Annie Mcloud starts her day by blessing her husband and kids with a prayer of protection as they go about their day. After she spends time in devotion praying and reading God's word, she gets the kids up for breakfast- for her, toast and hot chocolate, and the kids gets oatmeal, eggs and sausage, or a Toaster Strudel. Mcloud originally came from a small town 10 minutes outside of Montego Bay, Jamaica. Mcloud arrived in Florida in April 2015 and came to Savannah in January 2016. According to the United States Department of State, hundreds of thousands Jamaicans visit the U.S. each year.
"It only allows you to visit the country up to six months," she said, but Mcloud doesn't plan to leave. She's in the process of applying for a religious visa. Annie Mcloud is not her real name, but one she agreed to use for this story because she's afraid of being deported. All the names in this story are changed to protect her identity.
Mcloud came to the United States with her young child, who was 5 at the time, and a baby in her womb. An ultrasound showed her child would be born without a cerebrum, which is the part of the spine connected to the brain. This is the part of the brain that sends signals to the whole body. Mcloud's high-risk pregnancy pushed her to seek U.S. doctors, who she felt were more equipped to handle her situation.
After he was born in June 2015 she went back to Jamaica in August 2015. She began to fast and pray because she knew her son needed treatment that was in the United States. Mcloud says fasting helped guide her to do ministry in the United States with the Church of Christ, even though her initial thoughts were to get treatment in for her child, who is an American citizen.
"I knew right off the bat that coming here to do God's work, there's no way I can come as a visitor, or else I would only get to stay... I wouldn’t even have stayed six months maybe four to five months and leave," Mcloud said. She had a friend who came to the U.S for religious purposes, so he told her what would happen.
A religious visa is issued when an immigrant comes to the United States to do religious work full-time. According to U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), immigrants must be a part of a U.S. religious organization for two years before applying for a non-minister worker visa. Each year, 5,000 non-minister workers are allowed into the country. On March 23, a new law made it easier for religious workers to permanently immigrate to the United States- applications would be accepted for non-professionals and professional non-minister religious workers to adjust to permanent status or immigrate before Sept. 30.
Mcloud says she was denied for immigration, but she was told that it was for lack of documentation. She said she really appreciated being given a reason for her denial. The government also provided her with the forms and paperwork when a lawyer wasn't affordable.
Mcloud says whether she will stay and become naturalized depends on what God is leading her to do, so she has not committed to staying but to focus on the assignment God has given her here in youth ministry. With a visitor's visa, Mcloud and her husband Henry are not allowed to work, complicating their situation because they had no other way to maintain their lives while staying connected to the religious organization for two years. When she was in Jamaica, Annie Mcloud worked in a hotel as a concierge, even while she was pregnant with her youngest child. Before coming to the United States, she contacted the pastor and told the pastor, through email, her family would need accommodations and transportation, and the church would have to file for a R-1 visa. The Church of Christ was supposed to prepare for them to come; yet, once they got to their destination, the family stayed with the pastor of the church, Pastor Gwen Thomas (also a pseudonym), and other members until they could find a home for them. Pastor Thomas said, "They basically came here with nothing, so there were provisions that had to be made for living, arrangements, transportation and everything." Thomas did not want to discuss more detail about the family's situation.
When an immigrant comes to the U.S on a religious visa, the church or non-profit organization must provide their basic needs or pay them on salary like a job. Mcloud said she believed the Church of Christ was too small and didn't have enough money to provide outside of the transportation and living arrangements found.
Her husband had to do odd jobs, such as painting, construction, and landscaping, to provide for their family. Mcloud said she must always be careful about who she talks to her situation about. According to a 2015 article in the International Business Journal, economists believe that immigrants help the workforce by adding young workers, such as Henry Mcloud.
According to the Center of Academic Progress immigration team, "Immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in five years would increase the earnings of all American workers by $618 billion over the next decade."
Mcloud wants to work hard to earn her stay, but with the Donald Trump administration, Mcloud has grown uncertain about her future.
"I wasn’t illegal because I filed," yet there was still fear when doing business, Mcloud said. When she would go to the clinic and to her child's doctors appointment, front desk employees would often ask for her ID and social security number, and her response would be, "I don’t have one," always with the worry she'd be judged as an "illegal" immigrant and the stigmas associated with that status.
Mcloud said the process for maintaining her legal status is tedious and frightening most of the time.
"There was a time when you do feel like you have to be careful, they're even say people who file walk with your paper work," said Mcloud. Mcloud said people who must go through these processes still have the fear of being locked up, even if they are being processed or have a visa. "Lock you up and ask questions later," Mcloud said to describe tensions during the transition from the Obama administration to Trump's.
Trump referred to immigrants as "criminals, murders, and rapists" in his campaign rhetoric, and continued those same derogatory stereotypes after he was elected.
Mcloud is none of the above- just a woman doing what she refers to as "the Lord's work." Whether her husband must cut grass, do mechanics, cook food, it is survival for the Mclouds'.
Often Mcloud asks herself, "How does a family come here to do God's work and survive? Are we going to go back home? Or just stay and let God work it out. And we just had to have faith knowing that he was going to do it."