Migration Stories Increase Awareness at Washington State Catholic Parish
Four decades ago, members of St. Michael Parish helped the Pham family, refugees who escaped Vietnam by boat and were rescued by the U.S. Navy, with their resettlement in the United States. Nhi Pham, now a local area dentist, was a member of the family and recently shared her migration story with a gathering at St. Michael’s. The parish’s event helped participants “have a better understanding of how our helping refugees helps fulfill Christ’s commandment that we love one another,” said Deacon Gene Vanderzanden of St. Michael’s.
‘Families helping families’
Event attendees included parishioner Catherine Parks, who said her parents, Lawrence and Dorothy Rowe, were among the St. Michael’s families who helped the Pham family find a place to live and welcomed them into the parish community. Parks, who was in her 20s then and teaching kindergarten, remembers seeing the Phams at church and having potlucks at each other’s homes. “They got introduced to our food, and we got introduced to theirs,” she said.
“Growing up, I loved church potlucks,” Nhi Pham said. “They’re all about fellowship and community and celebrating the most precious gifts we have to share.”
Parks also recalled Nhi Pham’s first day in her kindergarten class. She “came and stood beside me, not saying a word, and that was OK,” Parks said.
Pham recalled how Bob and Anne Oman (former parishioners who attended the event) donated a blue Chevy Nova so her parents could take ESL classes at the local college. The Omans, godparents to Pham’s brother Peter, surprised the family one year by leaving a Christmas tree on their porch. “We thrived because it was community-based support through faith,” said Pham. “It was families helping families. That they donated out of love meant so much to us.”
‘Your blessing can multiply’
Nhi Pham works to give back to her community. In addition to running her dental practice, Pham volunteers with Medical Relief International and has traveled to Haiti, Central America, Tanzania and Lesvos, Greece, where she cared for Afghan and Syrian refugees. Locally, she also volunteers with Medical Teams International by serving on a mobile dental van throughout Washington state. Pham said it’s a way to express her faith and pay forward the generosity her family experienced when they arrived in the U.S. “Your investment in another human being may be the seed of change for many,” Pham said. “Your blessing can multiply into multiple blessings.”
Read the entire, longer story at the Northwest Catholic.
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From May 12th to August 8th 2018, Alana Murphy biked 4,380 miles across the United States in order to meet with and interview people who came to the U.S. as refugees. Her project is called the Beautiful Crossing – a digital archive presenting participant stories and photos, as well as snapshots of Murphy’s cycling tour and additional resources for those seeking more information about the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
Although Murphy is only 26 years old, she has spent the past 8 years working with refugee and migrant populations in Jordan, Morocco, the Philippines, Ecuador, and the United States. She was particularly inspired by her experiences working as an employment counselor with World Relief Chicago, helping resettled refugees prepare for interviews and find their first jobs in her home city.
The Beautiful Crossing was born out of the realization that very few people have had the opportunity to actually meet individuals from a refugee background. This lack of personal connection enables us to often put refugees in two different categories – either villain or victim. The Beautiful Crossing seeks to humanize the issue and bring refugees’ stories and opinions to those who have not had the chance to hear them in person. Rather than focusing on why someone became a refugee, Murphy chose to instead open up the floor for participants to talk about starting life over in the United States as well as to express their opinions about U.S. culture and values. She hopes the project will present a more nuanced and personal perspective on the now politically divisive word “refugee.”
Many participants shared memories from their first few months in the United States. One girl laughingly told about her first trip to McDonalds. Another relayed the shock he felt upon entering a pet store and eyeing the entire aisle devoted purely to canine consumption. One man explained how respected and trusted he felt the first time he was able to return something and receive a full refund. Participants frequently expressed appreciation for U.S. values including freedom, hard work, and individuality. They talked about the importance of being able to express their opinions, pursue continuing education courses later in life, and create small business, churches, and community organizations. They also confessed fears of their children becoming disrespectful and following negative examples set by their American peers, concerns about school violence, and frustration with discrimination and racism in the United States.
During her journey, Murphy worked with 30 different organizations involved in refugee resettlement and advocacy. She interviewed 68 different individuals from a diverse array of countries, including Bhutan, Burma, Nepal, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Colombia, Guatemala, and Bosnia. You can listen to these New Americans tell their stories in their own words at www.beautifulcrossing.com.
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The Faces of Migration feature this week is courtesy of the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, a JFI core member organization. In the story, a lifelong resident of the U.S./Mexico border region shares her thoughts about life and values in the area where she lives. You can read the entire story here.
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What a border resident thinks of border policies
With so much heated rhetoric and misinformation, it’s hard to have a clear picture about what’s really happening in the US/Mexico border region. That’s why it’s crucial to listen to the people who know it best: border residents. Cynthia Gonzalez is a native resident of the US-Mexico border region and is currently pursuing a Masters in Social Work. Cynthia has volunteered with different community organizations in El Paso, TX, including: Centro de Salud Familiar La Fe, Centro Agrario Sin Fronteras, and the Columban Mission Center.
At the Columban Mission Center, Cynthia supported different faith-based, immigration advocacy efforts. She has also participated in advocacy and leadership development projects with the Hope Border Institute, an advocacy and research office in the Diocese of El Paso, and volunteers at their immigrant and refugee shelter. Cynthia shares some thoughts about border life.
What changes have you seen on the US/Mexico border over the decades?
The most significant changes started taking place after 9/11. Residents began to see a drastic increase in law enforcement presence. This presence inevitably made my community change. For instance, it made it more difficult to commute between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. The high-level of security and the long waiting lines started to deter people from traveling between cities. For us, this had a huge impact because we are one community of two cities. Most of us have family on both sides of the border and commuting is just part of our daily life.
How do border enforcement policies play out in border communities?
Historically, our communities have been places of encounter. Border enforcement policies instead instill a sense of fear and distrust, and also have a direct impact on businesses, deterring tourism and stifling the economic growth of the region.
What are your thoughts on the rhetoric surrounding the border?
We are a welcoming community. Our people are generous and kind. The rhetoric about our communities is dangerous and untrue. My city, in particular, has been noted as one of the safest cities in the U.S. I believe this is thanks in part to our large immigrant population and our diverse roots. We take care of each other. We support each other. Any rhetoric that portrays something different is a result of misinformation.
From your perspective, what do border communities need?
We need policies that reflect the reality of the border and seriously consider the challenges that we experience here. I believe policymakers would really benefit from hearing our perspective when they try to write effective policy.
Why is faith-based advocacy on the border important?
Our community is driven by faith and moral values. We understand the importance of helping those who suffer and are vulnerable – just like the Gospel asks us to. Faith-based advocacy organizations have been a vital support to our region. The various religious organizations have been at the forefront, leading the way to protect the most vulnerable.
What do you want people who don’t live on the border to know about border communities?
I want them to know that we are strong, we are unique, and we are welcoming. To anyone not living on the border, I personally want to invite them to come and see it for themselves. I guarantee that they will be surprised by the kindness and hospitality that this community offers.
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The Faces of Migration feature for this week is courtesy of Sister Ann Scholz, SSD, PhD. Sr. Ann is the Associate Director for Social Mission at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a JFI core member organization, and shares an important update on the work of women religious as they assist migrants arriving at the U.S./Mexico border.
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Congregations of Women Religious Respond to Migrant Needs at the Border
A few weeks ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that they would no longer be detaining apprehended individuals in holding cells for any length of time. Instead, ICE would release immigrants, some with ankle monitors, with instructions to report for their asylum hearings at a later date. Shortly after ICE’s announcement, the call for help went out from those staffing respite centers at the U.S./Mexico border. Respite staff working along the U.S./Mexico border knew that if they couldn’t provide needed hospitality, ICE would simply release people onto the streets. The response from congregations of U.S. women religious to assist with that call to accompany at the border has been tremendous.
