NOGALES, Ariz.—As bishops held Mass April 1 along the border fence that separates Arizona and Mexico, Yesenia Garcia prayed from Longmont that President Barack Obama and members of Congress would start seeing her and her family as human beings created by God. She fears they view undocumented immigrants as political pawns.
“Hopefully with the bishops and Pope Francis working so hard to change immigration policy, something will change,” Garcia said after the April 1 border Mass. “To these politicians, we’re not really seen as families torn apart. We’re not seen as sisters and brothers, daughters and sons. We’re just a convenient talking point when they need they need the Hispanic vote. I pray to God the Church can help change things.”
Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration celebrated Mass at the border to remember migrants who have died attempting to reach the United States through miles of deadly, barren desert. Titled “Mission for Migrants,” activities including a wreath-laying ceremony and a tour of the border. It was inspired by a trip Pope Francis took to Lampedusa, Italy, last year to pray for migrants who died attempting to reach Europe by boat.
“We forget that the migrant is often manipulated by criminal organizations promising to deliver them to a better life,” said Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, in a written statement that urges all the faithful of northern Colorado to pray for nearly 6,000 migrants who have died trying to reach the United States since 1998. “I wish to bring to mind in particular the 30,000 children each year who attempt to cross the border unaccompanied. We can only imagine the sufferings endured by this particularly vulnerable population.”
Garcia, a lifelong Catholic, knows firsthand the plight of immigrant children who enter the country illegally. She was snuck into the United States at age 5, as her mother fled desperate circumstances in Mexico.
“I started kindergarten in the United States and didn’t realize I was an undocumented immigrant until I started researching to enter college,” said Garcia, who’s 28. “They wanted a Social Security number. I began realizing the predicament and gradually became convinced there was nothing I could do. My school counselors had no answers.”
As adulthood grew near, Garcia’s extraordinary disadvantage only got worse. College was nearly out of the question, along with most career options. After graduating high school, she continued trying to become a documented resident.
“Lawyers had no answers,” she explained. “Some would tell me I had no options and not to waste my money. Others would charge me $150 and then tell me I had no good options.”
Garcia still hopes to attend college, especially in wake of Colorado lowering the cost of tuition for immigrants brought into the country as young children.
Garcia prays nonstop about her brother, who was 10 when the family came to the United States and faces deportation today. Though Garcia is protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, her brother exceeded the age limit when it was enacted in 2012.
“If there isn’t a miracle, or a change in the law, I will eventually be ripped apart from my brother,” Garcia explained.
During his homily, Cardinal O’Malley told of an immigrant he befriended while ministering to Latinos in Washington, D.C. The man had come to the United States from El Salvador as a desperate attempt to provide for his wife and six children. War had rendered the family’s farming operation futile.
The man lived like a pauper in the United States, walking to and from work to avoid spending money on transportation. He put his cash wages in what he thought was a shiny blue mailbox and continued the practice. But the envelopes, addressed to his wife, did not arrive. He took the dilemma to then-Father O’Malley, who asked to see the mailbox
“It wasn’t a mailbox at all. It was just a fancy trash bin,” Cardinal O’Malley told the assembly. “This gave me a glimpse of the hardship of so many immigrants who come to the United States.”
The cardinal told how his own family members, working-class immigrants from Ireland, were considered undesirable when they arrived in the United States.
During a press conference following the Mass, Cardinal O’Malley stressed how he and other bishops are not looking for a “quick fix” or an “easy solution” to the complex issue of immigration. They merely want President Obama and Congress to quickly improve immigration laws in a way that creates more justice and respects human rights and dignity.
“We can no longer tolerate the human suffering caused by this system,” the cardinal explained. “It weakens our moral authority and lessens us as a nation.”
Among those putting hope in the bishops’ appeal for immigration reform is Sergio Garcia, a Mexican who’s the first undocumented immigrant in the United States to be licensed as a practicing attorney. He continues waiting on government to process a green card that was given preliminary approval in 1995.
“There is nothing human about deportation,” said Garcia, who practices law in southern California and could face deportation any day. “It’s great that the Church is getting so involved, but it needs to do more. So many of us have tried so many things, and pretty much everything has failed so far.”
Msgr. Jorge De los Santos, vicar for Hispanic Ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, noted that while the Mass probably won’t change the minds and hearts of politicians in Washington, D.C., it sends a message to Catholics “to care more about this issue.”
He said this is helpful “because a lot of immigrants think the Church does not care about them.”
Archbishop Aquila asks Catholics to pray that politicians “might rise above partisan rhetoric and seek reforms to our immigration system that would ensure the dignity and just treatment of migrants.”