Raul Cardenas: Not Deported, but Residency Case Not Yet Solved
by Helen Gray, First Universalist Church, Denver, CO
Calling it “half good news,” Judy and Raul Cardenas of Denver, CO, emerged from Raul’s deportation hearing with one of the outcomes they were hoping for – a continuance of Raul’s case until November.
Raul and Judy, married since 2002, have captured the attention of UU members and clergy, and immigration activists around the country because of their their efforts to keep the family from being torn apart by Raul’s potential deportation back to Mexico. They are parents to their seven-year-old daughter, Pamela, and to Judy’s teenaged sons from an earlier marriage, Billy and Sammy. They also care for Judy’s 90-year-old father, Wayne.
“This is the first time in my memory where a UU family has been touched so strikingly (by the immigration laws),” said Rev. Nancy Bowen, District Executive of the UUA Mountain Desert District. “This is a desperate situation. It’s up close and personal.”
“These are our children, they were dedicated in our church, they are part of our religious education programs,” Rev. Bowen said. In explaining why the Cardenas case has become a rallying cry for the Standing on the Side of Love campaign, Rev. Bowen said it’s about family integrity. “To take a family that’s intact and raising children successfully and doing so well in every aspect of their lives, and to tear them apart based on an act that happened 10 years ago, is not the way we should be treating people, any people.”
A decade ago, Raul Cardenas, who was single at the time, came to the United States to work, but without any documentation. His marriage to Judy, a US citizen, was not enough to grant him legal residence status or a work permit. The Department of Homeland Security brought him up on violating immigration laws in 2009.
For the hearing, Rev. Bowen and 19 other UU clergy from Colorado and Utah and Idaho and Montana came en masse to Denver Immigration Court of the Department of Justice. They were joined by a cluster of supporters from Judy’s home church, First Universalist of Denver, representing the church’s Immigration Justice Task force.
The hearing itself lasted only eight minutes. The immigration judge, Eileen Trujillo, determined that the two key documents, an approved marriage petition and a request for “prosecutorial discretion,” had not made their way through the legal and paperwork maze at the Department of Homeland Security yet. The continuance buys the family important time.
“Now there’s time for something else to happen,” said Judy. “That’s what we need, is time.”
The “something else” she referred to could be official recognition of all the community support that has come out for Raul’s case. Thousands of people around the country who have signed petitions through the Standing on the Side of Love website, and through Change.org. Nearly 4000 people have signed petitions directed to the Department of Homeland Security, sent faxes or emails to local elected leaders urging them to intervene, or made phone calls. A You Tube video of their story, “This is What Undocumented Looks Like: Raul and Judy Cardenas,” has had almost 4300 hits.
The family has gotten some support from the Colorado congressional delegation, but not enough to get Raul the Green Card that would allow him to stay in this country permanently.
For the hearing, the clergy, who were on a ministerial retreat in northern Colorado, all wore their colorful liturgical stoles. The small immigration hearing room, which normally has two or three people watching the proceedings, was filled to capacity with the Cardenas supporters. Judge Trujillo noted the crowd’s presence for the court record.
Rev. Bowen estimated the clergy represent at least 2500 UU members in congregations across the Mountain Desert District.
After the short hearing, the ministers posed outside for photos with the family while holding a large yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” banner. They broke into song, singing “Love Will Guide Us,” and embraced Judy and Raul.
The Immigration Justice Task Force at First Universalist Church in Denver came about a year and a half ago exclusively because of Judy Cardenas, a longtime member of the church. According to task force chairman Dr. Pete Peterson, the task force designation has allowed the group to do things with the authority of the church behind them; things like using the church’s name when they go out to talk with lawmakers or other citizen groups, or getting money for related activities.
Peterson said one thing other churches can learn from the First Universalist’s experience is that a task force empowers people. Members of the task force, he said, take it upon themselves to do things on their own that bring attention to the larger issues.
As for Raul Cardenas, the man at the center of the story, he is in legal limbo until November. Although he remains with his family, he doesn’t have permission to work, nor can he return to Mexico to visit any of his relatives there. After the hearing, he appeared stunned and not quite sure what to make of the legal posturing. “I’m just waiting for a solution,” he said.