WASHINGTON, D.C. — Daniela, 25, is a talented Mexican immigrant who attends a private university on a full scholarship.
She is one of the many “Dreamers,” or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, who are part of the mosaic of faces and voices of Hispanic Catholic immigrants participating in the National Fifth Encuentro process in the United States.
These are difficult times for Daniela, who was brought to the U.S. as a child by her parents. She fears deportation at some point if she is not able to renew her DACA status, since the Department of Homeland Security recently announced that the program would cease.
Due to court orders, the federal agency has resumed accepting renewal applications, but the future of those in the program is uncertain.
“Many laws are dividing our communities,” said Daniela, who prefers not to share her last name. “Sometimes it is hard for them to understand the reality that we live, the obstacles that we face by not having a social security number, by not being able to vote for our politicians. For me it’s a challenge, I’m trying to build those bridges of understanding.”
She was honored to have been selected as a delegate representing the Archdiocese of Chicago at the Region VII encuentro which took place early June at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The episcopal regions of the U.S. Catholic Church have had encuentros; these regionals are leading to the National Fifth Encuentro, or V Encuentro, set for September in Grapevine, Texas.
The encuentro process has opened up a space for dialogue for many immigrants to give voice to their struggles, concerns, hopes and dreams in regard to immigration issues.
“Some of the needs that I see is to be able to have the Church support us and help us change those laws that are tearing apart families,” Daniela told Catholic News Service. “It’s just difficult to see that politics are playing such a huge role in the way we treat other people, in the way that we talk to other people, and just being able to have that support from the Church and from our parishes is very important to us.”
Families being torn apart is a reality that many are familiar with. Manny, another encuentro delegate from the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, recalled how just a few weeks ago his brother was deported after 20 years living in the U.S.
“It was like being at a funeral,” he said in Spanish when explaining the moment he saw his brother for the last time before he turned himself in to federal immigration authorities.
“I know God has his plans and they’re far better than our own. It’s very difficult to understand them, but with the help of prayers we try to go on,” he added.
Manny’s brother left behind his wife and two daughters who are U.S. citizens; one of them just graduated from high school with honors and will be attending college with a full scholarship, Manny said.
“I think the Church should support us as its members, we want to work, grow this Church, be part of this country,” he told CNS. “We’ve been in this country for many years and we feel we’re also part of it, we love it, we respect it through our work and sacrifices.”
Like many bishops across the country, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis is familiar with the suffering of immigrant families.
“The U.S. bishops have made this a priority,” Thompson said. “Some of our bishops are writing letters, and meeting with politicians, and trying to work with different groups. So much is going on behind the scenes, not just (from) the bishops but our people in so many ways. Many dioceses are committing a lot of time and energy into trying to carry on this accompaniment, in front and behind the scenes.”
In the past few months, Thompson has held conversations with state legislators, and has twice accompanied a woman — who faced deportation June 26 — to federal offices. Her husband was deported, and she was trying to get the proper paperwork for passports for her children, who are U.S. citizens, to leave with her.
As of June 22, that paperwork for her children was not likely to be completed by her deportation date.
Alex, the father of a DACA recipient, feels remorse for the decision he made about 20 years ago when he decided to come to the U.S. with his family seeking a better future for them. He realized his daughter’s suffering when he was helping her call their legislators to support the DACA program and she broke down in tears.
“She was crying, and I saw in her face the embarrassment, the pain, the fear. That broke my heart, I wish I could turn back time and stay in my country and try my best, but that can’t happen. I must go on and motivate her,” said Alex, a parish ministry leader involved in social justice and an encuentro delegate representing the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. “That’s why I’m in my parish serving, seeking ways to help all young dreamers and others.”
These immigrants have in common a strong faith and hope for the future and want to continue working hard to help their communities. Like many others, they have found renewed hope in the dialogues that the encuentro process has sparked.
“It’s important that we all express our pain, our hopes, our dreams, our goals so that they can be heard by the bishops and they can generate long-range options for a happy and fruitful life for our families, for our country and our Church communities,” said Alex.
Daniela, who has been actively involved in her parish since age 12, is determined to continue building bridges through her work so others will remember that “we may come from different places, and we’re all children of God and we have to treat each other with love like he wants us to do.”