I'm an American citizen by birth. So are both the bride and daughters 1 and 2. We were all born and raised in Tennessee, and we've never lived anywhere else. We're all proud to be both Tennesseans and Americans.
I've never thought that much about immigration laws. And I still don't know that much about them. I'm all for people from other countries wanting to better themselves here. I may have made C's in high school history class, but I believe that's how our country got started.
But there are those who seek to destroy the way of life that we enjoy so much. Human beings (and I use that term loosely) who come to this country to tear down America rather than to better themselves. Several of those were involved in the 911 attacks over five years ago. Because of people like this, we've tightened our immigration laws. And I believe that does need to happen. So I've never given much thought to someone who was forced to leave the country and not allowed to come back for a specific amount of time. Until now.
Our senior youth pastor at church, one of the most genuine people I've ever met in my life, became an illegal alien on November 15, 2006. His immigration attorney got some dates mixed up; had he simply flown to Canada on November 14 and come right back, he could have had his visa renewed for another three years and this would have never been a problem. But his attorney told him he had another week to take care of it. And it's not like he put off having his visa renewed. It's something that had been going on for about six months. Yet his attorney assured him all was under control and not to worry.
The church appealed on Reece's behalf. He orignally came to America from Australia to be on staff with his older brother, so he entered the country on a religious visa. Makes sense, right? He's going to work on staff at a church so he should be here on a religious visa. However, that's a big part of the problem. Seems that the suicide pilots from 911 were also here on religious visas, as are alot of others who mean harm to America. Turns out that over one-third of the religious visas are fraudulent.
Someone on church staff received a letter from the immigration department two weeks ago. The appeal has been denied. And there's no appealing the appeal. He has to leave the country. And there's a three-year ban on coming back to America. Which means he leaves behind the church, several hundred students who love him and whom he loves right back, along with many other friends. Oh, and two other people - his wife and 2-year-old daughter. Steph, his wife, is here on a working visa, and had it renewed in Melborne on her way back to Franklin in January. Took all of 2 minutes to do it. Lilly has dual citizenship since she was born here.
He does have one more chance. On the 29th Reece flies back to Australia for a May 2nd appointment in Melborne with the consulate at the American embassy. He's asking for two things - a new visa and that the three-year ban be removed so that he can return to his family and job immediately. The decision for the visa can take place in Melborne, but the decision for lifting the three-year ban will come from Bangkok, Thailand.
I've been in two very emotional meetings over the past couple of weeks - one with youth leaders and the other with the youth group. People are praying that he'll be allowed to come back. Regardless of the outcome, we know that God's plans are to prosper Reece, not to harm him, and that these plans will give Reece hope and a future.
But we're just people who love him, and selfishly we want him back here with us.....