One Too Many: The Tragic Intersection of COVID-19 and Immigration

LUCHA Ministries, Inc. recently lost its first client to the coronavirus. In addition to grief and loss, immigrants must also deal with the impact that the loss may have on the immigration status of others in the family.

by Greg Smith, Immigration Legal Services Program Director

2,757,339.  On this day, as I write this blog, that is the number of global deaths due to COVID-19.  546,825.  That is the total number of US deaths.  1.  That is the total number of clients LUCHA Ministries Immigration Legal Services have lost to the coronavirus.

That’s one too many.

Over the years, I’ve learned that an immigrant’s legal status in the US (or lack thereof) affects not only her or him but can have significant consequences for the entire family.  Positively, gaining citizenship opens all kinds of doors for the immigrant’s immediate family.  Negatively, a sudden deportation, or even denial of an immigration benefit, can cause indescribable trauma, stress, and fear of an uncertain future.

In late February, one of our clients – a gentle and sweet man from Central America in his mid-fifties, a father, a husband, and church member – died of COVID-19.  His pastor, and good friend of ours, told me the day after his passing.  I sat in my office chair stunned.  It hadn’t been that long since I’d seen him.  In fact, it was last November when we filed his immigration papers, with high hopes his process would be approved and he and his family would enjoy a measure of security they hadn’t known before in their adopted country.

But now he was dead.  His immigration process would stop.  His dreams for himself, for his wife, and for his children were gone.  With tears I mourned his loss as I sat in my office chair.

Quickly my thoughts turned to his wife, for all the obvious reasons, of course – the denial and grief she was experiencing, the shock of now being a single mother, the financial hardships she would face without the family’s primary breadwinner, the role of caregiver and comforter to her children she now assumed even as she struggled emotionally, even spiritually, in her own heart and spirit.

The obvious reasons soon led to a deeper concern – with her husband now gone, her chances of legalizing her own status had also vanished simply because her options for status  depended on the success of his immigration process.  And that was gone.  For now, her chances of emerging into the light of status security were put on hold, for God-only-knows how long.  

At that moment, it became crystal clear like never before not only how tragic COVID-19 is but also how unjust.

God’s mission is a mission of righteousness and justice.  God is about the business of lifting up the downtrodden and the hurting, the fearful and the forgotten.  God abandons no one and especially not the mournful, the meek, and the distressed.  We’ve seen this over and over in our ministry with the Latino and broader immigrant community since we launched LUCHA Ministries in 2004.  We’ve seen God working in the lives of those who suddenly face crises both of and not of their making.  Miracles and “happy endings” aren’t always the results.  But God’s presence always and  faithfully shows up.

So we’re praying and working for this family.  Our program’s volunteer immigration attorney, Bill Botts, has gathered a team to help this man’s widow assess her financial means and capabilities.  He’s also gathering a volunteer team together, with her permission and in partnership with her church, to finish repairs on her home begun by her deceased husband months before.

Ephesians teaches that we struggle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in high places.  Against forces seen but mostly unseen.  Against powers that our feeble human strength is no match for.  Powers that make no sense, adhere to few rules, fight dirty and devastate as much as possible.  Powers so strong that death and destruction are often left in their wake.

Powers like a coronavirus.  Coming out of nowhere.  Unseen, diabolical, overwhelming and, all too often, deadly.

Our only recourse in the struggle against this foe is God’s mission of justice and righteousness. So we organize friends and fellow congregants in support of wives, children, husbands, and others left behind by the devastation of COVID-19.  Or we wear masks and social distance because our love of God  and our neighbors is greater than fears and falsehoods.  Or we get vaccinated and encourage others to get vaccinated – or, as my wife Sue has been doing, help enroll people for their vaccinations – as a crucial step in defeating this diabolic killer.  And we become advocates for vaccine equity. We do this because God’s mission of justice requires it.

It shouldn’t take 2,757,339 deaths, or even 546,825 deaths, to convince us to partner with God in God’s mission of justice in this world.  It shouldn’t even take 1 death.  God’s Spirit is working like there’s no tomorrow carrying out God’s justice in the world.  And you know, there may not be for our neighbors, for you or for me.

One death is one too many.  May we strive, in the power of God’s Spirit, to bring justice to those in our communities and our contexts for the sake of each one and as testimony to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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