Dear Congressman LoBiondo,
I was part of the group of Catholics you met with at your Mays Landing office on Friday that’s working for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform. Thank you for welcoming us so warmly.
I didn’t speak much at the meeting – my job was to quickly summarize our immigration reform efforts in the Diocese of Camden so far: 1500 attendees at a Mass in Support of Immigrant Families celebrated by Bishop Sullivan in Vineland on May 3; more than 14,000 postcards from Catholics to lawmakers collected in our 70 parishes, urging reform that includes family unity provisions and an earned pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the United States today.
For the vast majority of our 40 minutes together, I got to listen – to you and to the other group members who face the brokenness of our immigration system every day. It was encouraging when you agreed that our current immigration system is not working and needs to be fixed.
It was funny to hear your amusement that postcards addressed to you were passed out to be signed at the Mass you attended on our diocesan Justice for Immigrants Sunday (May 5). I should’ve asked if any parishioners hand-delivered a card to you on your way out of church!
Most of all, it was moving to hear you talk about public service, and how you always strive to see the human side of every issue.
The human side of the immigration reform issue was truly on display at our meeting Friday. First, we heard from Maglorio, who came to this country from Mexico and started working in restaurants. He learned how to cook and now owns a small business. He pays his taxes. He just got a GED, and has hopes for college. He hopes his children can go to college, too. “We’re living the American Dream,” he said. “We just don’t have documents.”
The room fell silent for a few seconds after Maglorio finished with that sentence. It was a powerful moment.
Then, we heard about a young woman named Elizabeth, who sat at the table fingering her rosary beads during the meeting. The father of her three year-old son was deported when the baby was six months old. There’s a deportation order out for Elizabeth now. She is required to wear a tracking ankle bracelet around the clock, and to check in with immigration authorities every Tuesday. She’s afraid of what will happen to her son – a U.S. citizen – if she is deported.
I know she broke the law by coming to the United States. But as you said, there are such tight restrictions on who is allowed to enter the country in pursuit of a better life. The waiting list is years and years. My ancestors from Russia and Ireland and your ancestors from Italy would most likely have been denied entry if the restrictions were the same when they came as they are today.
There has to be a better way to welcome a young woman who just wants a better life for her family.
It was inspiring to listen to the priests and nuns in our group who are serving people like Elizabeth in their parishes, who have story after story about family separation and the fear of living in the shadows. Fr. Rene Canales, who works with immigrant communities in Swedesboro and Carneys Point, summed it up well: “Immigration reform isn’t an issue. It’s a face and story,” he said. “When you see the pain so many people are in, the politics begin to fade away.”
Of course we know you work in the political world, and that this issue is a thorny one with so many complications. But as Sister Kathy said, we believe the love of God called upon in prayer is strong enough to overcome any challenge or division. The combination of hard work and God’s guidance make all things possible, including the passage of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform.
You asked us to keep praying for you as the campaign for immigration reform continues, which I will do. I join my prayers to those of the group of 45 South Jerseyans praying for you outside your office as we met. It was stirring to hear their Hail Marys and Our Fathers through the wall as we talked. The sound was muffled, but it was clear they didn’t once stop.
They have been gathering to pray for you and for compassionate immigration reform outside of your office every day for a month now. They have been sharing their stories with your staff members every day, too. The moral urgency to get comprehensive immigration reform passed comes through in each story of struggle and hope.
The brokenness of our current immigration system hits home for them and for so many other New Jerseyans – about 550,000 undocumented immigrants live here, which is 5th-most in the country, and more than states like Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico.
We hope we can count on your leadership at this crucial time. Our state and country cannot afford to wait.
Michael Jordan Laskey
Director, Life & Justice Ministries
Diocese of Camden