Monday, November 7, 2011

Inviting and Injustice

We are frequently invited. Anyone who has the heart to travel can do so. We are invited for special events in the lives of the church and the people. We are invited to team up with leaders to work together in education, healthcare, public safety, employment opportunities.

We less frequently invite. This is not to say we don't wish to invite. We want our pastor, leaders and friends in El Salvador to participate in special events in the lives of the church and the people, and we want to team up with our friends to work together in ministry and in our home community.

Earlier this year we extended an invitation to our sister church pastor to visit us and to participate in several important events, including a big anniversary worship and pastor installation at church, and a family wedding. We thought about inviting other community leaders and church members from El Salvador, but we have never been able to get visa approval for anyone other than our sister church pastor, so we only invited him. His long-term visa had expired, so we helped him to assemble a very complete profile of his previous visits and his work in El Salvador. He was granted a renewal of his visa.

Then he waited. His passport with visa did not arrive, did not arrive. We made an inquiry at the US consulate (which cost us money) and were told that nothing could be done unless the passport had been delayed more than 30 days. We contacted friends in the embassy who learned that because our sister pastor has a common last name, the US was going to do a criminal check to make sure he had not committed crimes during his previous visits to the US. This could be a delay of "several months". Expedited process was requested.

In the meantime, the special events are passing by, and our sister pastor is not with us.

The visa process is frustrating. Good people with good intentions are invited by responsible citizens. Some visas are granted, and many are rejected. We continue to try to work with this process and talk with representatives about how to improve it.

Frustration over the visa process is one thing, yet once a visa is granted, it seems to me to be completely unjust to hold a foreign national's passport for up to several months, without communicating to that person that this is occurring, in order to conduct a criminal background check. I don't question the wisdom of conducting a criminal check (although, a pastor who presented a detailed account of every previous visit to the US seems an unlikely target for such a check), but I do question the "several month" time delay. In our sister pastor's case, he travels frequently outside of El Salvador, and the holding of his passport by the US for "several months" seems absolutely out of line.

We in the US are accustomed to flashing our US passport and quickly moving through visiting immigrant processes around the world. Some countries require us to have pre-positioned visas in our passports, which can take a week or two. This seems reasonable.

I want to ask anyone and everyone in our government who makes or implements our US visitor policies: How would you feel if another nation's government held your passport for 2 or 3 or 4 months while conducting a "check" on you? Would this be reasonable? Would this be just?

I do not believe we should continue to treat honorable visitors to our country as suspicious and potential criminals. I do not believe that we should intimidate visitors with lack of communication or by holding their passports. This is not right.

I do believe that I should be able to invite a beloved pastor and friends to a milestone event at my church or to my son's wedding.




2 comments:

  1. This is horrendous, and I am frankly ashamed to call this country my home. The impact to your sister pastor and your congregation is unforgiveable, but the walls we're building to keep people out are even bigger; they're impacting the entire relationship between the ELCA and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. Lest there be any doubt, I'd encourage any reader to poll their friends in El Salvador, where I believe you'll find as I have that many are finding much more fulfilling relationships with their brothers and sisters in Germany. It is a blessing to find love and sisterhood wherever one can find them, and I'm not suggesting we should be in some sort of competition with Germany, but the more our myopic leaders try to "protect" us with walls, the more protection we need. And I do not believe God is about walls, and our leaders simply don't get it. Count me in on any petition you might choose to circulate.

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  2. Of course we need to know if your paster has committed any crimes! How's this for an interesting twist on your story? Today in the periĆ³dico El Mundo, martes 8'11'2011, page 4. the paper reports that the Salvadoran Minister of Public Security and Justice, Manuel Melgar, has submitted his resignation. One of the reasons for the resignation is attributed to the objections of the US. It seems that the US has been questioning Melgar concerning his alledged involvement in the ¨massacre¨of five marines in 1985. Now, what were five marines doing here in El Salvador in the midst of the years of masacres? Seems to me it's kinda hard to kill people who weren't really here! And to call their deaths a massacre is an added insult to the Salvadorans of El Mozote and hundreds of other sites in El Salvador where monstrous massacres were committed by Salvadorans trained and aided by those five marines. May I suggest that your sister church pastor initiate an investigation into the crimes committed by the US in El Salvador. Let me be the first to offer to help.

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