More than 10 Catholic sisters and their colleagues are volunteering with Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas; La Posada Providencia in San Benito, Texas; Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley’s Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas; and Catholic Charities’ Las Alitas in Tucson, Arizona. These Catholic women are serving meals and cleaning rooms, providing rides to bus stations and packing care packages for travelers. They are helping with medical needs and communication with family in the U.S. and assisting with language interpretation and travel arrangements. They are also making beds and sorting clothes; reading to children and praying with parents.
In addition, religious congregations throughout the country have been very generous in their financial support. To date women’s religious congregations have contributed close to $220,000 to help purchase food and supplies for the centers, provide legal assistance and care packages for immigrants, and to help hire extra staff to assist asylum seekers. With their combined on-the-ground and financial assistance, these women are demonstrating compassion while providing hope to individuals and families simply looking to live in peace.
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The Faces of Migration story this week is courtesy of Sister Richelle Friedman, PBVM. Sr. Richelle represents the Conference of Presentation Sisters, JFI’s newest core member organization, and shares reflections from her recent participation in the Nuns on the Bus tour. You can read Sr. Richelle’s entire post here.
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Sr. Rachelle Friedman joined 10 other Catholic Sisters on a cross country bus tour to combat the myth that the tax bill passed last year benefits everyone, and that cuts in programs critical to the most vulnerable are necessary to pay for it. Participants in their tour’s town halls, rallies and press conferences were aware of the cuts being proposed to safety net and humanitarian assistance programs. The concerns they voiced focused on a variety of issues, including immigration.
Amazing and brave people shared their stories with Sr. Richelle and her tour mates. In Beaver, Pennsylvania, a farmer named Don expressed his concern about U.S. immigration and refugee policies. A group he is part of, Ananias Mission, raised money to give to Canada in support of six Syrian refugees who the United States would not accept.
Nuns on the Bus also held site visits, including a memorable one in Kearney, New Jersey. The group First Friends was started in 1999 to provide compassion and hope to detained immigrants and asylum-seekers through volunteer visitation, resettlement assistance, and advocacy. One newly released detainee who had just been granted asylum recounted to the sisters his overwhelming sense of loneliness and despair in the ICE detention facility. He told them that no one ever referred to him by his name, but rather by his bed number. When someone from First Friends came and called him ‘Robert’, it was the first time he heard his name uttered in months. Staff at First Friends are beloved by the detainees who think of them as family.
It was an amazing journey! Everywhere they went crowds eagerly awaited their arrival. The coming of the tour bus and its passengers seemed affirming and energizing for those waiting for them. For Sr. Richelle and the others, it was equally energizing and humbling. At one of their final stops, Sr. Richelle met Michael, a student at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. Michael is a bright and articulate young man and believes in doing service. Michael and so many of the others they met serving those in need give Sr. Richelle great hope!
Photo from Angelus News (Archdiocese of Los Angeles)
The Faces of Migration story this week is courtesy of Sister Janice Thome, OP who serves with the Dominican Sisters Ministry of Presence. Sr. Janice works in Kansas with immigrants and refugees and shares this true story of “Ana” and her family fleeing from Honduras.
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Ana was working in a restaurant when gang members flew through the front doors to kill a wealthy man surrounded by body guards. Some of the guards and gang members were killed. Because she was a witness to the shootings, Ana knew she would be killed so she ran out the back. A man caught her and for 10 minutes pointed the gun at her nose. The mother of three children prayed for God to save her. The man ran off, the a miracle.
The family knew the man could kill Ana if he saw her so they decided it was time to leave Honduras. In addition to this violent episode, the family considered leaving before because of their children. Frequently, boys in ninth or tenth grade are approached by cartel members wanting them to be drug mules or to kidnap people for money. If they resist, they are told that their entire family will be killed by the cartel. Ana and her husband did not want their sons to face this choice. They wanted to come to the U.S. so they could all be safe.
Ana, her husband and three children boarded a bus and began the long trek across Guatemala, along the vast expanse of Mexico, and finally to the border of Texas. Like so many immigrants flooding into the southern states, once across the U.S./Mexico border, Ana and her family were apprehended by immigration officials, hopeful that they would be granted asylum. The coyote separated them, she with their two sons and he with their daughter. The rationale for the separation was that it would ensure that her husband could also safely apply for asylum.
The family lived a nightmare for several days in separate places. ICE officials took all their IDs, her jewelry, went through their hair, and gave full pat-downs. They took their fingerprints and pictures. Officials wanted addresses and phone numbers of family members in the U.S. so they could prove that someone would take them in. Fortunately, they had family in different states whose information they had memorized. While they waited for their family members to send money for bus tickets, they were housed in a cold detention center where they slept on the floor and had small snack meals twice a day.
The family was thankful when they made it to their destinations and were finally able to reunite. The relief was so deep because they were safe and at peace knowing the man would not find Ana, and their two sons would not be forcefully coerced into a gang or cartel.
This Faces of Migration feature is of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, the patron saint of the Philippines and migrant workers. Many thanks to the Office of Justice and Peace at the Diocese of Portland, Oregon for providing most of information for this week’s story. You can read more at https://ljp.archdpdx.org/news/saints-alive-september-29-st-lorenzo-ruiz
This Saturday, September 29th is Saint Lorenzo Ruiz’s 377th death anniversary. The first Filipino saint, also known as San Lorenzo Ruiz de Manila, died as a martyr in Nagasaki, Japan in 1637 at the age of 34.
Lorenzo was born in Manila of a Chinese father and a Filipino mother, both Christians. He learned Chinese and Tagalog from his parents, and Spanish from the Dominicans whom he served as altar boy and sacristan. He became a professional calligrapher, transcribing documents in beautiful penmanship. He was a full member of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary under Dominican auspices.
In 1636, while working as a clerk for the Catholic church in his town, Ruiz was falsely accused of killing a Spaniard. Nothing further is known except the statement of two Dominicans that “he was sought by the authorities on account of a homicide to which he was present or which was attributed to him.”
Ruiz sought asylum1 on board a ship by joining a missionary expedition to Japan with three Dominican priests: Saint Antonio Gonzalez, Saint Guillermo Courtet, and Saint Miguel de Aozaraza; a Japanese priest, Saint Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz; and a lay leper Saint Lázaro of Kyoto. Ruiz and his companions left for Japan on 10 June 1636, with the aid of the Dominican fathers.
Ruiz accompanied his missionary companions to Nagasaki, where Christians were being captured and persecuted due to Japan’s wariness of foreign colonialism. According to accounts, the Japanese promised Ruiz that they would free him if he would denounce Christianity. Ruiz along with his companions refused to renounce Christianity, with the Filipino boldly saying he would offer a thousand deaths for Christ. They were tortured and put to death. His martyrdom and a miracle attributed to his intervention led to his elevation to Sainthood.
Pope John Paul II beatified Ruiz in 1981 during his visit to the Philippines, later canonizing him as the Philippines’ first saint in 1987.
Jose was six months old when his father left Mexico to find work and support his young family. Three and a half years later, Jose and his mom left their home in Mexico to re-unite with his dad in the United States. Although “coyotes” were paid to guide Jose and his mother across the U.S./Mexico border, they got lost for four days in the desert. When they were all reunited as a family in southern Ohio, Jose was enrolled in school and his family started to plant roots in their community. Later, Jose’s two U.S.-citizen siblings were born. Unfortunately, Jose was diagnosed with a learning disability, and more difficulties struck when his parents’ marriage broke apart and his father left. His mother was unable to provide fully for Jose and his siblings and the family was homeless for a time after the break up. All of this happened before he was ten. Despite the hardships growing up, Jose was mentored by caring folks in his community, stayed out of trouble, helped other Spanish speaking immigrants in his neighborhood, and finished high school. After high school, Jose enrolled at Xavier University in Cincinnati, was approved and received DACA, and graduated earlier this year. While in college, Jose was active with Jesuit youth and other student groups advocating for immigrants and DACA youth. This year, Jose will be in Washington, DC working at Network as an advocacy/lobby associate and plans to use his DACA experience, Jesuit education and youthful energy to promote legislation and policies that help immigrants and their families.
