With great joy I share with you that our friend Oscar, whom Lakeshore was able to help release from detention 17 months ago, was granted permission to stay in the U.S.! Seven years after entering this country seeking asylum, an immigration judge granted him a deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture treaty. Oscar was not granted asylum, and the judge made it clear that he would have pushed for deportation, but because the state prosecutors agreed that Oscar’s life was in danger should he return to El Salvador, the judge was legally obligated to offer him safety in the U.S. Oscar will not be allowed to apply for citizenship, nor will he have access to resources asylum seekers receive, but he no longer needs to live in fear of danger or deportation. All in all, we are extremely grateful.
As I reflect on Oscar’s story, both his journey to this point and the great joy of him being able to stay in this country, to work, put down roots and live with freedom, I am reminded of Jim’s sermon on Sunday and the complexity of gratitude. As a congregation, we can say gracias for Oscar’s freedom, for compassionate laws, for wise attorneys, for second chances, for caring community and for answered prayers. With joy we can celebrate Oscar’s freedom that he has long awaited and worked for. We can rejoice at being part of a larger network that teaches us how to accompany Oscar and live out our commitment to Sanctuary.
At the same time, we do not say gracias for all that Oscar has had to endure, both in El Salvador and in the United States. We can continue to lament his need to leave his family and community for fear of violence. We can decry his treatment by U.S. immigration: criminalizing his attempts to gain asylum, forcing him to endure the violence of detention for nearly four years and making him live in fear of deportation. We can be outraged by the lack of compassion he has experienced on his journey to find safety and that he will have to live as a 2nd class non-citizen in our country. We do not say gracias for our country’s immigration policies that are built on practices of exclusion, exploitation and expulsion.
Accompanying Oscar on his journey to freedom has taught us much about what it means to live out our commitment to Sanctuary, and for this I am deeply grateful. Oscar’s bravery and courage are inspiring. Our congregational partners in the work of providing sanctuary are empowering. Being able to challenge oppressive immigration structures and policies lets us incarnate our faith in the world. I am so grateful to be journeying together with Oscar and Lakeshore and Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity and multiple Sanctuary congregations in the work of seeking, demanding and creating beloved community.
Upon Oscar’s release, we shared a meal in Lakeshore’s family room, honoring the sacred space that was his home for five days upon being released from detention. Below are his own words of gratitude to God and to our congregation. May we continue to utter the words gracias, even as we continue to live out our commitment to being Sanctuary for others.
Praying for peace and working for justice,