Marlo Rodriguez is a 24-year-old illegal immigrant in Virginia–euphemistically called “undocumented” by the press and other politically correct operatives.
He came to Northern Virginia 16 years ago, when he was only 8. His parents brought him into this country, along with his two younger siblings, who at the time were 6 and 5.
Marlo’s parents came to the United States from Mexico in 1991, seeking a better life. They overstayed their legal tourist visa in order to subsist.
Marlo’s father works as a day laborer in construction, and Marlo’s mother works on her own as a maid. Marlo’s siblings, now 21 and 22, have been working for fast-food chains since they were teenagers.
No one in the Rodriguez family has ever been involved in crime, drugs, maras or other criminal activities. They are trusted, hard workers, and their employers love them and take good care of them.
The family rents a two-bedroom apartment in a mostly Latino-populated area in Northern Virginia.
When Marlo was 12, a caring Baptist church reached out to him through a Vacation Bible School. He accepted the Lord, was baptized, and has remained a member of that church until now.
Some time later his two siblings came to the Lord through Marlo’s testimony. Even if nominally, his parents have remained Roman Catholic. From time to time, however, they visit Marlo’s Baptist church and worship with him there.
Perhaps the most intelligent and prosperous member of the Rodriguez family, Marlo didn’t want to conform himself to a life of manual work and decided to study.
After high school, he got a job and worked his way through community college. Not only was Marlo ineligible for financial aid, he had to pay out-of-state tuition, because he could not prove he was a Virginia resident.
Now Marlo has an earned college degree from a respectable Northern Virginia school. Still, Marlo cannot find a respectable job in Virginia. Why? His immigration status is not regularized. What is worse, there is no provision in the laws of the United States of America for a person in his situation to become a citizen.
The only way out for Marlo, according to U.S. law, is to go back to his native Mexico, wait 10 years–as a penalty for overstaying his visa–and apply for an immigrant visa. Immigrant visas, as of the year of 2007, take between six and eight years to be processed (in cases where they are accepted) by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department.
Marlo does not know what to do. He has no relatives or close friends in Mexico. He has some acquaintances, of course, but he cannot expect them to allow him to live with them.
If he decides to go back to Mexico, where and how will he find a job? Must he separate from his family in Virginia, who would not go back to Mexico under any circumstances?
Marlo has lived in the U.S. twice as long he lived in Mexico. He speaks English much more fluently than Spanish.
Should he go back to a country that is no longer his, re-learn its customs, regain a place in society and find a way of life for roughly 20 years in order to be able to come back to Northern Virginia?
What if his father or mother get sick or pass away while he is gone? Will it be possible for him to come even for a short visit? Does he want a new life away from his siblings, friends and church?
When President Bush came to power, Marlo was very excited. Word among Latinos was that this president was going to provide a solution to illegal immigration. Seven years have passed, but no solution is in sight.
This year, like most reasonable people, Marlo was expecting Congress to pass some kind of law that would allow him and his whole family–five people total–to gain access to a road that, even if long, might eventually lead to citizenship.
His dreams now shattered, Marlo finds himself in a total state of confusion. He does not know what to do.
Some days ago, a friend of mine asked me: “Daniel, who speaks for the illegal immigrants?”
His question shook my core. I had no answer. All of us have been very slow in speaking for those among us who are between a rock and a hard place.
After thinking on my friend’s question, I decided this: We need to allow the illegal immigrant population to speak for itself.
For many reasons that would be too long to describe and analyze here, the immigrant community has been too shy in telling its own story. If told and known, however, a million stories like Marlo’s might enlighten our authorities to find workable solutions for all parties involved.
Marlo is searching for an answer. He wants to know what to do with his life.
If you were in his situation, would you know what to do with yours?
Daniel Carro is Latino ministries Kingdom Advance ambassador for the Virginia Baptist Mission Board and professor of divinity at John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va.