Today in the little town of Harrisonburg, Virginia somewhere around 100 people packed the Board of Supervisors’ Meeting in order to overturn the 287G law where it allowed the local police to arrest anybody for a routine traffic violation and contact ICE (a.k.a. la migra or immigration) to get them deported. Local Dream Activist Isabel Castillo gave a very inspiring and convincing speech to the Board, stating facts that they have gathered in surveys and through the Freedom of Information Act. They learned that more than 70% of Latinos are afraid of the police and that many undocumented immigrants are afraid to report crimes for fear of deportation. She shared one story about a woman who had a gas leak in her house and was getting sick, but still was too afraid to call the police. They also learned that 88% of the over 300 people deported only had minor violations, some as trivial as an expired decal.
Thankfully God worked in the heart of the member of the Board and they decided to overturn the law, breaking the contract with ICE!
Unfortunately, it was too late for The Ruanos (pictured above). Juan Jose was deported two summers ago. The Ruanos were upstanding members at our church. Juan Jose and Jhonny took collection on Sundays, Ana brought delicious pupusas to potlucks, and little Cathy put a smile on anyone’s face. The weekend after Father’s Day, the Ruanos went up to Shenandoah National Park to celebrate and were stopped at a checkpoint. Juan Jose became nervous and gave a false name and was arrested and sent to jail. From what I understand, the officer was particularly rough with him, because the children were traumatized and would cry and hide every time they saw police officers for months after this, afraid they too would be sent to jail.
I still remember the Sundays when Ana brought in letters Juan Jose had written from jail. They were so beautiful. They reminded me of Paul’s letters in the Bible. He said that whatever happened was going to be God’s plan and he shared that he started a Bible Study in jail and was helping bring others to Christ. I don’t remember much of what they said, but I remember everyone in church crying, even the macho guys, and how the pastor could barely read the letters through his tears.
Despite the numerous letters and pleadings and visits from our church, ICE decided to deport Juan Jose back to El Salvador, a place where he grew up in the midst of a bloody civil war and where gang violence and poverty is ever-present. The rest of the Ruano family followed him there, where they now live far away from their church family.
I know people have a lot of different opinions about immigration, but I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that undocumented immigrants are people, too. People trying to take care of their families, people paying taxes into the system, people bringing others to Christ, people just like you and me. Sharing these stories are a way to show their humanity.