David Holford

No Forgiveness is Available

That’s what it says next to a box on the form. And the box is checked. It doesn’t say it in English. It says, “No hay perdón disponible.” But just like love is the same in any language, so is hate.

What could be so horrible that no forgiveness is available? What could someone have done to receive a document with these words? The only criminal act for which our government offers no forgiveness is murder. For murders of special people or those done in a stomach turning way, we execute people. For murders that are less grisly, we lock people up with no possibility of parole. For others, “life” doesn’t mean “life”. It just means “for a really long time,” as long as you keep your nose clean after we lock you up. You do your time, and you’re forgiven. It’s a very conditional forgiveness, but forgiveness nonetheless.

No hay perdón disponible. No forgiveness available. Ever. Until you die. You can’t even get a presidential pardon. But what could be so bad? What crime must this be?

Funny thing is, it’s not even a crime.  Let me tell you a story. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Years ago, Jill had not met Jack yet. Jill was born and raised in Mexico, almost within sight of the US border, but she had never been on the other side of the bridge. Not once. Jill had an American friend who often visited her in Mexico and one day he told her that she ought to see the other side of the bridge. Jill wasn’t sure that was a good idea, because even though anyone from the United States can cross into Mexico for the day to buy cheap vanilla, not everyone from Mexico can cross into the United States for the day to shop at Wal-mart.

“Don’t worry,” her friend told her. He knew nothing about immigration law, but surely what’s good for the American gander is good for the Mexican goose. “Cross the bridge and when they ask you if you are an American citizen, just say yes. It’s not going to matter anyway, because we are going to be back in a couple of hours.” Despite her reservations, Jill is finally convinced by her friend that it won’t be a problem.

Off they trot across the bridge, over the line drawn in the middle of the river, and up to the booth on the other side. The Hispanic man in an INS uniform (this was before the days of the Department of Homeland Security), whose parents may have moved to the US in the 1960s, before there was any regulation of movement or settlement from Mexico, asks if she is a citizen. She follows the instructions she’s been given and says, “yes.” She is then asked to produce some identification to that effect.

Oops. Not what her friend was expecting. So she admits that she’s not a citizen, but was told to say that so she could visit for the day and then get back to her two-year-old son in Mexico. She’s immediately locked up for the night. In the morning she’s taken in front of another official, told how bad she’s been, fingerprinted and photographed, made to sign papers admitting how bad she’s been, and eventually escorted back to the line in the middle of the bridge.

That was very naughty, trying to sneak in and go to Wal-mart and eat at McDonalds.

Many years pass. Jill meets Jack, an American contractor working in Mexico. Jack and Jill walk up the hill to fetch a pale of water, but they stop for a siesta, and come tumbling down with baby Keith. Keith is an American by birth, just like my children, because he was born in another country to a U.S. citizen. When Keith gets old enough, Jill insists he live with Jack in the United States so he can get a good education.

Jill has been divorced for some time, so Jack and Jill decide to get married. Jack files for Jill to get a fiancee visa. “Sure,” says the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “You’ve had a legitimate relationship for years and a child together. Here’s an appointment to go get a visa.” Happy as two kids in love in their 40s, Jack and Jill trot up the hill to the U.S. Consulate. At the Consulate, the U.S. Department of State says, “We don’t care what the Department of Homeland Security told you, because we see that you tried to visit the U.S. over 15 years ago and told someone you were a citizen to get in. Let me check this little box on this piece of paper to settle the matter forever. The law is the law.”

“No hay perdón disponible. Ever. You may never, ever, ever enter the United States. We don’t care that your husband is a citizen. We don’t care that your child is a citizen. In fact, if your other children want to come live with their step-father, they are more than welcome. After five years, they can become citizens. Over there is our side of the river and this is yours. Forever. Now and ever and unto the ages of ages, amen.

“Crimes can be forgiven. This cannot. If you were a criminal in Mexico, you could be forgiven, get a waiver, and come to the US. If you had just slipped into the US and then gotten married, you could have possibly gotten a waiver (though we do make it very difficult) and been allowed to live in the US. If you had been refused entry, then come in anyway, you would have to stay out for ten years, but you could eventually get a wavier. But because you lied, even though you immediately recanted the lie, to visit for a few hours many, many years ago, you may never, ever even visit our country.”

Of course, the consular official didn’t say all of that. That’s just what the check in the box marked, “No hay perdón disponible” means. We never want to see your face in this place ever again.

This is what makes America a Christian nation, just like the Founding Fathers intended, right?

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