Carmen*, originally from Honduras, received comprehensive case management services from Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston through the Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (TVAP). She was sex trafficked in Miami and fled to Houston to ensure she was not located by traffickers. Upon arrival to Houston, she had little to no support from friends or family, was suffering with symptoms of anxiety and depression due to the trauma, and also had serious medical issues. These medical problems were caused after the trafficker subjected her to plastic surgery involving injecting synthetic silicone to make her more appealing to customers. This harmful silicone caused the client to experience severe pain to the point that she could not stand or sit for more than 2 hours at a time. Surgeons had little knowledge of the type of silicone injected and the only solution offered was to remove the entire area which would cause a major deformity. Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston’s case manager assisted her client in finding better options. She and Catholic Charities staff located a surgeon that could remove the harmful silicone without causing deformities. The subsequent challenge was finding the financial assistance to cover the cost for this procedure.
The case manager at Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston refused to give up. She connected her client to Face Forward, an organization dedicated to help victims of trafficking cover costs related to medical issues caused during their victimization. Client will undergo surgery on July 27, 2018. Her surgeon has offered a great prognosis.
During this difficult time, Catholic Charities’ case manager provided the client with emotional support and psychoeducation. She also referred her to mental health services where she received therapy once a week, as well as established care from a psychiatrist. The client also obtained food, personal hygiene products, transportation services, donated clothing, orientation to community programs like ESL classes, and long-term housing assistance.
This past January, Catholic Charities’ client received wonderful news. Her T-Visa was approved and her Employment Authorization Card arrived. Her case manager assisted her with applying for a social security number, Texas identification, food stamps (SNAP), and Medicaid benefits. The client is currently working with Catholic Charities employment services to find dignified work.
This young woman continues with mental health therapy and leverages community resources, including those at Catholic Charities. The trauma-informed case management provided by TVAP has made a difference in her life. It has empowered her to take control of her life once again and continue to pursue her dreams. She is hopeful and excited for the future.
*Identifying information changed to protect identity
In January 2017, Rossul shared her resettlement journey and experiences on what it’s like to be an immigrant teen in the United States.
Family Background and Migration Story
I was born in 1995 in Baghdad; all of my family are Muslims. We left Iraq in August 2015 because of the unsafe situation there and the lack of basic necessities, including electricity and clean water.. We went to Jordan then to Turkey and finally resettled in Illinois. It took four days of travel and, alhamdu lil lah, which means “thanks God”, we didn’t face any issues on our way.
Life here is so different than in Iraq, but I am almost used to it after finishing two years of college, obtaining my driving license and getting married. It was hard at the beginning to start a new life with nothing. However, my family and I did a great job to build our life again. As an adult, I don’t care about what people think about me or my religion as long as I know that I am doing the right thing. I love this country. I live a good and peaceful life today and am thankful to the people who brought me here and helped me to resettle. Within five years I see myself working in the hospital as an ultrasound specialist, living with my lovely husband, near my family, with a little child, and in a calm house.
Before I came to the U.S., I wish I knew the people here don’t speak the English we learned in school, but use more “common” language. Leaving my relatives and friends was the hardest thing…finding real friends or any sort of friends has also proven difficult. Work hard because you can do anything in this country.
My advice for parents: This is different than your home country and you should teach your kids to adopt this new culture and live with it. Be a friend to your children and always tell them to stay away from bad influences like drugs, bad relationships, etc.
My advice for teachers: Understand that for us, English is a second language. Please be patient and understand our needs. Learning English is the main issue for all refugees.
My advice for immigrant teens: Don’t forget your culture and your religion. Be proud of who you are. Don’t let this new life let you down or make you think bad about yourself – you are special. Chase your dreams and study hard so you can be an important individual in this society; represent and make your country proud.
*Photo changed to protect identity
I left my Central American country as a 16-year old boy, leaving behind my mother and sister in our hometown. I left because the gangs wanted to kill me and because of this I decided to travel to the United States by myself. It took almost a month to make the passage through Central America and Mexico. I traveled by buses, cars and walking, and made the decision not to take the dangerous and notorious train that migrants call La Bestia. It was an exhausting journey. After being process by an immigration official I was placed in a child shelter facility. After two and a half months, I had the great fortune to be resettled by a local Catholic Charities agency in the Northwest. Agency staff made sure I was placed in a safe home with a caring family, helped me adjust and get acclimated to my new life, and encouraged me to perform well in school. I graduated from high school, moved on to a community college, and will graduate with my Associate of Arts degree this summer. A big-city university is providing me with a full scholarship to continue my studies next year where I plan to major in Medical Social Work. I hope to be a medical social worker after graduating from the university. As a way of giving back for the kindness and nurturing they provided, I am interning this summer with the Catholic church by working in the diocese’s farmworker assistance program and helping immigrant families and kids.
*Some information changed to protect identity.
MRS Policy Director Ashley Feasley recently had the opportunity to visit Montreal, Canada to see the refugee resettlement program, tour the U.S./Canadian border, and observe the work of the Jesuit network. The trip was organized and led by Ignatian Solidarity Network, Jesuit Refugee Services, and the Jesuit Conference of North America and Canada. During the delegation’s trip, they met and spoke with Alina,* who lives in a community in the Quebec province close to Montreal. She is from Syria and arrived in Canada this past February as a refugee resettled through Canada’s private refugee resettlement program. Alina emigrated from Lebanon where she had been working to help other recent Syrian arrivals. Despite living in Lebanon for many years, Alina was separated from her family who lived near Homs. Alina was selected for private resettlement after Mark, a Canadian who had read about the refugee crisis several years ago, had organized with his parish to do more to help refugees. Mark personally decided to sponsor refugees through private settlement. He contacted Jesuit Refugee Services of Canada who connected him to Alina and helped him with the paperwork. Under Canada’s private sponsorship program, Mark sponsored Alina for one year, taking financial responsibility for her and to ensure that she can access services as she integrates into her community.
Alina has already demonstrated remarkable resiliency and success. Upon arrival, she threw herself into an intensive French course to help her master the language. She then worked with career counseling services to work on her resume and practice for job interviews. By the middle of May, Alina had received an offer of employment at a private business. Alina seemed excited to start her new job and she spoke about some of the initiatives that she had undertaken to meet more people in her community – which included preparing baklava for some of Mark’s neighbors and fellow parishioners. Despite her recent positive experience, Alina spoke of missing her family and how they are calling her now more than ever – sometimes several times a day. Of her family, Alina says, “they call more when I go further away from them-it’s a way for them to be closer to me even when we are further apart.”
Special Thanks to Ignatian Solidarity Network, JRS and Jesuit Conference of US and Canada.
Every Mother’s Day we honor the mothers in our lives and celebrate the vital role they play in our families. It is an opportunity to come together and remember the blessings of family and to reflect on how important it is, not only to ourselves but to the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, we know many children have been unnecessarily separated from their mothers – and fathers – while trying to seek protection at our southern border; these children will be spending this holiday alone.
Over the past year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection has increasingly chosen to separate children from their parents and legal guardians at the U.S./Mexico border. Since October 2017, over 700 children have been separated from their parents and rendered “unaccompanied,” including over 100 children under the age of four. We expect this number to drastically increase with the recent “zero-tolerance” policy.
