Tightened Borders Hamper Church Work

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Tighter U.S. immigration controls have become a hassle for several Canadians in their work with the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

“We are a bi-national church, and we need to cross international boundaries in order to do ministry,” said CRC Executive Director Jerry Dykstra. “But since 9-11, [that] has become much more difficult and complex.”

Rev. Joyce Borger knows all about that complexity. She is officially on leave from her work as editor of Reformed Worship magazine and music editor for Faith Alive Christian Resources because of an expired visa that she has been unable to renew.

Borger is a Canadian citizen who had been working in Grand Rapids, Mich., since 2003. She owns a house there and has adopted a daughter, now 2 years old, who is a U.S. citizen.

When Borger applied to renew her religious worker’s visa in 2006, it was denied for lack of evidence that the CRCNA was a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization. The letter she received stated that there is no appeal process for the decision.

“I was ordained in the CRC and have been a member my entire life,” said Borger. “I am a poster child for this visa, and yet I can’t get it.”

The denomination is working with immigration attorney John Koryto to help Borger. He has advised her to apply for a regular work permit because of tightening restrictions on religious workers’ visas.

U.S. immigration policies have also affected Canadian Ed Witvoet, tour coordinator for the CRC’s planned 2008 Sea-to-Sea bike tour. Witvoet was forced to cancel plans to travel the tour route throughout the fall after being turned away twice at the border.

He has learned that his case has been “red flagged,” apparently because of suspicions that he may be planning to raise funds while in the U.S., he said.

“I’m frustrated with the [visa application] process,” said Witvoet. “I feel that I can’t be fruitful or productive.” As of this printing, he has been planning the tour as much as he can from his home office in Ontario while Koryto determines the best course of action.

Rev. Naji Umran, outreach pastor at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, received his religious worker’s visa in November after a drawn-out process that included two special appointments in Detroit and a site visit.

At one point he was convinced that he could be deported and have to return to his native Canada without his wife and youngest child.

“It was fairly stressful for me and stressful for the church,” said Umran. “People came to me in tears saying, ‘I don’t want you to go.’” He and his family now plan to leave after the end of this new two-year visa, which is nonrenewable.

Michigan Senator Carl Levin commented, “I believe our immigration system is broken and needs reform. We must secure our borders against real threats from terrorism and protect U.S. workers, while also preserving the freedoms and principles on which our nation was founded. I support efforts to achieve a secure, sensible, and fair system of immigration. I am hopeful the Senate will revisit this issue next year.”

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. She has reported on synod, the annual decision-making gathering of the CRC, for many years.

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