By Andrea Castaneda-Lauver
As an immigrant, the past two years have been unnerving and at times dehumanizing. Recent immigration policy changes have had an enormous and far reaching impact on the immigrant community in the United States. Issues from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) all the way to the processes that affect those attempting to become Legal Permanent Residents and everything in between have been scrutinized.
Being a person who was loved by the local church, my heart was broken when I saw fear and rejection of immigrants become so common, even within the church. I am deeply committed to the church and love her dearly, but this year, time and time again, I have felt rejected by her through hearing comments made or seeing memes or harsh words towards immigrants on social media.
While these occurrences have been disheartening, I have found tremendous hope in the fact that stories change people. This year I have watched my family’s story soften hearts and change opinions as those we share it with begin to realize that the numbers talked about on the news have names and stories.
My name is Andrea Castaneda-Lauver and I am a wife, a pastor and an immigrant. I have an important story to tell. My story is important because it is the story of many immigrants like my family and me. My family has been living in the United States under the protection of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) after two massive earthquakes rocked El Salvador in 2001. My parents, both dentists in El Salvador, are hard workers, pay taxes, are home owners, have contributed to their communities and pour their lives into their community of faith.
My father works as a Program Director for a healthcare college. On numerous occasions, I have gone to work with my him and have met some of his students whose lives he has impacted. One of his students once told me that my father was the closest thing to a father that he had ever known, and that without him he would not be the man he is today. You see, above all else my father is a Christian. He lives his life as an agent of God’s grace who gives those around him a second chance. He is currently on our denomination’s ordination track for pastoral ministry. My father is not a murderer, he is not a drug dealer, and he is not a snake. Everyone that knows him would say he is making America great. Our country is better for having him. I love him and am so proud to be his daughter. His faith, values, and commitment to community have not only impacted me, but my entire family.
My brother is currently in the process of completing his Bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Ministry as he has felt God call him into ministry. He participates in mission trips, is an active part of his school’s student government, is a worship leader for his school and a straight A student. My younger sister, who is in middle school, has also felt and answered a call to pastoral ministry. She is an active part in her church’s youth group, is president of a student organization at her school, and also gets straight A’s. My mother works as a dental assistant in a local dental clinic. She is known by anyone who has ever worked with her as a hardworking employee with an encouraging word for all whom she encounters.
As I mentioned earlier, I am a youth pastor. I spend over 50 hours a week shepherding, teaching, encouraging, and walking with students during the best and hardest moments of their lives. I am shaping and molding the youth of America. There is no one more passionate about seeing these young people flourish as they recognize they are created in the image and likeness of God. Above all else, I am an agent of God’s grace and reconciliation and feel called to speak out on behalf of any who do not have a voice or a platform to speak for themselves. I, too, am making America better.
Our country is better for welcoming my family and me. The same is true for hundreds of thousands of other immigrant families who have been painted as murderers, rapists and drug dealers because of the actions of very few. When media and political campaigns exploit God-loving immigrant families like mine, it does great harm to our country and to the Kingdom of God. Since Temporary Protected Status was cancelled for the country of El Salvador in January of 2018, my family has lived one of the darkest years of our lives marked by insecurity and fear of what may come when our protection ends in September of 2019. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have been legally living and working in the United States for over 20 years now find themselves stuck between a country they know and have poured their lives into and countries that they haven’t known for decades, which are now hostile to their return.
I know that only God changes hearts, but I have seen God use my story to change hearts in my own churches. “Telling a Better Story,” a story that more accurately depicts who immigrants are is one of the most powerful tools we have to help change our nation’s heart towards immigrants like my family and me. It must be the church, seeking to live as Jesus’ hands and feet to the “foreigner among [us]” that lead this charge.