Of Mountains & Dreams - Immigration Reform

North Cascades Highway
Washington Pass
Last weekend I traveled across the mountains to the "other side" (biblical reference anyone?). My main goal was to give a presentation on immigration in a small rural farming community that has been greatly impacted by our nation's failure to pass immigration reform. The mostly immigrant Spanish-speaking Catholic parish in town shares a priest with the parish in a more affluent English-speaking retirement community about an hour away.  The two communities are hoping to find ways to work together in a supportive way.  I was asked to give them some information about the Church's teaching on immigration and then to facilitate a beginning conversation between the two communities as they plan next steps together.

It was an amazing experience.  I felt truly humbled to be invited to assist people with giant hearts facing amazing obstacles.  While I may know enough about Catholic Social Teaching on immigration and our national immigration history and policy to give a presentation about it, I was in the presence of people who live the challenges every day.  I may have crossed the mountain passes in my little nun car to spend the afternoon with them, but the immigrant community faces bigger hurdles every day:  language, employment barriers, access to education, family separation, fear, racism, you name it.

After the first part of my presentation--which was beautifully translated by a woman who is a 2nd grade teacher in the town (note to self ... learn Spanish!)--I invited those present to spend some time reflecting first on one challenge they face in their community, and then on one hope or dream they have for collaboration between the English and Spanish speaking communities.  They then broke into mixed language small groups to share both their challenge and their hope/dream.  What happened was truly of God. I heard laughter.  I saw tears.  I observed curiosity and deep sharing.  Those present seemed to identify some potential areas for practical collaboration as well as some big dreams.  They recognized that this is a first step and that in many respects they face mountain sized challenges.  But from this facilitator's perspective, they seemed to leave refreshed, connected, and better prepared for the journey ahead, in solidarity ... together.  It truly was a Spirit filled day.  As one of the Deacon-candidates said to me as he was leaving, the people who were supposed to be there that day were in the room.

One moment that particularly touched me was when a member of the Spanish-speaking community shared that one of his dreams had come true the day before when the Obama administration announced their new deferred action policy for young adults who were brought to the US by their parents without legal authorization.  Provided these young people meet certain requirements (such as being in school, graduated from high school/GED, or served in the military), they will not be subject to deportation and will be able to apply for work permits.

With tears in his yes and a smile on his face, he shared that he has always prayed that his daughter--who graduated from college and just finished a Master's degree--would someday be able to work and use all that she has learned in school for the community.  You could tell how very proud this orchard worker was of all that his daughter had accomplished, and as her dreams came closer to reality he was filled with hope and gratitude.  As he learned more about the policy announcement, he thought that she would qualify.  He was very excited to bring the information home to his daughter.

I will never forget sharing that moment with him.  It was a beautiful ministry moment and a wonderful capstone of sorts as I come closer to the end of my ministry at the peace and justice center.

Of course, the recent policy decision is not a path to legal citizenship.  As Archbishop Jose Gomez said on behalf of the U.S. Bishops in their press release following the announcement:

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), I welcome the announcement by President Obama today that, consistent with his executive authority, he will grant deferred action on a case-by-case basis to youth who entered the United States by age 15 and have not committed certain offenses. Many of these youth would qualify for immigration relief under the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. ...
The action by the President today is no substitute for enactment of the DREAM Act in Congress. We encourage our elected officials of both parties to take this opportunity to work together to enact this important law, which would give these youth a path to citizenship and a chance to become Americans. We also renew our call for bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive and humane reform our nation’s broken immigration system.

If you agree, take two minutes today to write to your members of Congress in support of the DREAM Act and Comprehensive Immigration reform.

We can climb the mountain.  We can reach the other side and justice for immigrants.  We must.  Our God expects no less.

When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one.  You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt.  I, the LORD, am your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

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