By Father Vic Subb, G.H.M.
It is Tuesday 7:30 p.m.; Kathy has looked forward to this
time all week. It is time to see her
three-year-old daughter Brenda, if only for 30 minutes. This is the highlight of Kathy’s week. Kathy is now living in an Indiana county
Kathy is from El Salvador and has been a single mom living
and working in the United States for four years. Five months earlier at her work site, a
poultry plant, immigration officers entered the facility and asked Kathy for
her documents to work. With no proof of
work authorization, Kathy was taken to jail.
Kathy, who does not have family living in the United States, started to
worry about what was going to happen with her daughter. Her first thoughts were, “Who will take care
of my baby?” Luckily, one of Kathy’s
co-workers, who has children and a family at home, graciously volunteered to be
Brenda’s guardian and temporary mom.
remember the first weekly visitation.
Tears streamed down Kathy’s face as she first saw Brenda. A thick glass separated Kathy’s desire to
hold and kiss her three-year-old. There
was no touch, only a phone to communicate.
Brenda was crying. She couldn’t understand why she could not be with
mommy. Kathy blew her kisses. The pain got stronger as the 30 minutes came
to an end. Kathy’s co-worker reassured
Kathy, “Brenda will be fine. We have
many children for her to play with.” The
good-bye tears pierced deep into Kathy’s heart.
by. “The glass”, Kathy says, “I hate
that glass. I only want to hold my child,
but it seems like only a dream.” After
five months in jail, Kathy still waits all week for Tuesday 7:30 p.m. to
arrive. Over the months, Brenda seems
less interested in talking to mommy.
Sometimes the three-year-old runs away to play with other children. Kathy’s heart sinks. “Am I losing my child?” she ponders. “Will she remember I am her mom?”
longs to be deported back to El Salvador.
Being in jail for the last five months does not make sense to her. When she is deported, she can send for her
daughter and start a new life in El Salvador.
Now she waits, uncertain of the future, uncertain of how to reconnect
Down the road, sits Ramon. He has been in a Kentucky county
jail for the last 6 months. Ramon, 22
years old, has been in the U.S. for the last 6 years. He arrived here when he was 16 to try and
establish a better life. There was no
money and few opportunities in his state of Chiapas, Mexico. Chiapas was a rich coffee growing area that
saw the coffee prices bottom out. As a
teenager, when he first arrived in the
United States, Ramon shares, “I was lonely; no family to connect with was my
biggest problem. I could not speak English.
The only place I could feel at peace was going to church.” Three years ago Ramon met Flo, the love of
his life. They were married and have a
bouncing daughter named Jennifer, 2 years old.
worked second shift (3:00-11:00 p.m.) at a meat-packing plant. His work schedule left him little time with
his family. His wife worked during the
day cleaning hotel rooms. Ramon had a
plan. He was going to look for a day
shift so he will be able to spend time with his wife and daughter in the
Where to find a job in a tight economy? Ramon went all over searching. One day he heard an employment agency was
taking applications. Off he went to the
agency. While filling out his
application, he and two others were surrounded by police. The agency discovered that he and the others
presented false documents. The three
were taken directly to the county jail, where Ramon has waited for the last six
months. Ramon’s goal for a new job, and
to be able to spend more time with his family has now turned into experiencing
once a week, 15-minute visits. No
physical contact, just smiles and tears that cross the thick glass.
shares that each day there is a gamut of emotions. He wants to be deported, like Kathy. Time behind bars seems useless to him. He hopes his times in court will lead to his
return to Mexico. Sometimes there is no
translator present in court, and he will have to return another day for a
Flo tries to keep the house together. Their little girl Jennifer seems to cry more
and more because she misses Daddy. Flo
often worries about how the bills will be paid.
Her hours cleaning at the hotel are erratic. Sometimes she works two days a week,
sometimes four days a week--never the same and always the worry.
Isabel, mother of a two-year-old and a one-year-old, feels
relieved. Her husband, Pedro, has been
deported after being in prison for nine months.
He is back home in Guatemala. Isabel says that she will go back also, when she gets the money
together. Pedro was arrested after using
false documents to try to get a job at a poultry plant. He was moved from one county jail to
another. Isabel could not visit, so a
weekly call was all that would do. The
visiting hours for Pedro were Tuesday and Saturday from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. There was no way Isabel could make the four-hour
trip with the two children.
Before Pedro was deported, he would spend hours reading the
Bible. “I have lots of time,” he would
say. “I need to do something positive.”
Pedro’s dream was to build a house in Guatemala. I came to the United States not to live here
for the rest of my life. My home is in
Guatemala; my plan was to return in three years, after I had built my house. That is no longer my dream.
Before I would leave, Pedro always asked to pray. His eyes closed, he prayed frequently for his
family, his future and for patience.
There is a sense of peace in his eyes as I watch him behind the thick
What is our image of those who we call illegal?
Our news media makes sure that we know they
are law breakers. One almost gets the
impression that they are terrorists, coming to destroy the U.S. Some may even have an evil purpose. Most want to work to support their families;
to give their children opportunities to go to school, to have a better life
than their parents. Many have been good
neighbors, pay taxes (yes those who receive pay checks, pay federal and state
taxes) and have been models of a strong family life. Not long ago, I heard a woman comment after a
recent poultry plant immigration raid in which hundreds of families went into
hiding. “That Hernandez family that
comes to church each week with all those beautiful children; I had no idea they
were illegal. I used to really like
them. But now I find out they were here
States are responding to the immigration issues more and
more by seeking to enact new laws. The
comment from the States “If the federal government will not take action, we
will.” The new laws proposals often call
for people to carry ID’s. The fear of
racial profiles which can lead to discrimination remains a day to day terror
for undocumented immigrants.
What is the Catholic Church’s position on immigration?
In the 2003 pastoral document, “Stranger No
Longer”, the United States Catholic bishops laid out five basic principles on
issues surrounding illegal immigration, migrants, refugees, and other people on
Persons have the right to find opportunities in their
homelands. All people have the right
to find in their own countries the economic, political, and social
opportunities to live in freedom and dignity and to achieve a full life through
the use of their God-given gifts.
Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves
and their families. The Church
recognizes that all the goods of the earth belong to all people. When persons cannot find employment in their
country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right
to find work elsewhere in order to survive.
Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.
Sovereign nations have the right to control their
borders. The Church recognizes the
right of sovereign nations to control their territories but rejects such
control when it is exerted merely for the purpose of acquiring additional
wealth. More economically powerful
nations, which have the ability to protect and feed their residents, have a
stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows.
Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded
protection. Those who flee wars and
persecution should be protected by the global community. This requires, at a
minimum, that migrants have a right to claim refugee status without
incarceration and to have their claims fully considered by a competent
The human dignity and human rights of all migrants should
be respected. Regardless of their
legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that
should be respected. Often migrants are
subject to punitive laws and harsh treatment from enforcement officers from
both receiving and transit countries.
Government policies that respect the basic human rights of the
undocumented and of refugees are necessary.
The debate on immigration continues and will only get
stronger. Maybe the title of the
bishop’s pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer” can be our guide. Once we get to know the Kathy’s, Ramon’s, and
Pedro’s that live around us, we will begin to see immigrants in a new
light. Maybe we will know them more as
our brothers or sisters.