Immigration is a hotly debated topic in America today. With 24/7 coverage, argumentative approaches, and fearmongering, the news cycle seemingly wants us to forget what immigration is actually about: real people with hopes, dreams, struggles and fears.
With such a complicated system, these real people have to work through a process with hurdles and obstacles to their success at nearly every turn. Even if they do everything right — dot every i, cross every t, grasp every single detail — their path into this country may still be blocked.
Anyone going through this system could use some help. That's where Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) participants come in. Some MVSers spend their service term advocating for people going through America's immigration system.
Jonatan Moser serves with MVS in Alamosa, Colorado. Moser, an Eastern Mennonite University graduate, works with the San Luis Valley Immigrant Resource Center. Moser and other volunteers teach English to adults as young as 20 years old and as old as 65, as well as tutor pre-kindergarten to 8th-grade students in reading, math, or any other homework they need help with. They also help people prepare for the naturalization exam and ensure they feel confident before taking the exam at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.
"A lot of what I do is supporting immigrants who want to feel more comfortable here in the United States," Moser said. He added that some of his students have lived in the United States for 10 years and just now have access to these resources to improve their English-language skills. He also teaches people who have just arrived and want to learn the basics. "It is important to make the process of moving to a new country easier for everyone, each step of the way," he said.
Education is not the only important service for aiding people who are immigrating or have immigrated. MVSer Kylee Schunn helps on the legal side of things through her placement at Catholic Migration Services (CMS) in Queens, New York.
Schunn is from Whitewater, Kansas, and graduated from Bethel College with a degree in social work. At her CMS placement, she helps people navigate the complicated immigration system. That navigation includes focusing on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and green card renewals, as well as Freedom of Information Act filings. These applications and renewal processes are form-heavy and time-consuming.
"[This is] what this [process] might typically look like for DACA," Schunn said. "We complete four forms and send copies of a valid photo ID, passport face sheet, social security card, [a] money order of $495, and two passport photos."
According to Schunn, the DACA renewal process can take anywhere from three to six months to complete. After DACA status is renewed, it only lasts for two years.
There are innumerable misconceptions surrounding America's immigration system, and perhaps chief among them is this: "Why don't they just come here legally?" According to Schunn, it just is not that simple.
"Most unauthorized immigrants do not have the necessary family or employment relationships and often cannot access humanitarian protection, such as refugee or asylum status," Schunn said. Generally speaking, these are the only routes to citizenship in the United States. Essentially, this means that it is very difficult for people to find a path to "legal" status. "Even those who pay taxes, work hard, and contribute to their communities have no way to 'get in line,' unless Congress were to create a new path to legal status."
With growing tensions around immigration issues in the United States, it could seem like a bleak field in which to work, without much hope. But Moser and Schunn find their work extremely important.
Moser said that helping adults learn or improve their English helps them feel more comfortable interacting with people and expands their social circle. Helping prepare people for the naturalization exam is key, too. But the best part for Moser is when he sees a student improve. "English is a difficult language to learn with its dumb rules and exceptions to those rules and exceptions to those exceptions. So, it's great to see a student understand a difficult concept or use words that we learned last week in conversation."
For Schunn, it's all about making the client's day better. "Many of the stories we hear at CMS are harrowing examples of what it's like trying to create a better life. In this job, I have the privilege of making it just a little bit easier."
One of Schunn's goals is to be a positive presence in what might otherwise be a grueling and disheartening process. "We are all human," Schunn said, "and I believe we all deserve dignity and respect."