The following story is part of a series of Immigration Stories, in which Catholics from the Diocese of Camden will share pieces of their journeys with us. This series is running in advance of two special immigration-related events in the diocese: Bishop Sullivan will celebrate a Mass for Immigrant Families on May 3 at 7:30 pm at Divine Mercy Parish in Vineland, and May 5 has been designated “Justice for Immigrants Sunday” throughout the diocese. This Sunday will be observed with prayer and a postcard campaign to lawmakers in Washington, urging comprehensive immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for our immigrant sisters and brothers.
“Rosalia” shared her story with Kristen Zielinski-Nalen, director of Justice, Peace, and the Integrity of Creation and Hispanic Ministry at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden. Kristen transcribed and translated the story from the Spanish. All names have been changed.
My family and I are from the Dominican Republic. My husband, Rafael, came to the US in the year 2000 with a tourist visa because our house was in foreclosure, there was no work and we had three children to provide for.
After a few months, the wages he earned saved us from losing our house. When he asked me to join him, I refused at first. I went to the parish and my priest told me that our family should be together, that I shouldn’t have to be a scared, single mother protecting my children alone at night. So I came to the US with a short-term tourist visa in August 2002. I wanted to see what Camden was like, and then I returned to the DR.
I don’t make any decisions without speaking with God first. I said, “If you want me to go, show me a sign.” I needed to sell everything I had quickly. What I thought would have taken six months to sell was all gone in one month.
A young man was pursuing my 12 year-old daughter and didn’t respect me when I asked him to leave her alone. He threw eggs at me and at our house. It was hard being a single mother. So I said, well, the Lord wants me to join my husband. I left for the US with my children and I didn’t say goodbye to anyone. I was feeling alone there in the DR. One brother had died and my sisters had already left for the US and were going through rough times. I wanted to be there for them.
My experience has included a lot of discrimination. When I have to say I don’t have a social security number, people treat me differently. Sometimes I think people are numbers here and not people.
For example, I have been waiting over two years for surgery for fibroma. They told me just to wait – that the cysts would disappear. But now I have three cysts. I know a Mexican woman who was very sick. Her treatment was costly. She was deported from the hospital. She was seen as a burden, not a person. However, my sister has a social security number and she received treatment at the hospital immediately for the same issue that I suffer from.
Sometimes, when I couldn’t pay the bills, I have had to ask for food at churches. In some churches, they say, “Put your social security number here and sign.” If you don’t have a social security number, how can one get help? Or when they say, “Show your last 3 paychecks.” But if you’re not paid with a check but in cash, how can I show I am working?
When I go shopping and someone hears my accent, they take time to give someone else a discount but won’t apply it to me. I was in a retail store and a Mexican woman presented a Mexican ID and she said she didn’t have a license. The employee called immigration. The woman cried and so did I. I left afraid that ICE would grab me, too. Then, I was outside once in NY and saw ICE close the front door and back door and grab everyone inside the store. I felt terrified.
Even worse than me is what my three children have had to experience for being undocumented. My 18 year-old daughter, Sandrina, worked at a job agency. She worked 8am to 6pm for $7 an hour. The boss didn’t pay her overtime. When he owed her $350, he paid her $260 or $170, whatever he felt like. He made Sandrina clean the bathroom and dig through the trashcans for lost items and stay later even though it was dark out and in a dangerous neighborhood. He touched her shoulders and arms and told her he was in love with her – a married man! He told her, “You’re not going anywhere else. You don’t have a social security number. Where else are you going to work?” It was true. She couldn’t leave at the time because my husband couldn’t find work during the winter and her pay was our rent payment. As soon as my husband was able to work, Sandrina left that terrible place.
In school my other daughter, Marisol, experienced the social security number discrimination. Marisol had to show a social security number in order to go on school trips, which left her out and made her come home crying. Then, after being an A+ student, graduating with awards, and serving in our parish, she couldn’t enroll in a university. How Marisol cried, realizing that without a social security number, she couldn’t become a nurse. She works two jobs now and studies at Camden County College, thank God, where she can take some classes. They accepted her there.
Lastly, my son, Jorge, is 16 and still doesn’t realize what it means that he doesn’t have a social security number. He wants to work soon and says he wants to join the Army and defend our country from terrorists – which he cannot do without a social security number. Perhaps now there is hope for him because we applied for him through the Deferred Action program. Perhaps he will finally receive a social security number and become a person in the US.
I know so many horrible stories of the journey to get to the United States. Most immigrants I know don’t want to stay. They want to work and return to their families. They miss their parents, who many times have never met their grandchildren.
I participate in the immigration reform campaign because I don’t want it to be so dangerous and difficult for people to attempt to work to feed their families. There must be a safer way for families to find decent work.