Many of these immigrant families are fleeing from violence and persecution in their home countries, and seeking safety and protection for their children here in the U.S. While separation can be appropriate when there are trafficking or abuse concerns, more often such separation is occurring in the absence of such justifications. For example, a mother and her 3-year-old son Daniel* fled from Guatemala to the U.S. to escape persecution by the local gangs. Upon their arrival at the U.S./Mexico border Daniel was separated from his mother by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, deemed “unaccompanied,” and placed in a separate ORR facility from her. It seems that CBP agents were confused as to the nature of their relationship and believed Daniel to be traveling with his aunt. While their parent/child relationship has since been confirmed, Daniel’s mother continues to be held in an immigrant detention facility. As of today, both mother and toddler have still not been reunited with each other.
Separation from a parent or legal guardian can have extremely adverse effects on children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, separating families is extremely frightening and stressful to children, and their research has shown that even short periods of separation can cause psychological trauma and long-term mental health problems.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where I interned last semester, is very concerned about the increasing number of cases of family separation. Catholic Social Teaching underscores the importance of the family and its essential role to the individual and society. When families are ripped apart and children separated from their parents for no reason, something must be done to right this wrong. We must work to ensure that all immigrant families and children who are detained are not needlessly separated from one another and that they are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve. So, this Mother’s Day while many of us are celebrating with our families, I encourage you to remember children like Daniel who are unable to do the same with their parents.
*Client name changed to protect confidentiality.
Virginia farm country is not a place where you would necessarily expect to find newcomers. Many of these small towns’ residents have grown up there, with their families living in the area for generations. So, when there are new people in town, the locals take notice. This is exactly what happened in a small mining and farming town in southwest Virginia when four Salvadoran men arrived.
These men, all related, are Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients. They came to the small town to work for a local who needed help building his ranch. While the town members were initially wary, as time went on, the locals began to embrace these men. As a Catholic Monsignor who ministers to the community put it, “I got to know these men as workers and then as friends. I know them to be outstanding men.” They were seen around the community, not just on the ranch, but doing whatever jobs they could so that they could make ends meet and help their families. The town came to rely on and value these new members of their community, affectionately dubbing them “The Amigos.”
Unfortunately, their families back in El Salvador faced daily violence. It was known by the local gangs in El Salvador that the men were sending money back home, and their families became the gangs’ targets. Due to these threats, the men applied for their sons to be brought to the United States through the small but critical Central American Minors (CAM) Program.
With the assistance of the USCCB network and the Monsignor, the men completed the rigorous paperwork, paid the related fees, and their sons completed the required testing. One boy even received notice of his conditional approval for humanitarian parole. It was a joyous and hopeful time for the families, until they learned of the CAM program’s termination and the corresponding revocation of conditionally approved humanitarian parole. Given the troubling manner in which the program was closed, the families watched their opportunity for protection and reunification vanish. The Monsignor worked to engage members of Congress on this issue, but after months of engagement and effort, no solution has been found. Now these staples of the community face the heartbreaking reality that their sons will remain in harm’s way.
Adding to this deeply disappointing news was the Administration’s recent decision to terminate TPS for El Salvador. With this decision, these men will lose their protection in September 2019, and the small town will lose a major component of its workforce. As the Monsignor stated: “Our community could hardly make it without these men.”
Jose, a Honduran Teen, shared his resettlement journey and experiences with USCCB staff In January 2017
My family and I are originally from a small town of the southwest of Honduras, where my parents worked as farmers. My family is Catholic and has been Catholic for generations.
My parents worked hard to put me in school and sent me to school to a big city because there are no schools at our town. They didn’t have enough to send me to school or college and offer me the opportunities I wanted to have and I was forced to leave the country because the gangs were pressuring me to join. I had to escape because I did not want to participate in that life of crime, of hurting others, I just wanted to go to school.
I left my country when I was twelve with two other boys, ages twelve and fourteen, in 2004. We took a bus to the border of Guatemala. I was scared we would be followed by the gangs. We walked through the mountains to pass the border. Then we hitched rides to the border of Mexico. We had no food and water and we ended up drinking cow urine. Both of my friends died on the journey.
Once I got to the border I stayed for two and a half years living in a migrant house and had to beg for food. I managed to cross the border but a smuggler said he wanted $4,000 to release me from a stash house. I called the family I had in the U.S. but no one answered. In the end, the man took me to California to work in a furniture firm where I worked 12-hour days, six days a week. I worked there for two years and he used to pay me $120 every two months.
When I realized how much others were paid, I was sad. Eventually a different man helped me leave and gave me a place to live and helped me find work. But related to the trafficking situation I was arrested and put in a detention center for eighteen months. The court appointed a lawyer for me and he got me out of detention, and an organization helped me navigate the legal system. I don’t know where I would be now if they hadn’t helped me. Deported? In jail? Dead?
Five years after leaving Honduras, I had the privilege to build a new life in the U.S. I have received so many opportunities and I’m getting where I wanted to be as a child. I am so happy I have a better life and also getting a better education, which my country never offered me. I am so happy that the U.S. gave me the opportunity to resettle and build a new life. I am part of the community and helping shine a light on and bring justice to more victims and survivors like me.
Catholic Charities Atlanta has been very active in telling the stories of refugees. A couple months ago, they kicked off their 120 stories in 120 days campaign, which will tell 120 different stories of clients, staff, volunteers, and community members involved with our resettlement program.
Kimberly Longshore of Catholic Charities Atlanta said, “The goal of this project is to humanize the refugee crisis as we highlight the successes and the contributions that refugees make to their local communities.”
Each day this week, we will highlight different stories from the campaign on our social media pages. Here is the first one:
“Jean recently arrived in the United States with refugee status. After waiting for almost two and a half years, he was happily reunited with his wife and two kids living in the Atlanta area.
Jean spent many years living in Rwandan refugee camps. Conditions of camps were often unstable, and Jean was required to relocate frequently for fear of being caught in a dangerous situation. Life was not easy even when he was not on the move. Running water and electricity were non-existent. It was very difficult having to be dependent upon food arrivals for long stretches of time, especially when essentials food shipments did not arrive regularly. Finding medicine was also a significant challenge, with some medicines being almost impossible to find.
Jean is incredibly grateful to be in the United States now. He is very grateful that his kids are enrolled in school, an option they were denied while in Rwanda. They have a chance to get an education, and he is very thankful for it. His kids now have access to utilities and technology. He does not have to worry about where is food and medicine will come from. He is thankful that America is a place where laws are followed and enforced, and he feels safe because of it. And he is thankful for the people that have helped him and his family to make this transition.”
CCA Refugee Client
To see the rest of the stories and the work Catholic Charities Atlanta is doing, please visit their website.
In honor of National Migration Week 2018, the Seattle Archdiocese, led by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain, have gone all out to celebrate. They are conducting an entire week of celebrations. On January 11th, they will be conducting an Immigration Appointment Accompaniment Volunteer Gathering, a great opportunity to “Share the Journey” by literally walking with immigrants as they attend their immigration appointments. On January 14th, a panel on human trafficking, The Intersection of Human Trafficking and the Contemporary Immigration Crisis will be led by Elizabeth Murphy, Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center–Seattle, and a former JFI core-group all-star! The event promises to be an eye-opening learning experience depicting how human trafficking and the immigration crisis intersect.
The event lead up to the 2nd Annual Catholic Immigration Summit on March 10th. For that event the Archdiocese is asking you to join fellow Catholics to share our immigrant journeys – old and new – and discern where we go together from here. The day concludes with Mass with the Archdiocese’s Auxiliary Bishops Elizondo and Mueggenborg. To register, go to: http://www.seattlearchdiocese.org/Assets/PastoralCare/13714_ImmigrationSummitPoster.pdf
Do you have 2018 National Migration Week events planned? Let us know about them at email@example.com
On December 9, neighborhoods in Washington, DC witnessed a magical moment honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. Slowly proceeding through the snowy Washington streets, an impressive group of pilgrims/parishioners accompanied a statue of Mary, mother of God, to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Conception. During the procession, the group the group sang Spanish hymns dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. They were led by Bishop Mario Dorsonville, Auxiliary Bishop of Washington.
