A Christmas Wish for the Undocumented

This article appeared in the Pasadena Star-News and Pacific News Service in December 1998.

“The first time I tried to enter the United States,” says Luis, “I went all the way to Tijuana without asking God’s permission. When I got off the bus, the police stole my money and sent me back to Mexico City.

“I went to a huge church in Mexico City and had some of the brothers there pray for me. As they prayed, I knew everything would be fine. So I tried a second time. As I stood at the border with the coyote, I saw that each person – the coyote and the fifteen other people crossing with me – was scared. But I had peace in my heart because I knew the Lord was with me.”

If I were running for political office, I would not tell that story to any voters. It is too complicated. Here’s a guy violating U.S. national sovereignty and claiming God Above is guiding him. The other problem is that Luis is sincere. Either he’s a little unbalanced, or there is some unseen force operating — neither is a good explanation when the public wants an accounting.

But I am not running for office, and I’m convinced Luis means what he says. I know he is not lying because of what he is about to do.

This Tuesday, Luis (not his real name) will board a bus near his home in the San Gabriel Valley. He will take the bus to the Tijuana border. Carrying his laptop computer and other items stuffed in a suitcase, he will find another bus to take him to Mexico City, his hometown.

The crossing is the thing.

For an undocumented person like Luis, crossing the border into Mexico means an expensive and challenging return trip.

Luis himself has yet to re-cross the border since arriving six years ago.

But this crossing is all the more momentous because Luis has vowed that the next time he enters the United States, it will be with proper documentation.

What Luis says is similar to kids in my neighborhood saying they will play in the NBA: It’s almost impossible.

Because the bulk of immigration – legal and illegal – to California in the past twenty years has been from Mexico, our government is likely to deny or give a long delay to Luis’s application. 

I am staring at Luis as he tells me his story. He sits calmly in front of me, spouting details and confessing dreams. His eyes are red and puffy, but he’s upbeat.

“I’ve been living a lie,” he says in English. “To be here the way I’ve been, I have to tell one lie after another.” A sincere Christian, Luis reached an inflection point this summer. After an Evangelism Explosion meeting at his church, he walked outside, looked up at the sky, and thought, “I’m lying to God.”

For five months, Luis agonized over whether or not to return.

A return means a return to very little.

He came north in 1992 to support his mother and younger brother. At the time, Luis was a university student. But often, there was no food in the house, and he could not pay for his books. Meanwhile, his mother would drag herself home every night, bone-weary and exhausted. “I couldn’t take it,” Luis says.

I know what he’s talking about. I’ve been to his hometown. It is near the smoking volcano, Popocatepetl. Many children who cannot afford elementary school linger in the streets. Jobs are scarce, and many available jobs pay less than a dollar a day. People display a specific type of inertia when there are few ways to make money – every day, they conserve the money, materials, and energy they have.

Like any person released into a free environment, Luis shed his conservationist mode when he crossed the U.S. border. He has been busy building his wealth. Working nonstop, Luis has sent back lots of money to his family. He has also acquired a car, two computers, and many other benefits of our robust economy. He has even volunteered as a tutor, helping children learn to read by reading the Bible.

He has done what he believes God allowed him to: come and make money to care for his mother and brother back in Mexico. But now he believes God is sending him back. He has talked with many friends and advisors and has concluded that God is personally moving in his life. “He will show me what he wants me to do when I get [to Mexico City],” Luis says.

The members of his church are not sure his decision will stick.

“They all say, ‘You will be back in a month,'” Luis says. “To be honest, I’m scared. But I pray that God will use me because that’s all I want, to be used by Him.”

There are an estimated 3 million undocumented Latino immigrants in the United States today. Luis says every family in Mexico has at least one person, legal or undocumented, over here.

I have a Christmas wish for each one of them.

It is not that they come and go as Luis is doing.

My wish is that they receive the gift of faith that Luis has.

My wish is that they know God has a purpose for their lives, no matter where they are or where they are going. 

— by Rudy Carrasco