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Immigration Strikes Again in Târgu Mureș

We just finished breakfast with Otilia, the lovely woman who hosts us while we do Romanian language training here in Târgu Mureș, and I need to tell her story. Fry yourselves some potatoes and garlic (that's what we had!) and pull up a chair.

Otilia has two children. Her daughter, Laura, still lives here in Târgu Mureș with her husband Alex -- we met them the other day, and they're lovely, friendly people. Her son lives in the United States, and she hasn't seen him in years. He went to college at a prestigious university in Cluj, earned top marks all the way through, and graduated with a degree in computer engineering or something impressive like that. His dream had always been to travel to the United States, ever since he was a little boy, and after graduating from college he received a visa to go visit.

Otilia didn't know much about the type of visa he'd received -- all she knew was that he was living and working in Chicago, where he had fallen in love with the beautiful music of American churches and the hustle-and-bustle of that vibrant city. But she sadly admitted that he couldn't come back to Romania, because there are no jobs for him here. "What would he do here?" Otilia asked. "He wouldn't want to come live here with me; there is no work for him." 

But Otilia misses her son -- it was obvious from the way her voice would catch occasionally while she spoke of him, and from the frequency with which she mentions Chicago in daily conversation. She's a retired widow, a pensioner, without a computer or any other method of easy, cheap communication overseas, and she misses him.

Otilia and Laura went to Bucharest once to try and obtain tourist visas so they could visit their son and brother. They took an overnight train (it's at least a six-hour trip by car, so who knows how long it took on Romania's sometimes-shaky train system) and paid 100 dollars for an appointment at the U.S. consulate. And according to Otilia, they were denied before the officer had even looked at all their papers.

Tears began to fall as she protested, "I'm not a danger to America!  I'm a pensioner; I only speak Romanian. I just want to visit my son." But because of the bizarre, antiquated, discriminatory U.S. immigration system, she cannot go to see him. She had apparently been told that she ought to enter the U.S. diversity visa lottery -- another difficult, time-consuming process with small hope of being picked. I didn't have the heart to tell her how slim her odds were if she tried that route.

So now I'm sitting here, lamenting. Before we came to Romania, my job was to work with the faith community for comprehensive reform of the U.S. immigration system. I thought I was leaving that work behind, for the most part -- but here it is again, the messed-up world of U.S. immigration, bringing tears of frustration and grief into the eyes of dear old Otilia. How unfair it is that my U.S. citizen parents will be able to come and visit whenever they choose, without a problem -- but that Otilia cannot do the same for her son. What a lovely gift and privilege it will be for us when our parents come to visit. What a lamentable thing it is that Otilia and her son cannot experience the same joy.

Those of you who read this and are in the United States, please do all you can to help make the immigration system work in a more compassionate and common-sense way. And for this American girl sitting with her privilege in Romania, oh Lord, may You show me what to do. For now perhaps lament, prayer, and a call to the U.S. consulate in Bucharest may be the only options. 


[Photo: Kelly Organ]

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