Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Visas, Privilege and Dignity

Because of the type of Visa we have, which permits us to stay and work in Colombia, we have to renew it every year. Yesterday (Monday, May 15th) we spent the day at the Colombian immigration offices, filling out all the paperwork and everything else in order to obtain another Visa for another year.

It can make for a frustrating day, walking up and down the bureaucracy, making sure we have each document necessary, all signatures in the right place, going from this line to that. However, it also reminds us of the privileges we carry as citizens of the US. As frustrating as the day can be, it only takes one day. We never really have to worry about not getting the Visa which allows us to stay here.

During the day we reflected on the stark contrast it is the other way around. We have heard many stories from our Colombian friends about the difficulties of obtaining a Visa to be in the US. For some it has taken months of filling out paperwork, going to the embassy for interviews, paying fees, etc. For others, after all these months, they simply get denied.

This caused more reflection on those desperately trying to flee violence and death in their home countries, trying to find security and opportunity to live in dignity. We talked about the new initiative of the ELCA, called AMMPARO, which means Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities. Also, the Spanish word ‘amparo’ (from which the name of the initiative comes) means the protection of a living creature from suffering or damage. The initiative is the ELCA’s response after witnessing the plight and recognizing the humanity of children who have been forced to flee their homes because of interrelated issues of violence, poverty, environmental destruction and lack of opportunities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

The privilege that comes from having been born in the US means that we can basically come and go as we please, as if it were our exclusive right; a right that people who happen to have been born in other places do not enjoy. As we accompany our brothers and sisters in Colombia, it is fundamental that we are able to recognize these issues of privilege so that we can better work towards creating relationships of mutual respect and equality.