The group had gathered together at noon at the Shrine of the Sacred in Washington and walked peacefully for two and half miles through the snow-covered streets until they reached the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The procession, entitled “Walk with Mary,” is not a new event to the Archdiocese, but the addition of the snow certainly made for an even more beautiful and sacred experience this year.
Upon arriving at the Basilica they joined hundreds of other worshippers in the Church to say a rosary in Spanish, French, English, Igbo, Amharic and Tagalog. Following the rosary there was a Mass, which was celebrated by Cardinal Wuerl with Bishop Dorsonville as the homilist. The spirit along the procession and inside the Basilica was one of community and excitement, as children sat alongside elders waiting to celebrate mass and Our Lady of Guadalupe.
For more information about Our Lady of Guadalupe, read our backgrounder (Spanish) and to learn about Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations in your community, see our map. As always, we invite you to send us stories and pictures from your community’s Our Lady of Guadalupe event to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will promote those as well.
The Central American Minors (CAM) program has provided a legal and safe avenue for children in the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) to access necessary and life-saving protection. Ana is one such child.
Ana was only a young teen, living in the Northern Triangle, when the local gang began to target her. The gang would harass Ana on her way to and from school. They would accost her and try to force her to become their “girlfriend” or property. As Ana continued to deny them, she lived in constant fear for her safety and that of her family. She reached a point where she no longer felt safe anywhere she went.
Ana’s father, who was living in the U.S., helped her apply for the CAM program so that she could escape this constant persecution. With the help of USCCB/MRS and its affiliates, Ana’s application was accepted, and she was reunified with her father in the U.S.
While it was difficult for her to leave her home behind, Ana is deeply thankful for the security and safety that the CAM program provided her and notes that seeing her father “is an everyday blessing.” Since her arrival, Ana no longer feels fear and anxiety living her everyday life. She attends high school and dreams of going to college.
Unfortunately, on November 8th, the Administration announced that it would be terminating the CAM program. Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, expresses his opposition, stating: “Terminating the entire CAM program will neither promote safety for these children nor help our government regulate migration.” Read the full statement at: https://www.usccb.org/news/2017/17-216.cfm.
Mitsu and her brother, born and raised in Haiti, came to the U.S. on student visas to attend college. In 2010, during the course of their studies, Haiti was hit with a 7.0-magnitude earthquake, which devastated the country. Due to the severity of the earthquake, the U.S. government designated Haiti for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). TPS is a temporary, renewable, and statutorily authorized immigration status that allows individuals to remain and work lawfully in the U.S. during a period in which it is deemed unsafe for nationals of that country to return home.
Mitsu and her brother applied for and received TPS, providing them protection and permitting them to continue their studies. Mitsu now works as a physician assistant, allowing her to help finically support her parents back in Haiti. With the current TPS designation for Haiti set to expire shortly, Mitsu’s future is uncertain. As she notes: “The possibility of having the TPS program terminated, and consequently our temporary visas not renewed is a stress that we are constantly living with.”
Mitsu speaks to her parents frequently of conditions in Haiti and knows that the country has not yet recovered from the earthquake and subsequent hurricanes. “Haiti is nowhere near in a condition to support its current residents let alone receive citizens currently living abroad.”
Mitsu hopes that Congress will take action and find a long-term solution for Haitian TPS recipients. “We have done everything the right way [in applying for TPS and consistently renewing]; yet, still find ourselves entangled within the immigration debate.”
To learn more about TPS, please visit our resource page here.
Voice your support for TPS recipients like Mitsu, and urge your Members of Congress to pass appropriate legislation. You can take action here.
Watch for our USCCB/MRS delegation trip report on TPS for Haiti, which will be released shortly.
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“How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers* dwell together as one!” (Psalm 133: 1).
Accompaniment and support from his community made the difference between deportation and life in the United States Luis.⃰ Together with a group from the Indianapolis Congregation Action Network (IndyCan), a Justice for Immigrants (JFI) affiliate, Luis attended his immigration court hearing with the local community behind him. This support made all the difference. While Luis was charged with speeding and driving without a license, he was able to secure a pre-trial release, which meant the charges would not show in his permanent record. This result would not have been possible without the help and support provided to him from IndyCAN and the community. Translation services were not provided through the court, but with IndyCan standing alongside him, translation was provided. Prior to his day in court Luis had surgery and therefore was unable to work to have money available to help in his defense. Members of the group generously offered to cover the extra cost of pre-trial on the spot. Luis was overjoyed by the generosity of those he just met. The monetary and communal support of this group of individuals was something Luis never expected. After the trial, the group debriefed upon the event. This gave them an opportunity to reflect on what ways the court recognized or denied rights, constructed barriers, and how everyone felt participating in the process. The ability to pray together before and after the case allowed Luis to relate more closely to this community and share a little more of his story. Luis is in the process of getting a U visa and will be moving forward with his case and his involvement with IndyCAN and the larger Indianapolis community.
⃰Name changed for protection.
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Ali was born in Somalia and was orphaned along with five siblings when his parents died. He left his country, journeyed through Africa and Europe, and finally ended up in Ukraine. He finally made it to the U.S., graduated from college, and is still working hard to achieve his goals. Living in the U.S. has been a series of challenges for Ali, but he has persevered and also has some advice for parents, teachers and other immigrant teens. He has an inspiring story and, earlier this year, Ali shared his resettlement journey and experiences on what it’s like to be a refugee teen in the United States.
To see more about Ali’s experience click here.
*Picture has been changed to protect identity
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As was the case 170 years ago with early Mormon pioneer families, Aden Batar and his family left their home – Somalia to resettle in a new area and faced the uncertainty of how they were going to re-establish their lives, build a home, and ensure a safe place to live. Batar, who was resettled through Catholic Community Services from Somalia to Utah in 1994 as a Muslim refugee, said the experiences of modern refugees are similar to those of the Mormon pioneers at the resettlement stage. “Same thing with the Mormon Pioneers — when they came to Utah, they found this new land, (start) a new life and make this their home. I consider myself as a pioneer coming to this new community in Utah. I consider this my home now. This is a state, a community that welcomed me and my family, took us in, and helped us to overcome all those challenges.”
Religious discrimination and sacrifice are also among the experiences shared by early Mormons and current “modern-day pioneers.” In the same way that Mormons were forced to flee their homes based on their religious beliefs, there are more than 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced as a result of conflict or religious persecution. This number includes 22.5 million refugees.
Read more about the refugee experience of Batar, who is also the Director of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Community Services in the Diocese of Salt Lake City, and the rest of the story at
Because of DACA, I can “study / work in an area that I really want to / drive / help my family / travel / breathe / have a life.” These are some of the responses we hear from Asian American and other DACA beneficiaries. DACA refers to a highly successful program that allows undocumented youth who meet certain requirements to live and work in the U.S. temporarily. Since the program started in 2012, it has had a transformative impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of youth and their communities.
The threat of DACA cancellation moved us to action, bringing together immigrants, faith leaders, and other supporters to fight for our youth and future. NAKASEC and the Franciscan Action Network initiated a 22-day, 24/hour a day, picket in front of the White House since August 15th (fifth anniversary of DACA implementation) to call on the White House and Congress to defend DACA and promote citizenship for all. The action goes through 9/5. Many faith leaders and organizations have joined in the vigil, including Catholic groups that are part of Justice for Immigrants. The Justice for Immigrants campaign encourages you to review the following materials and support the vigil and other peaceful efforts to highlight the contributions of DACA Youth:
Faith communities are calling for seven-day fast from 8/30 – 9/5 https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdsuwsw5DL4u-hO9mQEJc2fzSABeldeD8WJb06ClRVd5yzp6A/viewform
For more information about #DreamAction17, go to www.nakasec.org/act. Or www.Franciscanaction.org. If you’re in the D.C. area, join us at the White House. You can show your support also by signing the JFI petition here.
