Myriam was there as our translator, and brought her mother Maria along. She shared her story first. She started out in Michigan in 1998, where she studied ESL and received her conditional “green card” (permanent residency status). In 2000, she moved to New York City. Her husband, a U.S citizen, became abusive and after he broke her arm she fled to Milwaukee. In 2006 she became involved in Voces’ New Sanctuary Movement, which was started by church people to offer support to the undocumented, raise awareness in congregations, and resist unjust treatment and deportations. Because she no longer had her husband as a sponsor, she eventually received Deportation Order. She felt that immigration workers treated her as just another file to get off the table rather than as a human being. In 2009, however, with the help of a compassionate ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officer and Barbara Graham of Catholic Charities, she was granted Green Card. In 2012, became a U.S citizen. Ever since, she has felt the need to do something for others who are in the situation she was, even if that means only to accompany them and try to offer hope.
American Migration Committee and residents of Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake on Feb. 21
Next, Eva shared her story. Her husband had been in the U.S since 1996. One month before 9/11, her second son was accidentally burned by oil and required a skin graft. After spending all their savings on treatments in Mexico, Eva became aware of free treatments at Shriners Hospitals in the U.S. Her husband arranged for “coyotes” to lead them to the U.S. Eva and their four boys – 5, 6, 12 and 15 – walked through the night, hid, and did what they had to do to make it across. She said it was so difficult that “if I ever knew what I’d have to go through, I would never had tried it!” They were treated as pieces of merchandise by the coyote. But with no guide if you want to turn around, “once you’re here, there’s no way back.”
They finally arrived in Las Vegas, where they were kept in a trailer waiting for a “full load” of migrants. Then she found out they had to wait longer for her husband to send the rest of the coyote’s payment. After three weeks, 9/11 happened, and the coyotes said the agreed-on amount was no longer enough, they would need to pay even more to complete the journey. Eventually the money arrived. Her eldest son had been afraid that they would be separated and they were; Eva and her two youngest were flown to Chicago while the two older boys were sent there by car. It was terrifying to have no control, completely at someone else’s mercy.
Finally the money arrived and the family was reunited. Eva’s husband was with them for five years. Then, in 2006 immigration officers came to his work site and taken into custody. He was told that he must pay a fee and sign a document to be released on his own cognizance. He did so thinking that when he signed the document and paid the fee, he could go home. But what he had signed were his own deportation papers. In 2008 her husband was deported and the family has not seen him since. On top of everything else, his employer refused to give Eva the pension proceeds she was entitled to.
Eva thought of trying to go back to Mexico to reunite the family, but her husband told her she needed to stay here because they now had 3 grandchildren living here. Eva helped raise them and says one wants to become a counselor to help other kids like him. Three of them are in DACA (via Obama’s executive order), and are now very frightened as their name is on a list that could be used to round them up and deport them.
After 2008, she told us, the undocumented community waited for “their great hope” – Barack Obama – but after his first hundred days it was clear he wouldn’t be able to do much and in fact began doing more deportations than before. That’s when Eva became involved with Voces de la Frontera and the New Sanctuary Movement. She credits them with helping more than anyone, and said their support “keeps her going and gives her hope.” Right now, Eva is afraid to go to work, leave the house or drive, but at least she knows she has a number to call for support, court accompaniment, etc. She goes to court with other women and offers any support she possibly can. “I have been helped and I feel compelled to help others. My faith continues to sustain me.”
Eva says that the most important thing the Church can do is
“let us come to your parishes to tell our stories.”
At the end of the evening, Fr. Mac thanked the women and asked Maria, who does not know English and had sat silently the whole time, if she would give us all her blessing. She immediately jumped up and called upon God to accompany each of us in our journey in the days ahead. It was a moving ending to a sad yet inspirational evening.
Since then, the Trump Administration has issued a new executive order regarding deportation of the undocumented, and the Dept. of Homeland Security has followed up with a memo “taking the shackles off” ICE agents, who are reportedly now targeting any undocumented person, not merely those with serious criminal records as under the Obama Administration, which itself deported more people than any administration before. Speaker of the House helps set the Republican legislative agenda and is seen as a leader of his party, so we were pleased to get a meeting with two staffers from Wisconsin and his key aide on immigration, who joined us by phone from Washington, DC. This report was recently sent to over a dozen members of the SHML SCJ community in Franklin, who had agreed to co-sign the letter we left with Ryan’s staffers.