainly, but also of coming closer to the Almighty, who it seems, has genetically designed humans, more than any other of His creatures, for play!


The Soulish Food e-mails are being posted biweekly on the Hungry Souls Web site. Newcomers can look that over and decide if they want to register on the Web site to receive the biweekly newsletter. You might want to recommend this to friends also. They can go to

Karen Mains

Karen Mains

"This is a cruel system, far from the American ideal of 'Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…' I’m ashamed we can’t compassionately fix this. If it were one case, that would be bad enough, but it is thousands of cases; lives carelessly and wantonly impaired."


Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate
By Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang

Christians at the Border: Immigration, the Church, and the Bible

By M. Daniel Carroll R.

These two books give the best developed theologies for developing a “Christian conversation” around the dilemma of the immigrants in our American society that we have read so far. Matthew Soerens and Jenny Hwang work with World Relief and Dr. M. Daniel Carroll is a professor at Denver Seminary. Both books cover different angles on the topic and consequently, I would recommend both books for those sincerely interested in wrestling with this social dilemma and its implications for the church and society.

Buy Welcoming the Stranger From

Buy Christians at the Border From

Copyright 2006-2010 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

More Soulish Food | Hungry Souls Home