In honor of National Migration Week (Jan 7-14, 2018) here is a re-posting of a true story that I wrote about a family in our Diocese. May we never lose sight in our ministries of the effect that a parishioner’s legal or illegal immigration status has on the whole family and community. The fear and frustration cannot be ignored in pastoral care. May we unite our voices to the cause for a just, comprehensive immigration reform.
The Day Our American Dream Died
It was a morning like any other. The alarm went off at 4:30am, I hit snooze a couple times and then reluctantly climbed out of bed trying not to wake my three year old daughter. My wife stirred, squinted, looked at the clock and rolled out of bed to start the coffee. The sun had not yet risen, so the house was dark as I started getting ready for work. I thanked God for another day, for my health, for my beautiful wife and daughter and for my two faithful sisters who had moved in with my little family to help out and keep us company. The four of us together had truly been blessed by God and with a lot of hard work had been able to save up to buy a small house in a small town and over the years have fixed it up little by little. We were even able to send some money back to our mother to help pay off some of her debt.
I could smell the eggs my wife was frying and heard my sisters taking their showers across the house. I wondered if they remembered there was choir practice that night at church and made a mental note to remind them. I again thanked God for our parish community which has been such a vital and central element in our lives in this foreign land. In our home town in Mexico we rarely attended Mass, but here it seems that we cling to our faith so much more strongly and have come to truly appreciate our Catholic heritage. We have learned more about our faith than I had ever imagined we would and through our leadership in the parish have had the chance to serve the community and minister to the more recent immigrants as they searched for their own church home.
As we all sat down in the kitchen for breakfast my sleep-eyed daughter came out of the bedroom ready for her daily dose of Froot Loops. I laughed imagining my mother’s reaction to her granddaughter already at three years old so accustomed to “American” food. She already chastises me for the way my daughter mixes her English and Spanish when we call home on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes I have to remind myself that my daughter was born here and will inevitably be a mix of our Mexican heritage and her own homeland of rural western Kentucky. Although I wish my mom could be a stronger influence on my daughter, I also know that my hometown is no longer a safe place to raise a family. My siblings are always telling me of the violence caused by the drug traffickers and I thank God for this little piece of land in a quiet town where my daughter feels safe enough to run and play in our yard.
My wife went to the living room with my daughter to turn on the morning cartoons when we all heard someone banging on the front door. Who could be knocking at such an early hour? Is there an emergency with my brothers-in-law in the next town over? We could certainly sense the urgency of the knocking. My older sister pulled back the curtain, quickly pulled back her hand and turned to us with a sense of shock clearly on her face as she described the scene outside our window. There were almost a dozen cars – local police, sheriff department vehicles and even a couple unmarked cars. There were police officers surrounding the house and the person banging on our door was not a concerned relative but rather a uniformed man with ICE POLICE on his jacket.
I couldn’t believe it. Surely there had been a mistake. My family hadn’t committed any violent crimes. We were not armed and dangerous. Could all of this ruckus really be about something we had done? I opened the door and the entire entourage barged into my living room guns in hand. I was dumbfounded. My head was spinning as I was finally able to answer yes, I was in fact the man whose name appeared on the arrest warrant the official had and I had in fact been served a voluntary deportation order from an immigration judge. As I tried to explain what had happened I was handcuffed and brought down to the driveway and placed in a police car.
Alone in the dark car my mind drifted back to that fateful day when the judge had told my wife and I that we were to pack our things and leave the country within 90 days. We were shocked. We had been assured that we qualified for asylum and thought this court visit was just a formality – part of the complicated immigration system we had tried so hard to understand. When we had come three years earlier we were so desperate for a work permit we were willing to pay whatever it took to go through the paperwork and jump all the hoops. We had just learned that we were pregnant with our first child and were looking forward to building our life in a safe, peaceful town. How could we go back and raise our daughter among drug war violence? How would we ever make ends meet and make a home in a place practically void of opportunity? When the judge ordered us to leave we made the difficult decision to stay. We knew it was a risk, but we felt we had no choice.
I was jolted back to reality as the immigration official and police officers filed out of my house…alone…where was the rest of my family? What was going to happen to them? It was the next day that I was finally able to communicate with them and find out what had happened. My wife and daughter were allowed to stay in the house but were summoned to immigration court in Louisville. I was detained, moved several times then deported back to Mexico. My wife was given a voluntary departure order and had to return to immigration court each week and in four weeks she had bought their plane tickets, sold whatever she could, packed what they could carry and she and my daughter boarded a plane back to Mexico. Our American dream had died.
This is a true story of a family in our Diocese. It is played out over and over again all over our Diocese, our state and our country. The details may change but the underlying story remains the same. The American dream is dying for so many immigrant families. Our neighbors, our fellow parishioners, members of our one family under God, are suffering the effects of a broken immigration system and international policies and realities outside of their control. This is why I have joined the movement for an immigration reform. Will you join me by adding your voice to the Justice for Immigrants Campaign in support of a just and comprehensive reform of our immigration system? Go to www.justiceforimmigrants.org to find out how. As long as we remain silent the stories continue…