Students have been working closely with First English Lutheran Church on a project involving immigration.
An important part of the project centers around a woman named Miriam Vargas, a Honduran immigrant who fled from her country due to gang threats.
Honduras, like many Central American countries, is filled with gang violence and corruption inside of federal institutions.
Officials are bribed and citizens are forced to pay protection rackets that are run by gangs. Failing to pay can result in threats and violence against you and your family.
Vargas arrived in the U.S. back in 2005, but now she faces the threat of deportation because her documents have been misplaced.
Her lawyers are working with her closely to plot out a possible legal route.
In the meantime, Vargas is staying at First English Lutheran Church, which has been officially deemed a “sanctuary.”
Legally, there are certain areas that immigrants are safe to stay in without the threat of being taken away. For a while, these locations have included hospitals, schools, and churches.
Before the church could officially be a sanctuary, it was unanimously voted upon by its top membership.
Though Vargas has managed to find sanctuary inside of the church, it isn’t the ideal condition to be in, and it paints a larger picture of what some immigrants face when they arrive in America.
This is the picture that a group of students are trying to convey to the campus-wide population.
Shannon Craig, first-year Professional Writing and Journalism major, is a part of the class that is working to not just tell Vargas’ story, but also elaborate on the topic of immigration as a whole.
“I’m in the intro to ethics course with Dr. Nate Jackson, and we’re collaborating with the social problems course,” Craig said.
Over the semester, the group has reached out to Sally Padgett, the pastor at First English to help connect them with Vargas.
A survey has also been constructed and released to the Capital community to gather personal feelings about immigration.
“We’ve been meeting with Pastor Sally and Miriam over at First English,” Samantha Levisay, senior, and member of the group said. “We’re basically just getting to know her story of immigration, and what she’s dealt with.”
In part, the class is trying to raise awareness about Vargas’ situation by promoting events at the church that are centered around her.
Specifically, Vargas is known to occasionally cook meals for people that visit the church. Since she’s not able to legally work, cooking meals for visitors is the best way to earn an income.
Levisay hopes that more people find the time to visit her.
“She just wants to be around people and cook for people,” Levisay said. “She’s a good cook.”
Of course, typical for any project, the group has encountered some challenges along the way.
“The largest problem arises from [Vargas’] situation,” Craig said. “She is completely unable to leave the church. As great as it would be to bring her here on campus and involve her in the things we’re doing, that’s definitely not something that’s possible.”
This highlights something that is very important. For over a year, Vargas has not been able to set foot outside of this church. She eats, she sleeps, and she bathes in this one building without having the privilege to experience the outside world. There are no exceptions to this.
Another challenge that the group has encountered is language barriers.
“She speaks Spanish, and no one else at the church does except for her daughter, who’s at the feisty age where if she doesn’t want to translate, she will not translate,” Levisay said.
The class does have an alternative source for translation, which comes in the form of a senior named Karen Hernandez.
“Both of my parents are from Mexico. They met in California, and that’s where I was born,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez has been a valuable asset to the group’s progress in translating Vargas’ story and current predicament.
“I decided to go on the project to help translate, so that she can explain why she had to leave Honduras and why she’s in sanctuary at First English,” Hernandez said. “Naturally, immigration hits a little closer to home for me personally, so I knew I’d be able to help a bit more.”
Starting at 5 p.m. Nov. 19 in the CMC, students can attend an event hosted by the project group. Results from the survey will be given, and an informational presentation on immigration will be provided.
“I think it’s important that people become more empathetic and realize that we are a country of immigrants,” Hernandez said. “Everyone comes from somewhere.”