The reality of an Alabama Dreamer’s roots

January 17, 2018

Last September, amid the buzz of fresh energy after a summer break and the hopeful promise of a new academic year, Lizbeth Duran-Ortiz, a Spanish translator at a Birmingham, Ala., area elementary school, sat frozen and scared at her desk.

Having heard that day’s announcement that there would be a move to end DACA, she was suddenly racked with questions of what she and her family would do at the end of the school year.

DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals— is a program initiated in 2012 to give conditional residency to people brought to the United States as children so they can continue to live, study and work in the country they know as their home.

Those protected by DACA are known as “Dreamers.” This moniker originated from the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) act, which would have offered these young immigrants the chance of permanent legal residency. This bipartisan act was first introduced to Congress in 2001, but has repeatedly failed to pass.

Now, around 800,000 young immigrants—many of whom consider themselves to be Americans—could be sent away from the only true home they’ve ever known.

“People don’t understand why it’s so upsetting—how it can make your day go crazy,” Lizbeth said. “I’ve never lived anywhere else (in the U.S.). This is my home.”

Lizbeth, now 32, was 13 when she came to live in the United States. When she was in the first grade, her mother married a U.S. resident and lived in different states for several years before settling in the Birmingham area. Lizbeth stayed behind in Coahuila, Mexico—at least for a few years.

“My mom had me when she was 15,” she said. “My grandma didn’t want me falling into some of the same patterns as my mom, so she insisted I live with her and my grandpa while my mom went to the States.”

When Lizbeth was 12, her grandmother passed away following a short illness. She then came to the U.S. on a Visa to spend time with her mother, stepfather—and by then, four younger half siblings—during a school break. It was then determined Lizbeth would come live with her mother.

“I knew no English at all,” Lizbeth said, recalling her difficult eighth grade year. “My school had only three Spanish speakers enrolled: a Puerto Rican guy, a Colombian girl and me. And there were no ESL classes at the time.”

Lizbeth was held back one school year to allow her to catch up on English.

Adjustments were not only tough at school; there were hurdles to overcome at home. She barely knew her stepfather and four younger siblings, since she had not lived with them. And she also needed to get reacquainted with her mother, since they had lived apart all those years.

“It was a big change,” Lizbeth said. “Now that I look back, I don’t know how we were able to get along.”

Soon after she moved to Birmingham, Lizbeth’s family began to visit a local church, where she heard the gospel and sound teaching. Lizbeth gave her life to Christ as a teen and became part of an established Christian community.

Her newfound faith and her church in America would become an anchor during a scary and confusing season as a young immigrant.

“God placed the right people around our family,” she said. “This is my home—not just a physical home, but where I found God. He was gracious to surround me with the people He did.”

It was also at that church where Lizbeth met her husband, Salvador, to whom she has now been married for 12 years. Together, they have two children: 10-year-old Salvador and six-year-old Lucia.

Salvador owns a landscaping business and Lizbeth, says she ministers to the community through her job as a translator—afforded to her through DACA.

“For me, translating is not just about overcoming a language barrier, but about helping Spanish-speaking parents understand the how the school system works and enabling them to take advantage of the opportunities they have for their kids,” she said.

For example, there have been several times when a child is eligible for the gifted program and the parents unwittingly almost forfeited an opportunity.

“I love seeing their faces light up when I explain things like this,” she said. “When DACA first got approved, we felt like that gave us an opportunity to do something—not just for ourselves, but for those around us. Yes, I have a job, paycheck and benefits, but at the end of the day it is helping my community. They (Spanish-speaking parents) don’t see the future. When I talk to them I always let them know when I’m speaking as a translator and when I’m speaking as a mom.

“It would break my heart if I have to let go of my job. It is such a privilege to be able to help.”

When DACA was first announced in 2012, Lizbeth was hesitant.

“It’s a big risk,” she says. “You’ve been living in the shadows for so long. When you give out all your information, you don’t know what’s going to happen. I remember going to our lawyer and asking, ‘What would you recommend if we were your kids?’”

