From a Pastor's Desk

A series of opinion articles from rostered ministers and lay leaders from our Synod.


Is Anyone "Illegal" in God’s Kingdom?

Oct 09, 2018

By Pastor Carol Kessler

Fishermen were accustomed to documents in Herod’s Kingdom. By the Sea of Galilee, they handed over the fruit of their labor to taxes. Until, Jesus, emerges from the wilderness, dismissing the temptation to rule all earthly kingdoms. Instead, Jesus follows in the path of the arrested baptizer, and invites fishermen by name, to enter God’s Kingdom where all are beloved children.


In the 1980’s, I volunteered as a physician for a Salvadoran Archdiocesan health project, at a time when care for the poor was deemed "illegal". Salvadoran priests and doctors walking with the poor were killed by dollar backed bullets. I met a surgeon whose hand was shattered by military bullets to stop his tending to neglected campesinos/peasants. The handful of families guarded their privilege against those who could not see the fruits of their labor. Those who tended to coffee plants knew only the taste of ‘corn coffee.’ Invitation by priests and physicians to God’s promise of peace with justice was met with fear and brutal repression. The Cold War divide justified massacres, torture, disappearance of children by Salvadoran military trained in U.S. bases and funded by millions of U.S. dollars. 

As a daughter of post-WWII German immigrants, I had learned the lesson of collective responsibility for State-sponsored violence. Silence equaled death in the face of Germany’s holocaust. I could not be numbed into the temptation to – "See no evil; hear no evil; speak no evil." Instead, I was called to stand against the US-backed Salvadoran government’s declaration that healing the poor was communist practice, and therefore illegal. 

It was in El Salvador, where I learned of Archbishop Romero who was initially chosen to lead a church mirroring the oligarchy of El Salvador’s "democracy". Yet when oppressed peasants fled to the city, Romero was converted as they touched his soul. When a wealthy, powerful woman demanded her right to a private baptism, Romero invited her to gather at the river with all God’s children. Romero crossed borders of rich/poor and challenged laws of death. Though killed by US backed bullets he is now Saint Romero. "If they kill me, I will arise in the Salvadoran people", Romero declared as he called upon the Salvadoran government. "In the name of God, and in the name of this long-suffering people, whose laments rise to heaven every day more tumultuous, I beseech you, I beg you, I command you in the name of God: ‘Stop the repression!’" Instead a bullet pierced Romero’s heart as he consecrated the Body of Christ.

His cry resounds as Salvadoran people continue to be killed as they live in accordance with God’s promise of life. Fleeing massacres in the 1980’s only 2% were granted refugee status. When I testified on behalf of a 13-year-old LI undocumented boy, I informed the court that boys were routinely taken from rural buses to become child soldiers. The immigration judge shouted do you want me to let all Salvadoran children stay in the us? Salvadorans sought Sanctuary in US churches, hoping for a safety net. They clung to the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. "No human being is illegal." Yet Salvadorans were branded illegal. With no hope for a legal future, youth attacked by LA gangs formed their own families of death – the Mara Salvatrucha.

When peace accords finally ended a twelve-year war, a new civilian police force replaced death squads. At this fragile moment. The U.S. deported thousands of Mara Salvatrucha members, who now reign supreme. My goddaughter cries, "Don’t visit; we love you too much." She is displaced as her policeman/husband faces gangs’ declaration that all family of police will be killed.

As a pastor/psychiatrist/ volunteer with Physicians for Human Rights’ Asylum Network, I follow the One who calls us to a Kingdom where no human being is illegal. Flight from gang violence does not translate into refugee status under US immigration law. And so, I hear stories of God’s children, and in the footsteps of Romero become a voice of the voiceless. I meet, Andrea, who fled to NY after her rejection of a gang leader’s advances led to death threats. I meet a Salvadoran general whose discipline of a soldier, let to threats of death of his family should he fail to supply arms to the Mara Salvatrucha. I meet Maria, who trembles as she recounts her story. She crossed borders with her 10-year-old grandson after gang members killed her husband and son. Gangs routinely extort taxes even from poor ones selling soda from their home and kill those who don’t comply. I document their stories and entrust them to those few lawyers available to represent them. I pray that a judge’s heart be moved to challenge U.S. immigration law.

May we follow Jesus’ call to create a net of refuge. May protected status not be taken from those who beg not to join those who’ve been deported to their death. May we see, listen, and speak to our Salvadoran brothers and sisters whose cries still rise to heaven. May we heed Saint Romero’s cry to "Stop the repression", as we herald God’s kingdom, where all are beloved  and no human being is illegal.