Portland church celebrates marriage of couple given a Title 42 exemption
A couple who met fleeing violence in their two home countries has finally seen some of their dreams come true.
Gustavo Sermeño and Delia Carcamo were married at Ainsworth United Church of Christ on Palm Sunday in “a small but happy celebration” in front of church members invited to attend.
A number of people from the church in Portland, Ore., have been accompanying the newlyweds and their 19-month-old daughter Vilma since their arrival from Mexicali, Mexico, in September. The family had been seeking asylum for some time, and had twice tried to cross the border. Last summer, they were staying in a shelter operated by a colleague of Ainsworth’s pastor, the Rev. Lynne Smouse López.
The family found Ainsworth after López’s collegue at the shelter reached out. “Brother Modesto contacted me in mid-August to see if we could find some housing for Gustavo, Delia and Vilma because he had been working with a shelter for migrants who were stuck at the Mexican-U.S. border,” López said. “He had found a sponsor, but needed housing for them.”
A friend of the UCC church offered the family a basement apartment. Their official sponsor lives in an area that suffered severe fire damage and was unable to host them. Ainsworth, a sanctuary congregation and part of the Central Pacific Conference Immigrant Welcoming network, had a group ready to assist.
Volunteers helped the family “get access to health care, English classes for Delia, and work for Gustavo in various parishioners homes,” said church member Pat Rumer. “Gustavo is bilingual and very skilled both in construction work and computers. This past winter he volunteered at our church’s warming shelter.”
Sermeño, from El Salvador, and Carcamo, from Honduras, met in Mexico four years ago. Rumer said that while they and their daughter were recently eligible to enter the U.S. though an exception to Title 42, called Exemption HUISA, they had been stopped twice before while trying to seek asylum.
Gustavo shared a statement about his family’s experience with Title 42, the public health policy that effectively blocked migrants from entering the country, saying the “racist and incoherent policy” resulted in “totally inhuman treatment” without having the opportunity to be heard.
We tried to cross the Mexico-U.S.A. border twice and the two times we received treatments similar to drug barons. They [the Border Patrol] put handcuffs on us and they slammed the doors of the car in our face on one occasion. Another time my wife was pregnant and was about to give birth. In order that my child wouldn’t be born in the U.S.A., they injected a substance into her body to delay birth and returned us to Mexico. It resulted in my daughter being born with some problems … she was born blue with difficulty breathing. They say that Title 42 is in order to keep the threat of the COVID virus from people from other countries out of the U.S.A. This doesn’t make sense as the United States has the capacity to offer the vaccination as soon as someone enters the country. I also note that the United States has instituted Title 42 as an excuse to stop immigration and hasn’t reformed the immigration system that could help Latino immigrants. It seems as if [with] immigrants such as the Ukrainians, the U.S. government has the capacity and power to give them permission, visas and support without worrying about the health threat that their entry could represent. Thanks to God there always are some people who want to help and look for the “legal way” to create exceptions like our “Exemption HUISA” that is basically a parole from the health controls. We are here with legal permission. Why complicate the asylum process so that if we commit an error in trying to work or in finding a house, or that we can’t apply for work authorization, we could lose our right to remain in the U.S.A.? At present, we don’t have food security nor can we apply for Social Security card or an ITIN. (An ITIN, or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, is a tax processing number only available for certain nonresident and resident aliens, their spouses, and dependents who cannot get a Social Security number.) If we apply for any government benefits, we can be considered criminals and thus deportable, basically because they want to force us to fail, when all we need is food, water and a roof. It is unjust that we can only live by asking for help.
Awaiting fate of Title 42
In Portland, the couple has an immigration attorney who is assisting them with their formal application for asylum. At the southern border, migrants with similar circumstances wait see if the Biden administration will follow through with its plan to lift Title 42. Since the policy took effect in April 2020, almost 1.8 million people have been turned back at the Mexico border.
On April 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced plans to terminate the public health order. But on Monday, April 25, a federal judge in Louisiana said he would block the administration’s plan to rescind Title 42 in late May.
As the issue plays out in the courts, the United Church of Christ will continue to advocate for true immigration reform.
“As an Immigrant Welcoming denomination, we support U.S. asylum laws that provide due process for people to be able to claim credible fear claims of persecution at the U.S. ports of entry,” said the Rev. Noel Andersen, lead organizer for the UCC Collaborative on Immigration. “Title 42 is a morally misguided Trump policy that was never actually about public health, but a cruel tactic to unconstitutionally block asylum as part of a broader white supremacist agenda. We are outraged by legislative proposals that would make Title 42 almost impossible to rescind. All refugees and asylum seekers deserve to be welcomed with dignity and without discrimination.”
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