Nearly 50 people came to the United Methodist Church in Fairbury on Thursday to listen to first-hand stories of immigration and how difficult the process can be.
Pastor of the United Methodist Church in Fairbury Doug Griger organized the event as a way to encourage education about immigration, following a prayer vigil for refugees and immigrants in February. Griger believes it is important for people to hear stories about immigration from the people who experienced it first hand.
“I don’t think people have had much of a chance to learn about immigration,” said Griger. “I think the general population who looks like me has no idea what it’s like. Before I met Arun (Peters, who immigrated from India) I had no idea. Having been with him over the past year and seeing the process, the headaches, the hassle, the nightmare, and to hear so much hatred and bigotry against people coming to this country and misunderstanding that the gates are not just wide open, it’s just beyond belief. I think it’s so important for people to understand what the real process is.
“There is a big difference between doing it legally and doing it illegally,” Griger continued. “But seeing what the process is like to do it legally, I understand completely why people would try to do it illegally. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m saying I see it in a different light now than I ever did before.”
Three speakers shared their stories at the forum, explaining how many hurdles they overcame to gain access to the United States. Peters explained that his dreams of studying at seminary school in the United States were almost brought to an end when he was denied a study visa four times, for no specific reason.
“The process of coming here was a chore,” said Peters. “It was not easy. We spent quite a lot of money. We are a middle class working family, and my dad is the only working member, so it was quite a challenge. The biggest problem to me was that the officials were not at all supportive. Each and every time, there was no reason to hold me back, but they did, and I’ve never understood that. I think going through all of these transitions has helped my faith to grow.”
Maria Campos Burkley also spoke at the event in Fairbury, sharing with the audience just how tedious the immigration process is. She stated that she began the immigration process when she was 18, leaving El Salvador, and did not receive U.S. citizenship until she was 39.
“You just don’t know how lucky you are to be born in this country,” Campos Burkley said. “A lot of people think it’s just a free ride, but it’s not. I was very thankful that two families in this town took me in and I think that all of the support made me what I am today. It’s just not something that you can repay. You can do a lot by helping others. This was not easy; I had a lot of people who helped me. It’s now my mission to help others. I wish I could be as helpful as those people were to me.”
Here is a video clip of Maria Campos Burkley discussing her experience:
Tim Amor came to the United States from Canada to marry the love of his life. He explained that he and his wife faced many difficulties going through the immigration process, even with all of the help from an immigration lawyer.
“If the paperwork is too difficult for lawyers, maybe it’s a little too difficult,” said Amor. “Maybe it’s not as clear as it could be. We had people there to help us; we had every resource available to us to make it go smoothly, and it was still difficult.”
Each of the speakers explained that they spent thousands of dollars to go through the immigration process. They also noted that they each faced different criteria in the process.
The event closed with prayer as well as the singing of “They Will Know We Are Christians.” Here is a video clip of their singing:
He is grateful to have members of the community come to listen to the experiences, and to see the ways they can be supportive of immigrants. He believes it would be beneficial to host another forum in Fairbury to share other personal stories.
“I hope that all of the churches can come together again and do something,” Griger said. “I don’t know know what that might be at this time. I think that the church can and should do more. In the Lord’s Prayer we say ‘Thy Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven.’ We’re supposed to be doing that work here, and sitting there watching bad things happen to good people isn’t making it happen.”