Tag Archives: undocumented

A family shares story of mother’s deportation — and what it took to get back

May 18, 2017

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Lorna and Javier in 2017, choosing not to show their faces — and to use only their middle names — to protect their identity. Courtesy Lynda McDonnell

Lorna and Javier in 2017, choosing not to show their faces — and to use only their middle names — to protect their identity. Courtesy Lynda McDonnell

“We were all sleeping. It was like six in the morning. You could hear someone yelling. They came in, took my mom, took several other people. I didn’t know much of immigration at that stage in life. Never knew that they would come and do that to a person… We thought somebody did something wrong and that’s why they were there. We thought they would let my mom go eventually, but that wasn’t the case.”

Jesse was 14 and about to start high school when immigration agents pushed into his family’s home that summer morning in 2005.  His mother Lorena was a 34-year-old cleaning woman and the single mother of 12-year-old Teresa, seven-year-old Javier and Jesse.  Their experience sheds light on how deportation of undocumented immigrant parents may affect their estimated 4.5 million citizen children.

Because Lorena’s children are U.S. citizens, they were not arrested with her. Two friends agreed to care for them, but no one had money to hire a lawyer to argue Lorena’s case. So after spending two months in detention, she was flown to Honduras, the country she left at 17 to find work in America and help the impoverished family and infant son she left behind.  She considered getting a passport and ticket for Javier, her youngest, but decided that would only fracture the family further.

“In my mind, I am coming back,” Lorena says. “I wanted [that] they stay together.”

She had struggled to make a life in America without family to support her. The children were the family she created, but their fathers had left her and provided little help.

“When are you coming?” the children asked whenever she called. “One day,” she promised. “Soon.”

The journey back to Minnesota was long and dangerous, but within a week of arriving in Honduras, Lorena was headed north. “I need to coming back because I love my kids and my kids they need me.”

Meanwhile, two friends living in different Twin Cities’ suburbs shared the job of caring for Teresa, Javier and Jesse. One took them during the week, the other on weekends. They alternated the arrangement every six months to ease the burden. The frequent switching of homes and schools led Jesse to fall behind in school. Eventually he quit altogether.

“At first I was doing okay,” he says. “Then I slowly started not having stability, moving from house to house.  I ended up cheating myself out of an education because I would never have that stability or finish the school year in one school. I was constantly moving.  I would have to start all over with certain credits.”

Arrested crossing the border in California, Lorena was sent to a detention center. She worked there to buy phone cards and call the children so they could hear her voice. Her friends and the children wrote letters pleading that immigration officials let her come home to them. But there was no money to hire a lawyer and argue for a humanitarian visa. After nine months in detention, she was flown again to Honduras. Now a felon, she was banned from ever returning to the U.S. But she would not abandon her children.

In phone calls, Jesse often blamed his mother for her absence. “What crime do you have?” he asked angrily. “Why do you leave us?”   Teresa excelled at school, but Jesse struggled and Javier often misbehaved. “I didn’t have to listen because they weren’t my mom or dad,” he says.

Lorena’s second trip through Mexico and across the border was even more harrowing. She was held for ransom in Mexico and walked two days across the Arizona desert, guided by a coyote and relying on crackers, tuna and two gallons of water to survive. They passed the bodies of immigrants who had died in the desert.  But staying with the bodies, waiting for help, meant risking dying themselves.

Finally, 16 months after she left, Lorena arrived one cold winter morning at her friend’s house. There were tears and celebration, but also damage that could not be undone. Still angry, Jesse refused to live her. Javier’s face had lost its boyish brightness. He looked older, angrier, and resisted going to school, fearing that men in uniforms would take her away again. At 19, he still mistrusts authority. “I thought cops were bad, anything with authority was bad. It’s been that way, even now.”

Twelve years later, both sons are working, and Teresa will soon graduate from college. Jesse understands the risks his mother took to return to them. Javier is convinced that he’d be in jail if his mother had not returned. “Not letting her down. That’s the main thing.”

