Behind every issue, a story

Immigration is a hot button topic for the US in recent history.  While I have had “feelings” on the issue, and those feelings have been by and large sympathetic to immigrants, it really hasn’t been on my radar as pertinent to my personal life.  I see friends posting both ways on this “issue”, as if discussing the issue from our lofty ivory towers and our personal opinions really will matter, either in the lives of those affected or perhaps our hope is that the president or someone important will happen to glance at our facebook post and realize they had it all wrong and that we had a really good point.

Like most “issues”, we all see it fairly black and white, a good topic for a heated debate, a good way to get a feel for what “side” your friend or family member is on in order to connect or disconnect.  Like the LGBT/faith “issue”, it really is simply a staunch opinion for however long in our personal lives until that day it becomes personal.  Someone close to you comes out.  Someone you meet has a story.  You yourself experience a big ol’ grey area of life that you never thought existed.  And suddenly, the world is as far from black and white as it can get.  You’re in a field of grey and the issue isn’t an opinion anymore.  It has a face and a heart and a story.  The black, now that you are in the field of grey, is white.  And as you look around, all the rest of the black starts to shift as well.

We love to debate “The Wall”, refugees, immigration, terrorist threats, and the “drain” of undocumented people in the US.  Sympathizers will often use the humanity aspect to get people to see the light, but until it affects someone you know and love, it often falls on deaf ears.

The problem is not really a problem in terms of how we ought to think and live our lives, but it’s more a problem of having a strict view of the world; the “problem” is that EVERY issue, EVERY stance has a face and a heart and a story.  NONE of it can be neatly fit into a debate point.  It’s unfortunate to our human minds because we desperately want everything to fit into 2 camps, yes or no, this box or this box.  But that simply does not exist.  We want all moms to be the better parent so we can easily decide custody.  We want abortion to be all good or all bad.  We want good guys and bad guys in a war so we can know what side to cheer for or pray for.  We want all men accused of assault to be arrested.  We want all women who accuse men to be truthful.  We want America to be great and the rest bad.  We want to categorize people and races and ethnicities so we can figure out who to stop at borders or to get on planes.  We want people who say something off-color to be fired because they are “bad”.  We desperately want clean lines.  As we begin to open the third box, the grey box, life gets very complicated.  Suddenly very few stories fit into the black box or the white box.  They all have seemed to land in the grey box.  Now what?

I was skimming through my facebook feed the other day and noticed a post from a first cousin once removed.  We may connect every few years at a family reunion, obviously facebook acquaintences, but aside from that, don’t connect that much.  It caught my eye because not only was it a GoFundMe post, but there was a picture of my cousin and his wife and kids.  Intruigued, I clicked on.

I was shocked to read their story, a mixture of adoption and immigration issues, a story that while uncommon, must not be the only one out there.  And because of the political climate on immigration currently, a scary one for this family.  While their story may be unique, their real-life dilemma, stress, unsureness, and unknown future is not.  Their story might be most closely related to Dreamers or DACA kids, although not the same.  Still, they face the same unknown future, the possibility of losing the only life and family they know, because our system is flawed, that we weigh political opinions higher than human faces and lives and stories and cannot see beyond the “yay or nay” ideologies.

I will share from their site as well as additional information they have shared with me:


The DeVoogd Story:

27 years ago, Thom and Janet met in the United States Peace Corps where they fell in love and were soon married. They worked in a tiny, remote jungle village in Belize, Central America. This is where they spent 2 years volunteering and serving the poor communities by helping to train teachers, teach basic health and hygiene classes, build a school, teacher house, latrines, water tanks and teach English.

Wanting to start a family, they tried for 5 years to with no success. During this period of time, Janet experienced over 10 miscarriages and the couple was deemed infertile. Little did they know that 2 little girls without parents would be waiting for them in Mexico.

Anika was born on the dusty streets of Chihuahua, Mexico, 2 months premature. Her mother had to cut her umbilical cord with a rock and Anika was then transported to a hospital.  Anika would spend 2 months in the hospital abandoned and then transferred to a local orphanage where she would spend the next 8 months alone in a crib.

After living on the streets of Chihuahua with her mother, Gabi was dropped off at a police station and then taken to the same orphanage where Anika was living.  She was 7 months old and lived in the orphanage for 9 months.

Janet and Thom found out about the orphanage from good friends in El Paso, Texas and began the exciting journey of international adoption. In May of 2003, the girls were adopted by Janet and Thom and it was one of the happiest day of their lives!

Over the past 15 years, the girls have become amazing sisters with great love for each other.  They have had the blessings of 2 parents, an extended family of over 30, an American education, are fluent in English and are productive/caring citizens.  Anika is an inquisitive, talented artist and musician.

Gabi is a talented athlete who loves tennis, skiing and is an active member of the student council and Key Club.

In the summer of 2003, after spending 2 months in Mexico finalizing their adoption, the DeVoogds were happy to  finally head home to Michigan. In normal circumstances, adopted children from foreign countries are automatic  US citizens. Thom and Janet had no reason to believe anything different for their 2 daughters.

