This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Book review: ‘Love Undocumented’

Immigration has shaped nearly every epoch of U.S. history. Americans are a nation of people who have left one place in order to arrive in a new world. With the rise of the Trump administration, however, the topic of immigration has come into sharper focus, not only for those who are struggling to establish themselves in our country but for those who would like to wall out all newcomers.

Love Undocumented
Love Undocumented

One way to learn about the current challenges of immigration is to plunge yourself into an urban setting teaming with undocumented immigrants. And if you really want to notch up your learning, you could marry one of those immigrants. Sarah Quezada’s Love Undocumented: Risking Trust in a Fearful World is an autobiographical account of someone who took the risk to take such a plunge.

The power of this book is that Quezada literally underwent an unexpected journey in Los Angeles to experience the plight of illegal immigrants while being side-by-side with them. Having fallen in love with a Guatemalan man who played in a rock band, she not only learned about the precarious situation he was in but decided to help secure his situation through dating and marriage.

This book, however, is more than a personal memoir revolving around immigration. Quezada has done her homework to add some astonishing statistical information about immigration. She has also thought deeply about faith-based responses to an issue that can divide people with inflammatory debate.

The book includes many biblical references, which, through the lens of displacement and discrimination, can breathe new life into a story like that of Esther and Haman.

But this is primarily a modern story, well told, with moments of suspense and humor. While the couple had to climb over many unforeseen obstacles, things turned out well for them.

At the same time, the author relates the plight of other undocumented immigrants who had fewer connections and resources to reach a favorable end. The saddest and hardest parts to read involve episodes of detainment, harsh treatment and even deportation for those who were most vulnerable to a system devoid of compassion.

The strongest element of the book is how it leads the reader to wrestle with the tension that runs through Quezada’s mind: “I valued standing in solidarity with immigrants harmed by an outdated immigration system, but I was also afraid to lose something in the process. I wanted to be engaged in the world . . . but with the assurance that I could retreat to safety whenever the flames got too hot.”

Ultimately she recognized that Jesus’ road to Jeru­salem involved risk that removed the option of safe retreat. The kicker, of course, is that Jesus invited his disciples to follow after him according to the same pattern of losing one’s life (Matt. 16:23-26). In this context of wedding herself to a set of unknowns, Quezada experienced what it truly means to exercise trust in a world dominated by fear.

After several years of marriage, the Quezadas extended their risk-taking by visiting immigrant inmates in Georgia’s Stewart Detention Center, a medium-security prison privately operated by Corrections Corporation of America (recently rebranded as CoreCivic). These centers, nationwide, are now mandated to hold a “bed quota” of 34,000 immigrants nightly. It is hard to fathom how this all supports a for-profit industry, especially since two-thirds of the men detained are typically deported out of the country.

For an inside view of border crossings, people packed into dark trucks, indentured labor, detention centers, waiting lines, immigration offices and bureaucratic red tape, Quezada is an expert tour guide. She reminds us that in any fight against the injustices of our day, relationship-building is central, no matter who we are dealing with. And mirroring this emphasis is a relational God whose love flows over every refugee who ever sought a new home.

Ted Lewis works as a restorative justice trainer and consultant and runs the Agapé Peace Center in Duluth, Minn.

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