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security terminated the Central American Minors (CAM) parole program. This program provided critical temporary protection and a legal avenue for vulnerable children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to reunify with their parents in United States. Through this program, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops / Migration and Refugee Services was able to assist children like Lucia – whose story is below – escape violence and find safety in the U.S.
Lucia* was living in El Salvador with her grandmother when, at the age of 16, she became a target for local gangs. After refusing to become a gang member’s “girlfriend,” the gang threatened Lucia’s life as well as that of her family. Facing daily harassment, Lucia lived in constant fear for her safety. She could no longer even attend school due to the danger posed by the gang. Through the CAM parole program, Lucia was able to find a safe and legal way to escape this danger and reunite with her mother who was living in the United States. Without the daily threat of violence hanging over her, Lucia is thriving. She is attending high school and maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
*Name and photo image changed to protection privacy.
For several centuries, Our Lady of Guadalupe has offered her protection and sustenance to all the inhabitants of the Americas. The nations of the Americas are one, bound together by the presence of the Lady of Tepeyac. And as the world continues to come to this continent seeking a new home, the “Mother of the True God for whom we live,” calls us to become part of the divine family. For this reason, Our Lady of Guadalupe invites us to enter into solidarity with the migrant and the refugee. Guadalupe erases the divisions that exists between peoples and invites them to an encounter that establishes kinship. In Guadalupe we are invited to encounter those who are suffering, the persecuted, the forgotten. We are called to approach them not as “the other,” but rather as brother and sister.
The archdiocesan tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe is visiting parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. The pilgrim tilma is bringing the message of Guadalupe to all those who profess the faith that makes us universal. At each parish, Our Lady invites the faithful to come together for prayer and reflection in solidarity with migrants and refugees. By the time of our annual celebration on December 9, Guadalupe will have visited 20 parishes. Each time planting a seed of hope in the heart of those who see the world branding them as a problem and a burden. Guadalupe offers hope for those who come to our parishes seeking restoration in the same way Guadalupe restored Juan Diego’s humanity.
The traveling pilgrim tilma serves as a call for all individuals throughout the Archdiocese of Washington to join in prayer and support for our migrant brothers and sisters. For more information, please visit the Archdiocesan website: http://adw.org/wwm/.
Thank you to the Archdiocese of Washington for helping with this story.
In Cincinnati, a 78 year-old man who grew up and survived during the Jim Crow era of his native Georgia develops a friendship with a Syrian Muslim refugee father of five despite their 42 year age difference. What brings them together is hard work, finding refuge – five decades apart – in the same town, and a shared experience as newcomers to Cincinnati looking for a safe place to work and raise a family.
“When I met him, he reminded me of myself,” Clarence Howell said, 57 years after leaving the deep south. His friend, Bassam Osman, 36, came from Aleppo, where war has claimed 31,000 lives and destroyed more than 33,000 buildings. He worked in a shoe factory before it was bombed.
With the assistance of the local Catholic Charities agency and USCCB-provided refugee support funding, the two men work mending shoes at Howell’s shoe repair shop and developed a bond that is more than boss and employee.
“He is a great man,” Osman said. “I can tell he cares about me and my family.
To read more of this story, click here.
(Photo credit: Liz Dufour, The Enquirer)
I have lived in the United States for 20 years as of this past December. I am 29 years old. My parents made a decision to bring my family here in an emergency because my father’s mother, who lived in the United States, was gravely ill and had not seen her son for more than 20 years or met his family. At the age of 10, I just thought I was visiting my grandmother. Six months later, my grandmother passed away. After this terrible tragedy, I realized we were not going back to my little hometown in Veracruz, Mexico.
I learned to speak and write fluent English by 8th grade, and I was determined to excel in school. For survival, there was no other option. My parents struggled to provide the upbringing and education that most American children take for granted. In high school, I excelled in honors and AP courses and was fortunate to have dedicated, loving teachers who kept me on track to graduate and apply to college.
When it was time to fill out college applications, neither my parents nor I had a Social Security number. That meant that I could not apply for federal financial aid or grants. This did not stop me from going forward. I limited myself to three college applications because my parents could not afford more application fees. My great fortune in landing at Loyola Marymount University is due to a teacher who persuaded me to apply for the Social Justice Scholarship for undocumented students at LMU. Receiving my acceptance letter and phone call from LMU about my scholarship was like winning the lottery.
In June 2012, President Barack Obama instituted the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy. This provided me an opportunity to finally contribute and work in my field of study. I have renewed DACA twice and I work as an engineer.
Being able to put my degree and education to work has been the most rewarding part of this journey. I now am able to contribute to our community and provide for my family. I have two small children, and I am the primary breadwinner for my family. This could all disappear if the DACA program is not continued by President Donald Trump. The thought of taking my family back to my home country has been on my mind for many years. Yet moving my U.S.-born children to what to them is a foreign country would be heartbreaking. In many ways, they would be forced to experience the same sort of displacement that I did as a child. They know the United States as their home. It is, indeed, their only home.
My work permit expires next year, and my family’s security and peace are at stake. Without a clear path to legalization for me, we will continue to live in limbo, not knowing when I will be targeted for deportation, as many families are now experiencing. My parents made a decision for me 20 years ago because they believed in their hearts they were providing me with a better life. The American Dream was their hope. Yet in the times in which we live, I am not certain this dream still exists for us.
Thank you to LMU Magazine for letting us use this story. To read the full story, click here.
Photo Courtesy of Startingoverutica.com
My family was forced out of our home country of Bhutan for having a different religion, language, and being different. My family fled the country for safety leaving behind their home and life that they had that was of peace. They found themselves refuge in Nepal, and my older brother, myself, and young sister were all born there. After eleven and half years in the camp, we were in the process of being resettled. We didn’t know where we would be going, but we knew that we had something to look forward to and it had to be better than the life we were living. During the process, the small hut we had burned to ashes with thousands of others, so we lived under a plastic tent with the water rushing around us, and monsoon rains and wind pulling us. In hopes to have a life, our family set our foot forward blindly to the U.S., the country of hopes and dreams, to the land of freedom, and a land that promised a future that we never saw before. We were resettled in Georgia and so our life finally began and the hold button was uplifted.
Before coming here, I also wish I knew more of the culture, what I am expected to do, and how things flowed here in the U.S., especially with school and work. The hardest thing has been finding ways to be myself again. It has been difficult adjusting from the language to the simple motion of walking out of the house. But as hard as it is, it even harder to express who you are as an individual, your ideas, your thoughts, and your love to the ones around.
The friends and organizations that were loving and interested and did not seem to notice the differences have been the biggest help. They always motivated me and protected me with their care, love, and with their efforts. I will not forget, and I will probably fill countless pages, but they all know who they are. Everyone around me are the best thing that happened to me and made me feel like I belonged. They have made my experience, as well as my family’s, feel easier and gave hope that I can be safe and can have a life here.
*For privacy reasons we have changed the picture
On Saturday June 17, 2017, Jorge Taborda spoke publicly for the first time since his wife, Francia Elena Benitez-Castaño, was deported to Colombia. Jorge, in addition to his wife Francia has also faced apprehension by ICE agents. Before the arrests, Taborda and his family lived in Las Cruces for nearly two decades, and the family grew and thrived. Taborda, a computer technician, and Benitez-Castaño, a housekeeper, were both self-employed, and had two sons. Last year, their oldest son, Jefferson, graduated from New Mexico State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Four years after arriving in Las Cruces, Taborda, Benitez-Castaño and youngest son, Steven, received deportation orders when their application for asylum was denied by an immigration judge. But they continued to live in Las Cruces, building lives connected to their faith, church and community. The family was active with Our Lady of Health in Las Cruces.
On May 9, Benitez-Castaño and Jefferson were arrested by immigration agents at their home. But Jefferson – who was eligible for an Obama administration program that shields young immigrants from deportation, DACA – was released three days later.