After the adoption was finalized, the family got into a Mexican taxi, arrived at the US border, were inspected and were waved through by border patrol agents. Later, upon applying for citizenship for the girls, they were  told that  the border patrol should not have waved the family through. (the “wave through” had been a very common practice in 2003.) That “wave through” has created a multitude of citizenship problems.

Since 2003,  Anika and Gabi’s American parents have continually spent all their savings attempting to achieve citizenship for the girls. Over the years, they have sought the counsel and support of 4 lawyers, 2 senators, immigration experts and United States representatives. Despite all the support, legal fees and immigration fees, Anika and Gabi’s green card applications were denied in the spring of 2018.

According to immigration law, when the girls turn 18, they will “AGE OUT” and have to leave the United States or face deportation in the only country and home they have ever known!  Gabi is now 17+4 months and Anika is 16 1/2.

The DeVoogds recently hired a legal team out of Atlanta, Georgia to help them navigate the United States Immigration System with hopes of U.S. Visas for the girls by the Fall of 2020.

Unfortunately it now looks like the DeVoogds will need to live as a separated family.  Janet will have to quit her job and the she and the girls will “wait in it out” in Mexico while Thom continues to work at Casper College to support the family . Since the girls were orphans, there is no family in Mexico.

The girls will need their green cards to be able to return to the US and take advantage of the Wyoming Hathaway Scholarship that they earned with good grades. Both have dreams of attending Casper College and the University of Wyoming.

Janet told me:  Our situation is not like DACA because we did not bring the girls across the border illegally. We are two American citizens who adopted Mexican orphans. They should have been automatic citizens. Days after adopting the girls, we went to the border and we were told by our United States embassy in Juarez Mexico to cross the border and finish our citizenship paperwork in the United States. Unfortunately the embassy did not give us any paperwork, it was just a verbal instruction after waiting a few hours for guidance. We were told by the US embassy to get in a taxi and cross the border. When we got in the taxi they stopped us at the border, checked our baggage, asked questions and told us to go through with a wave through. Once we got to the United States and started the girls’ paperwork for citizenship, we were told by the US legacy immigration officers (via phone call) that we were supposed to have a stamp at the border on the girls Mexican passports. The stamp meant they would be paroled into the country. At that time in 2003, they were not even requiring passports at the border. No one asked for ours or the girls’ passports. So our US immigration legacy officer told us we were never supposed to cross with “just a wave through.”  But everybody who lives on the border knows that waving people through is a daily way of life at the Juarez/El Paso border. Being new parents to two adopted babies, nobody gave us a how-to manual on crossing the border. So we have been in line after line after line with nobody really knowing what to do with us. We do not fit the typical Immigrant profile. We have fallen through the cracks of the United States immigration system. We have spent close to $50,000 already and have another 20 to 30,000 to go in hopes of getting a visa this time through line number seven.  Our immigration system is broken and they don’t have a place for people like us. They should’ve been automatic citizens when we adopted them. It is been beyond frustrating, emotional and heartbreaking. Especially because Gabi has to leave her senior year.

Yes, our previous lawyer led us down the wrong path for five years and then ended in denial of green cards because we did not have a stamp at the border. Apparently we were in the wrong line and nobody told us! We had tons of other proof of crossing border like a car rental, time stamped pictures and affidavits from people who met us on the other side but that was not good enough. The lady that did the green card interview ended up interrogating Tom and I am practically accusing us of stealing our daughters and sneaking them across the border. It was crazy! She then told us we were in the wrong line but she couldn’t tell us that because then she would be fired. Now we’re back in the line where you don’t need a stamp at the border to get a green card. Our new lawyer has been 30 years in Adoption/immigration law and comes highly recommended and wins all the time but of course she is pricey. We are looking at 16+ months until we can get an interview in Juarez. Unfortunately the girls will be 18 by then and have to leave the country to wait it out. It will really come down to the political climate and if they’re excepting immigrants at the time as to whether or not they will be approved. We are surrounded by uncertainty and vague timelines.

Unfortunately it now looks like the DeVoogd’s will need to live as a separated family.  Janet will have to quit her job and the she and the girls will “wait in it out” in Mexico while Thom continues to work at Casper College to support the family. Since the girls were orphans, there is no family in Mexico.

Every issue, every “problem” is a person, a story, and a face.  There is no “cookie cutter” issue that everyone neatly falls into.  Life is made up of these unique stories, especially when it comes to the big “issues” of our times.  The US Immigration system is clearly flawed, and while this is an unusual complication, I believe that many people are in unique positions.

As US citizens, humans, and Christians, we are called to take the road of compassion, the road of understanding, and the road of looking at each story.  We can do nothing less than demand it of ourselves, each other, and our government.  Real change happens in small steps.  In this case, it’s channeling money to the individuals who can change their lives with it.  I encourage you to take a look at their GoFundMe page and contribute!

“All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, ‘That’s terrible!’ but we do nothing.  We let other people fight their own battles.  We remain silent because silence is easier.  When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.”  Roxanne Gay

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