by Jon Krieg

There was no need for scary masks or sugar-loaded candy at a Quaker “second-hour” discussion on Halloween Sunday. Immigration law in the United States is frightening enough.

Jody Mashek, Legal Services Director of AFSC’s Immigrants Voice Program in Des Moines, led members of the Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting on a tour through some of the complexities of immigration law and why comprehensive immigration reform is so desperately needed. Jody should know – she spends her days often stuck between unyielding law and the basic, powerful need for families to be together.

Jody sees a lot of successes. “This is such an invaluable service to the immigrant population in Des Moines,” said Lynne Howard, a Friend who introduced Jody. “It cannot be overstated.”

Each year in Des Moines, AFSC helps over 1000 people from 50 different countries with citizenship applications, legal permanent residency, temporary protected status and family reunification – among a number of other categories of immigration and refugee work. Because AFSC is a non-profit organization, her services are affordably priced and greatly appreciated.

But it’s the immigrants AFSC can’t help – people and families for whom there is no current legal remedy – who put a face on the often faceless immigration debate roiling in the U.S. The red tape of immigration law wraps itself around people who’ve lived in the U.S. for years – people who are solid members of the community, people with houses and jobs, people with children who are U.S. citizens – and yet have no legal pathway to stay here.

The much-touted “line” which immigrants are supposed to get in, quite simply, doesn’t exist. “There is not a way for most undocumented people to ‘knock on the door and do it the legal way,’” Jody said. “We screen people who come in to see if there is a path available for them, but if there’s not, there’s not.”

This past year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (aptly nicknamed ICE) deported a record 392,000 people from the United States, often using quiet door-to-door methods rather than headline-grabbing workplace raids. “They’re deporting more than a thousand people every day, which is just phenomenal,” Jody said.

For others, delays in the immigration system mean that families can remain separated for a dozen years or more. While the clock keeps ticking, some immigrants can only pray that the aging relative who has applied for them will keep living; an applicant’s death can mean the end of a relative’s hopes of coming to or staying in the U.S.

Throughout the country, AFSC, Friends, immigrants and allies are continuing the push for comprehensive immigration reform which includes a pathway to citizenship. The short-term prospects for success can appear, well, frightening. In the long run, if we work together, we know justice will prevail.