Benitez-Castaño, however, was deported one month later. Taborda has kept an extremely low profile since the arrests. But, on the day before Father’s Day, he broke his silence at the Holy Cross Retreat Center, pleading for a reprieve from the government and the reunification of his family. “I’m here praying to the Lord for his mercy on us,” Taborda said after Mass at the retreat center. “But (I’m) also asking for the community – for our bishop, for our church, for our friends – to ask the government of the United States (for) one pardon, one stay, one give to my family, especially to my wife (and) to my kids.”
Taborda’s supporters include Bishop Oscar Cantú of the Las Cruces Catholic Diocese and Father Tom Smith of the Holy Cross Retreat Center.
For more information about Jorge, read http://www.lcsun-news.com/story/news/local/2017/06/18/immigrant-father-sought-authorities-speaks-out/406647001/
In Scarborough, Maine, Catholic and Muslim families are coming together in what they have termed the “Building Bridges Dinner.” The dinner at St. Maximilian Kolbe Church in late February.
For Abdullahi Ali, who is a native of Somalia and one of the organizers of the dinner, said breaking bread with your neighbors is important for the community.
“I think one of the best ways to show support is sharing a meal because, as they say, sharing is caring. I think dinner shows us a sense of family. That’s what families do. They sit together, share a meal, talk about their issues, and that is what this is about.”
There were more than 250 people who were in attendance for the dinner. The idea for the dinner was proposed by Monsignor Michael Hencham, more than a year ago. Monsignor Henchal said the idea came to him after he heard a story on the radio about the anxiety and fear that many Americans have about Muslims arriving in this country.
Members of both the Muslim and Catholic communities shared responsibility for cooking the main courses, which occurred in the parish’s kitchen. Others in attendance brought potluck style dishes.
Throughout the course of the evening, the new acquaintances talked and learned about each other’s lives and cultures and how perceptions of others changed.
“It’s very important because it’s not only what you watch or hear about people,” Zoe Sahloul, executive director of the New England Arab American Organization in Westbrook said.
Throughout the dinner, people asked questions, told stories, and shared words of welcome. Although there were some communication barriers, they were overcome with smiles and the assistance of those who spoke multiple languages.
Two hours after the dinner began, with plates cleared and even the dessert table bare, few had left, lingering to enjoy Middle Eastern music and the company of the new friends they had met.
Edith is a 19 year old undocumented immigrant with D.A.C.A. status. Edith, is a sophomore at the University of New Mexico (UNM). She has a double major in psychology and math, maintains a 4.02 grade average, and works in the University Library. Her passion is helping others and volunteers at the Campus Agora Crisis Center, which handles crisis calls from the Albuquerque citywide area.
17 years ago, Edith, who was two, along with her mother and father immigrated to Santa Fe from Mexico. She has 2 younger sisters who are both U.S. citizens. Edith attended Santa Fe public schools. Her highchool grades were outstanding and she graduated with a 4.28 average. She was the senior class valedictorian and awarded several local scholarships. Edith gained D.A.C.A. status in 2012.
Edith’s dream is to work as a Behavioral Analyst for the F.B.I. which will only be possible when she becomes a U.S. citizen. She hopes to do private consulting for them until then. Her plans after UNM are to do graduate studies to further her career goals.
“America is my home. I have always considered America as being a place of freedom and acceptance. Despite being born in Mexico, I had always felt at home here, where I have grown up since arriving as a two-year old. Right now it’s heartbreaking to see the division and oppression that has emerged and is consuming the hearts of so many. Still, I hold on to hope. I am glad to see that a lot of people still have light in their hearts and are willing to fight with us to Keep America a free and accepting home for all who seek one.”
*picture changed for security purposes
My name is Hussain, I am originally from Afghanistan, I immigrated to the U.S. under special immigrant visa program about 3 years ago. In my home country I served as a linguist and cultural specialist for the U.S. Military for 10 years, I had the privilege and honor to serve alongside more than 10 different U.S. Military units who deployed to Afghanistan over the course of 10 years. During my tenure with the U.S. Military, I was mostly stationed in combat zones, where I worked and lived on base due to security concerns and threats. I participated to hundreds of missions and operations where I provided linguistic services, cultural orientations and other mission essential services for the U.S. Military units and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In the beginning, when I started working for the U.S. Military, the security situation was satisfying and I had some freedom of movement with visiting friends and families, but when the U.S. started to decrease the number of its forces and gradually began to withdraw from Afghanistan, this was when I started to receive more threats in different forms asking me to either quit working for the U.S. or to expect to face serious life threatening consequences as a result, even threatening to harm my family due to my affiliation and work relationship with the U.S. military. When travelling to home and returning to work, I was always under constant fear and threat of being targeted and captured by the insurgents, also, I was concerned about my family’s safety. When I started working for the U.S. Mission, I didn’t know that one day my relationship with the U.S. military would endanger my life and my family’s life and nor I knew that I was going to find the opportunity to flee danger and violence and immigrate to the U.S. I and my family lived in constant fear and terror until the day I left Afghanistan. Nevertheless, even after my arrival to the U.S. my family continued to receive threatening phone calls and night letters intimidating to harm them for allowing me to work for the U.S. Mission, as a result they inevitably left my hometown and moved to a different and a little safer part of the country, I never had thought that my family would receive harm and threats because of my affiliation with the U.S. military and even to the point where that they would have to leave my hometown and getting apart from relatives,
Coming from a refugee background myself, and personally experiencing all the challenges and difficulties, I feel proud that I work for an agency who welcome and serve refugees, immigrants, other vulnerable populations who need the most help. I know that there are hundreds of people just like me who wants nothing more but to flee violence in order to live in peace and safety.
On April 5th, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials detained Maribel Trujillo-Diaz as she prepared to go to work, taking her into custody for imminent deportation without having the chance to say goodbye to her children. Maribel is a wife and the primary caretaker to her four children, ages 14 to 3, and remains detained in jail facing an April 11 deportation.
Maribel is an active member and lay leader of St. Julie Billiart Parish in Hamilton, Ohio. Last year, when Maribel was close to deportation, thousands of supporters, organized by Archdiocese of Cincinnati Catholic Social Action Office, throughout Cincinnati sent letters, pleading for her to stay. Since then, Maribel has been reporting regularly to ICE, as instructed. At her check-in on Monday, she was told that she could remain at home as her asylum case was further reviewed.
During the April 5th meeting, Maribel was nervous, as was her pastor who took her to the meeting. They had told her to bring a deportation plan with her, which she did. Instead, they told her to go back home and report again May 1.
Not even 48 hours later, Maribel was detained.
Maribel applied for asylum on two different occasions and was denied. She fled Mexico after she refused to work for the cartels, but after her father was kidnapped last year by the cartels, Maribel again applied for asylum, in a case which is currently pending.
Maribel’s lawyer filed an emergency stay of that order, which is her last option. She hopes that her case will be heard and ruled on before next Tuesday. But there are no guarantees: ICE may deport her before that.
Archbishop of Cincinnati, Dennis Schnurr, has asked for the government’s leniency where he wrote, “Catholic teaching recognizes that the family unit is the highest organization of human society, and I do not believe that the common good is served at this stage by separating this wife and mother from her family. Our church and our community gain nothing by being left with a single-parent household when such a responsible and well-respected family can be kept together.”
Wilmer Garcia landed in Kentucky at the end of January 2012 through the Cuban Medical Parole Program of the Department of Homeland Security. With no family or acquaintances in Kentucky, he counted from the first day with the assistance of the Catholic Charities of Louisville and the help of a solid and organized Cuban community in town. He began to study English since his arrival, in the ESL School of Catholic Charities, receiving in two months the last level of ESL. His effort to learn the language quickly allowed him to begin work only two months after arriving in the country, as a Nurse Assistance at Windsong Group Home, an institution run from the State of Kentucky for adults with cognitive disabilities. At the same time that he improved the language, he began to study on his own to present himself to the National Boards of Medicine and to receive his certifications as an MD here in USA. In October of 2015 he began to work as Case Worker in the Catholic Charities and six months later he was promoted to the position of Case Manager of the Cuban-Haitian Team. Last February he received the news that he passed the last Board Exam and the Certificate approved by the Educational Commission of Foreign Medical Graduates.