Lorena still cleans houses and guides her children with a strong example and clear messages: Trust in God. Work hard. Help others. “I pass[ed] a lot of bad things to come back to you,” she tells them. “We need to do good things.”

With deportation threats increasing, the children’s worries about losing their mom have returned. Lorena worries more for younger families. “My kids growing up. They don’t need me. But what happens with the other women with the little ones?

“Don’t think for the parents. Think for the kids,” she urges. “You deport the parents from the kids. What do you think will happen to those kids? Do you think it will make a better country?”

Lynda McDonnell

Lynda McDonnell

Lynda McDonnell is a writer and journalist and a member of Incarnation/Sagrado Corazon de Jesus in Minneapolis. Her blog – A Pilgrim’s Way – and other information can be found at  http://www.lyndamcdonnell.com

Editor’s note: To protect the family’s privacy, family members’ middle names are used in this account.

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Looking at the Church’s immigration teaching through a personal lens

July 26, 2013

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Photo/ scazon. Licensed under Creative Commons

Photo/ scazon. Licensed under Creative Commons

It seems like Catholics are all over the map when it comes to their views on  immigration reform. Attitudes and laws regarding the undocumented can vary considerably by state but the Church takes a pretty clear position.  Personal experience with immigration also affects how we look at it.

I know how it feels to be an immigrant because I spent almost two years as an undocumented worker in a European country. I wasn’t compelled to leave my own country for economic or political reasons, as are many who come to the U.S., but I have in common with them the fact that I was seeking something I couldn’t find at home.

Like many who come to America, I didn’t have too much trouble finding work – in a job that most of its citizens weren’t qualified to do. I was paid pretty well though not as well as I would have been if I’d had papers. Not all migrants in the United States are so fortunate; some have to deal with very low wages and substandard living and working conditions.

The Church’s view

Personal anecdotes and media spin aside, what does our universal Church say about a global phenomenon that’s garnered so much national attention lately?

Are undocumented workers wrong to come to countries that restrict their participation in the official economy and civic affairs?

According to the Catechism, governments have two responsibilities in regard to immigration: to welcome the foreigner and to secure their borders. It doesn’t say much about how to integrate those responsibilities, however, which might be one reason  for the divergence in public opinion.

In his 1996 Message for World Migration Day, Bl. Pope John Paul II affirmed undocumented migrants’ right both to emigrate and to immigrate:

The Church acts in continuity with Christ’s mission. In particular, she asks herself how to meet the needs, while respecting the law of those persons who are not allowed to remain in a national territory. She also asks what the right to emigrate is worth without the corresponding right to immigrate.

How to treat immigrants

The Catechism also gives guidance on how we should treat immigrants, especially those who come to escape poverty or suffering in their own country:

The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his own country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him. (CCC2241)

That doesn’t mean governments shouldn’t restrict immigration. It also doesn’t exempt those coming to a country from obeying its laws, the Catechism continues:

“Public authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.” (CCC2241)

The U.S. Bishops and immigration reform

The U.S. bishops have had quite a bit to say about immigration reform. In a 2011 statement they supported earned legalization with a path to citizenship, a future worker program, family based immigration reform, restoration of due process rights, addressing the root causes of migration and the legitimate role of the government in enforcing security.

For the undocumented who are already working here, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church stresses that immigration must be regulated according to “criteria of equity and balance.”

Institutions in host countries must keep careful watch to prevent the spread of the temptation to exploit foreign laborers, denying them the same rights enjoyed by nationals, rights that are to be guaranteed to all without discrimination.

Along with not exploiting workers, countries should respect and promote the right of family reunification, the Compendium states. But it also emphasizes that they should help foster increased work opportunities in immigrants’ country of origin.

I eventually returned to my native country and so do many immigrants who come to the United States. While immigrants are here though, the Church makes it clear both that they should receive fair treatment and that they should follow our laws.

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