At the time, they had a four-year-old and a newborn, and briefly considered going back to Mexico and starting over.

But they were deeply rooted in the lives of their church family and their community, and decided it was worth the risk. Two months after the application, the risk was rewarded.

“I was a bundle of nerves,” Lizbeth recalled. “I remember the day I opened my mail and saw I had been approved. I was out by the mailbox visiting with my neighbor, and we had a moment to pray together and thank God.”

Lizbeth has renewed her DACA authorization three times. The current authorization is set to expire in August of this year.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Lizbeth said. “I try not to read the negative news. Nobody’s going to be able to understand what we go through. I’m not able to handle anxiety anymore. I try to block the negative things.”

Thankfully, she says, her church family—The Church at Brook Hills’ Hispanic campus—has been a steady source of encouragement along the way. It’s been a gospel-centered community that has taken years to build as relationships—the kind that would be difficult to replicate in another place—have deepened.

“They reach out to us, always asking how they can help,” she says of the Southern Baptist church. “We’ve done so much life with them—far beyond church on Sundays. And because they are our close church family, they know us well enough to sense when we need encouragement. When we get discouraged, they remind us God is faithful—that he is working here just like he is working in Mexico if we were to go back.”

Their church has also been the main conduit through which they have poured into their community. Each Friday night, Lizbeth and Salvador host a small group Bible study in their kitchen. They are studying the book of Acts with some other members at The Church at Brook Hills, where they have been involved for many years.

Salvador plays drums on the worship team, and every summer, they host Rock the Block, a VBS-like Bible club that meets at a home for week.

“We’re not able to leave the country,” Lizbeth says, “But we’re able to do missions right here in Birmingham. Initially, I was just trying to reach out to the Hispanic families in neighborhood. But people from all kinds of backgrounds started showing up at Rock the Block. It is so rewarding to be able to do it in our city.”

The Church at Brook Hills is also the place where Lizbeth got her professional start: After receiving her DACA authorization in 2012, she worked as the administrative assistant for the Hispanic campus pastor for two years.

While the Duran-Ortiz family waits to see whether their lives will be uprooted, six-year-old Lucia will continue to go to gymnastics with her friends in the only place she’s ever called “home.” She doesn’t speak Spanish at all, so Lizbeth and Salvador are teaching her—just in case they are thrust into a new land—a new land for their children, anyway.

“Lucia speaks only English, and she speaks it with an Alabama accent,” Lizbeth quipped.

Their son, Salvador, who is in his school’s gifted program, just finished a science competition. He recently received an invitation to participate in a STEAM program—a rare honor given to excelling students that allows them to spend a weekend on a college campus to sharpen budding leadership skills and do hands-on learning activities in key disciplines, such as math and science.

“He’ll even get to dissect a heart,” Lizbeth said. “He’ll be exposed to robotics, and spend time learning about fascinating things, like forensics. He’s so excited. When I see him growing and striving so much, I don’t want to take that away from him.”

If she is allowed to stay in her home, Lizbeth would like to go to college—something she couldn’t apply for as an honor roll student in high school, simply because she didn’t have a social security number (which she now has, thanks to DACA).

And she and Salvador are ready to buy a house. But for now, they are putting that on hold.

Whatever is decided for her and the 800,000 other Dreamers, Lizbeth trusts God with the outcome—and says action is needed along with prayer.

“There are people who are doing what they can to voice our stories,” she said. “But it’s so much bigger than our story—it’s his story. Even when we don’t get the answers we want, he has it under control.”

She said having the uncertainty brings her young family closer to the Lord.

“We need strength to believe that he is able to accomplish what he wants in our lives, and we need to be obedient, even though we may not like the outcome,” she said. “He knew we couldn’t do this on our own, so he gave his Holy Spirit. I can rest in that.

“God has opened doors for us when we didn’t think it was possible. And he can do it again.”

Joy Allmond

Joy Allmond is the managing editor of Facts & Trends, and has also written for Crosswalk.com, LifeWay, WORLD magazine, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Greg. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24