By Barb Arland-Fye
In our United States, which purports to cherish children, a 6-year-old girl has been living in immigration detention since the age of 2. Her parents were deported from the United States to Mexico four years ago. Both apparently were killed shortly after returning to their homeland, Catholic News Service (CNS) reported last week.
The plight of the couple’s young daughter puts a face on the tragedy of a broken immigration system that I can’t get out of my mind. Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, told CNS about the little girl during a Sept. 12 telephone interview. He and other bishops of the border region of Texas and Mexico had experienced what CNS described as “a gut-wrenching visit with young children in the El Paso, Texas, area who are in immigration detention.”
The children were brought to an El Paso, parish, to meet with the bishops. They plan to issue a pastoral letter next month to help the public understand the “many ways families are broken apart by the current immigration system,” CNS said.
Archbishop Garcia-Siller wondered how many children among the 11 million undocumented people in this country are at risk of losing a parent because they lack documents and could be deported.
It’s happened in the Davenport Diocese; I know because I met one of these children four years ago. Nora Dvorak, a volunteer for the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Department, introduced me to a bright eighth-grader, a U.S. citizen, attending Davenport public schools. She had a younger brother, who also was born in this country. The girl was scared to death that their father and mother, Mexican citizens, would be deported. The father was a tax-paying worker who was in the process of buying the house the family lived in. At one time he had been authorized to be in this country and even had a work permit, but he lost his authorization due to the shoddy work of an unscrupulous lawyer, Nora tells me.
In an essay his daughter wrote about four years ago, she said: “I think the hardest part of being a daughter of an immigrant is that I face problems with having my parents (being) illegal in this country and having two kids who aren’t.”
She wrote of missing a band performance because of the upheaval at home and of not being able to confide in her band instructor for fear her secret would be exposed.
I talked with her in 2009, and we published that story in the June 18, 2009, issue of The Catholic Messenger. About a year afterward, ICE agents picked up her father at work and he was deported to Mexico. Nora tells me the entire family has returned to Mexico. She doesn’t know how the daughter and son are doing, but a CNS article that appears in this week’s issue describes the difficulty that such families face in striving to rebuild their lives.
“Children raised in the U.S. who move to Mexico with deported parents are accustomed to entirely different ways of behaving in school, for example, leading to extra difficulty in adjusting to a new home,” the story says.
Nora and other immigration reform advocates tell families with undocumented members that they don’t have to open the door to ICE agents, unless they come carrying a search warrant.
In his 1994 Letter to Families, Pope John Paul II observed: The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family … the family is placed at the centre of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love.”
For the sake of the children, family ought to come before enforcement.