In 1999, my friend and neighbor Blanca began the process to obtain her permanent residency. She was a minor, brought across the river at night by her father, who – interesting twist – had legal paperwork and could have gotten papers for his family. But he didn’t, and Blanca brought from Mexico terrifying memories of crossing the Rio Grande, lovely memories of the inspirational grandmother they had left behind, and no legal paperwork.
Blanca learned English, completed school, and obtained a work permit, as the slow process of red tape wound on. Her mother, who crossed the river the same night as herself, received her permanent resident card. But Blanca did not.
Not only was the process slow, it was expensive. She and her mother forked over thousands of dollars at a time as they hired lawyers and paid for applications.
Finally, Blanca was reaching the age where she would no longer be able to apply for permanent residency. She visited a lawyer, who promised to take care of everything.
She turned 21, and no paperwork had arrived. However she had applied before her birthday so she assumed the application would go through. She knew that legal paperwork takes a long time to process.
Finally, when the months continued to pass with no envelope in the letter box, she called to investigate. She was told that the lawyer had taken her money and left, without finishing the case.
Blanca did not have a relationship with God for most of her young life. However, somewhere in her twenties she met a young man named Ruben, who was strong in faith. Through a series of events, Blanca came to genuinely put her trust in God as well, and the two discussed marriage.
This led to another round of visits to the immigration lawyer. Since things looked bleak for Blanca’s paperwork, they decided to get more than one opinion. Surely, like doctors, not all lawyers would agree. Surely, one of them would find a loophole and help Blanca get her paperwork so she could get married without fear.
But, on one point, the lawyers were unanimous. If Blanca wanted to retain any hope of getting her permanent resident status, she should NOT GET MARRIED. “Just live together,” the lawyers advised. DO NOT GET MARRIED.
This was a problem. At an earlier time of her life, Blanca had lived with a boyfriend, but she now did not believe it was right, according to the church and the words of Scripture. Ruben agreed.
So they got married. Her case was closed.
When I talked to Blanca in 2020 she discussed their plans if they got deported. Her teenage daughter, who was born here, would stay, because high school in Mexico is as expensive as college here. Blanca was pregnant, so of course the baby would go with them. If President Trump got re-elected, all hope would likely be lost because currently the only possible option was for her teenage daughter to someday apply for her, and President Trump planned to change that law.
When President Biden was elected, a law changed, and Blanca’s current lawyer applied for her again.
She was denied. The case was closed.
If I would have been Blanca, there would be a number of things I would have liked to ask God at this point. Why did you let my dad bring me across the river in the first place instead of getting me paperwork? Why did you let the lawyer run off with my money without finishing my case? Why did you let them deny my case despite the new law? Why did we have to spend the thousands of dollars for nothing? Why do I have to live in this state of uncertainty, knowing I could be deported soon?
Wallets filled with ID and cash make it easy to say you trust God for everything. Not so easy when you’ve peeled out cash for an ID since 1999 and it’s now 2021, and something that looks hopeful falls through. The case is shut, like a prison door. Like a coffin lid. Like hand cuffs, clicking.
This summer, about the time that Blanca might have been pondering what it would be like to get deported (hand cuffs?), she got a phone call.
She told me about it one day when I arrived at her house to find her looking extraordinarily pleased.
“I have news,” she said.
Her lawyer had called. I quote as I remember.
Lawyer: “Your case has been re-opened.”
Blanca: “How can that be? I thought you said-“
Lawyer: “I don’t understand it either, but they are asking that you submit a physical.”
Blanca: “But how-“
Lawyer: “Just send it in. I don’t know.”
Now, let us lay to rest any idea that a law had changed. Of all people who know immigration laws, an immigration lawyer does. The lawyer had already jumped on the new law, and been denied.
Something else had happened in the filing cabinets at headquarters. A capricious wind perhaps, lifting a certain paper out of a certain drawer, and dropping it gently on a certain desk? It’s probably good I’m not a fantasy writer, but what I wouldn’t give to have seen the moment in the office when a coffee-guzzling, sleep deprived employee stumbled upon Blanca’s case and convinced themselves to act on it. What did they say to themselves? I must be getting dementia. Apparently I was supposed to work on this yesterday and never got to it.
How many hoops, how many sleepy clerks, did Blanca’s case go through to reach the lawyer? Was it one misplaced email, or a series of 15, with a breeze through an open window stirring the filing cabinets, just because God is dramatic like that?
Blanca sent in the physical.
The lawyer called again.
After Twenty-Two years.
“I don’t know why this happened,” the lawyer said. “I can’t explain it to you, and I would like to drop your case so I’m not accused of doing something illegal. If anyone ever asks you how you got your permanent residency, all you can do is tell them you didn’t lie. You did nothing wrong.”
Maybe a month later, Blanca was sitting on my porch when her sister sent her text. “You got something in the mail.”
I had just asked her if her card had come. It had been first sent to the wrong address, and it was easy to worry again that something would happen.
Blanca went next door and came back with an unopened envelope and her sister.
She opened it, and spread the contents in her hand. Papers. A card.
A card with her name and PERMANENT RESIDENT stamped across the iridescent plastic.
Thankfully, I had dessert in the freezer, and we celebrated in the late summer evening, the sunlight shining like gold in the dogwood leaves.
Twenty-two years. At Christmas she is planning to fly to her homeland to see her grandmother for the first time since she left.
Moments like these remind us why it’s okay, in the darkest hours, to believe that God is sovereign over the affairs of nations, and to trust him instead of any particular ruler. God doesn’t play by their rules anyway.
What is the Brady Street Boys series? Based on the fruit of the Spirit, it is expected to have 9 books. Trapped in the Tunnel is Book One. Here is the series description:
Terry, Gary and Larry Fitzpatrick live in northern Indiana along the St. Joseph River. President Reagan lives in the White House. Gasoline costs 90 cents a gallon. For families like the Fitzpatricks, computers and cell phones are still things of the future. The boys’ Christian parents teach them to pray and give them a project to learn the fruit of the Spirit. They help Gary navigate the pain of losing his leg and his firefighting dreams.
But having a wooden leg doesn’t keep Gary from adventures. With Terry the acrobat, and Larry the brain, Gary begins a quest to find an answer to the most important mystery of all.
What happened to the surgeon who amputated Gary’s leg, and has now disappeared?