Since 2015 he has been a volunteer Spanish interpreter at the Family Community Clinic in Butchertown. He is currently studying and preparing to apply for US Residency Programs in September of this year.
An interview with Javier:
Why did you migrate?
The 1980’s and early 1990’s was a tumultuous time in Peru. Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a Maoist revolutionary group, and the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru – MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement), a Marxist-Leninist group, wreaked havoc in the Andean region and the capital city in its attempt to overthrow the government. Bridges, power plants, tunnels and buildings were constant targets of terrorist events. Thousands of innocent people died as a result of an escalating war between these revolutionary groups and the military. Curfews and blackouts became common, and schools and universities were often closed as the government attempted to “keep terrorist propaganda” from infiltrating young minds.
In this climate, there was little hope for young people to get an education, and young men feared turning eighteen because of the mandatory conscription laws in effect. As a twelve year old boy, my future at home looked bleak.
A relative of mine had migrated to the United States in the late 80’s and in 1994 obtained my father’s permission for me to move with him. So, at the age of 12, leaving family and friends behind I boarded a plane headed northward. As I crossed the continent my father’s words reverberated in my heart, “you leave as the hope for our family. Do not let anything get in the way of your education.”
How has your faith sustained you during your transition?
Leaving my entire family left a huge void in my heart. The emptiness and loneliness experienced were slowly overcome by the consolations that God sent my way through the Church and friends that surrounded me. Soon after arriving, I became involved in the church, assisting as an altar server with my friends. I met a couple priests and lay women who invited me into small leadership roles in my parish. These experiences nourished my faith and allowed me to see that with God nothing is wasted.
All the obstacles in life I have faced them head on because my faith strengthened and grounded me. To this day I stand because God filled the void in my heart with his overflowing love.
What is your hope?
My hope is that together with my wife we will be able to pass on the faith to our children. God has sustained us both through difficult moments. God has done wonders in our lives, and our son and daughter are the prime examples of God’s tremendous love for us. I hope the love we give them will transmit our faith and help them overcome any and all obstacles in her life.
Catholic Charities of Arlington/MRS Fredericksburg initiated a women’s empowerment initiative to help homebound women to supplement their income and to gain English skills and cultural understanding. 15 donated sewing machines were distributed and a training class was provided to 14 women and one male. The women formed a group and selected products to create and sell. MRS employment program assisted the women with identifying local craft fairs where they could display and sell their handmade products. The women hope to grow the business and to develop a website for sales.
I’ve been waiting all week for today—my opportunity to sit with Syrian refugees. My cab picks me up early in the morning as to avoid the unbaiting traffic in Beirut and beyond. We quickly scale the smog of Beirut and pass through the snowcapped Lebanon mountains. On the eastern side of these peaks lies the Bekaa valley, and less than 20 kilometers further, the boarder with Syria.
I meet with Ramzi Abou Zaid, the Project Coordinator for Caritas Migrant Center in Bekaa. With over two million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon (a country with a total population around 6 million), Ramzi is overt as he explains the tension between the Lebanese government and the Syrian migrants—the closed boarder, the discontinuation of UNHCR registrations, the raising rent costs and state taxation on the newcomers. Even with the Caritas programs such as psychosocial support, medical access, cash and in-kind assistance and livelihood projects to increase self-sufficiency, he remains pessimistic that the situation for Syrians will get worse before it ever improves.
After a drive across town, we visit a makeshift camp (called Mataz Camp after the camp’s leader: Mataz) which houses approximately 30 families. Mataz and his family are Sunni and lived in Aleppo before departing in 2012; in sum, they are a family of 14 (this excludes his mother and sister who were taken by ISIS and have not yet been found). The consistent airstrikes made them question their presence in Syria and the struggle to keep the family safe eventually forced them out.
As we engage in conversation, Mataz and his father state that they are eager to resettle to the west, but their first choice would be Canada because they’ve heard from friends and seen on the news that the Prime Minister is very welcoming to Syrians.
As Mataz sits in front of his home, which is constructed of brick and plastic UNHCR tarpaulin, he states that his family feels less than human because the very basic needs that they struggle to fulfill day in and day out. Nonetheless, in a place where hope is in short supply, regardless of what happens with his application for resettlement, Mataz is clear that he still has a dream to return back to Syria one day. As we drive off, Mataz and his family wave goodbye, continuing another day of waiting for an uncertain future in the Bekaa valley.
-Darwensi Clark, Associate Director, Processing Operations, USCCB/MRS
Refugees and asylum seekers often witness torture and murder of their families– like Aime Kalangwa, a 21-year-old refugee from Congo who witnessed the slaughtering of his family when he was 14 and narrowly escaped. He wandered through Uganda for two years before finding a refugee camp where he lived for another three years before being registered as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and undergoing comprehensive screening by the U.S. Government. He arrived to the U.S. at 17, knowing little English and having minimal formal education. He was placed with a foster family through USCCB’s Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program which provides safe housing for unaccompanied children who are refugees, asylees, and victims of trafficking in settings tailored to each child, from small-scale shelters or group homes to foster care families. USCCB works hard to not only to protect them and ensure their rights, but also to help each rebuild their lives and achieve their full potential.
Aime studied every day until midnight, graduated from high school with a 3.8 GPA, and now has a dual degree in political science and criminal justice, mentors at-risk youth, and founded a NGO in Uganda to protect refugee children. He finds strength in his faith, and loves America. For the past two years, he has been a youth delegate to the UNHCR-NGO Consultations in Geneva, serving on panels and providing valuable feedback on how to improve the humanitarian response to identification and protection of other child refugees.
-Kristyn Peck is the Associate Director of Children’s Services for MRS
Cabdi* is from Somalia. He and his family arrived in New York this past summer. Cabdi is fluent in English and worked as a nurse in a medical clinic in the Kenyan refugee camp he and his family lived in prior to resettling in the U.S. Eager to find a job in the U.S., within days of his arrival, Cabdi began volunteering at the Catholic Youth Organization in Syracuse, helping the Refugee Health Coordinator and employment specialists with clients’ job interviews, by working as an interpreter. In the fall, Catholic Charities received a call from Wilson Dental, a local dentist office looking for refugees who spoke English to work in their clinics. Wilson Dental wanted to hire Cabdi as a way to better serve the growing number of refugees utilizing their clinics. Cabdi was a leading candidate of the employment specialists, and after interviewing, he was offered the job of dental assistant. The staff at the dental office helped Cabdi learn to use the bus to get to work, and he has worked at Wilson Dental since. He still comes to CYO on his days off to volunteer, and his family is in school, learning English and integrating into their new home in Syracuse.
⃰Name and picture changed to protect confidentiality.
Pierre* A recent client, is a 21-year old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who had worked as an English teacher with his church prior to his resettlement. Near the end of April 2016, he arrived in Baton Rouge with his mother and two younger siblings. Given his young siblings needs, Pierre knew he must take the necessary steps to support his family. In less than two months, after resettling in Baton Rouge, the employment counselor was able to place him in a full time job at a printing company. Pierre completed cultural orientation and easily learned the bus route to and from work. With work going well at the printing company, Pierre felt confident to help assist others. He helped his siblings improve their English over this past summer and has also helped the Baton Rouge resettlement staff with interpretation. Pierre’s story demonstrates the self-sufficiency and resiliency of many refugees who come the United States, as well as the importance of welcoming communities.
*Name changed to protect identity