It has been an eye-opening, gut-wrenching privilege to post the five-part Immigration Stories series here over the past three weeks. These stories of struggle, perseverance, and faith have occupied my mind and heart as we have prepared for tonight’s Mass in Support of Immigrant Families and this weekend’s Justice for Immigrants Sunday. Here are five things I’ve learned or been reminded of by compiling these witnesses.
1) Life here without a social security number is so difficult. Without one, there’s no driver’s license, no school field trips, no college scholarships, no in-state tuition, no protection from dishonest employers. I took all of these things for granted growing up.
2) For hundreds of years, people have been coming to the USA for economic opportunity. From Fr. Ken Hallahan’s family escaping the Irish Potato Famine in the 1840s to Fr. Rene Canales traveling across three borders to come to the USA in the 1990s, people have been coming to America to search for a better life for their families. These people have not necessarily wanted to leave their homelands behind, but they felt it was their best opportunity to make things better for those they loved. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the migration of my ancestors, from Eastern Europe, Ireland, Sweden. I also learned that my ancestors wouldn’t be allowed in to the US legally today because of our strict quotas. Click here to see if your ancestors would make it in today.
3) Family separation is one of the most pressing issues we face. An issue that must weigh heavily on our hearts as Catholics is that today’s immigration system drives families apart. As Pope John Paul II said, “As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the world in which we live.” The USCCB is advocating for immigration reform that puts family unity and a path to citizenship at the top of the list.
4) Young adults brought here as children have the cards stacked against them in their pursuit of an American Dream. At tonight’s Mass in Support of Immigrant Families, we’ll hear the testimony of a young man named Juan, who was brought to the United States from Mexico when he was five or six. Twenty-one today, he hopes to become a nurse, and to attend NYU — his dream school. But he is struggling to reach his goal, because he is not eligible for financial aid, and it would cost about $80,000 to earn a bachelor’s at Rutgers. He’s currently studying at Camden County College and hoping for immigration reform, so he can earn scholarships and have access to financial aid. He’s doing all he can, but he has to work so much harder than I had to in pursuit of my own dreams.
5) Hope for change is with others in mind. Over and over, I learned that people were sharing their stories in the hopes that others will not have to experience the hardships they have faced. I read of an others-centeredness that inspires me to care more deeply about immigration reform even though it does not directly affect me or my family.
Hoping to see you tonight at the Mass in Support of Immigrant Families (7:30 pm, Divine Mercy Parish, Vineland) and to receive your signed postcards to lawmakers next week!