By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
MOUNT PLEASANT — Diocesan volunteer Loxi Hopkins pulls up to the back entrance of First Presbyterian Church and starts unloading a van packed with Christmas presents, including a giant stuffed unicorn. Joining her Monday morning are six other gift-bearers, who have arrived in separate vehicles from the Davenport Diocese. Their mission: to deliver presents sealed with love for around 30 families impacted by an immigration raid seven months ago in Mount Pleasant, a town of 8,500 in Henry County.
Gifts will be distributed during a Posada Festival on Dec. 23 in the church that serves as a distribution center for the immigrant families whose lives are on hold. “This is a blessing for us,” says Julieta Reza, a volunteer in the church’s food pantry, as she directs the gift-bearers to the church hall. “Thank you so much for taking your time and for your sharing with us and our families. I say thank you, God, for this.”
Julieta’s husband, William Ramirez, was among 32 men apprehended in the U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) raid May 9 at Midwest Precast Concrete Facility. Five of the 32 have been deported; three remain in custody, including Ricardo Macias, the husband of Julieta’s sister, Yesica Reza.
Twenty-four of the men have been released on bond and are awaiting court dates — scheduled in 2019 — including Julieta’s husband. None are allowed to work, or to leave Mount Pleasant, until their cases are decided in court. “We need to share love and compassion,” Julieta says. “I don’t have a lot to give to the families, but I can give my time.”
Loxi and Esmeralda Guerrero, administrative assistant for the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action Office, are regular visitors at First Presbyterian, visiting once a month. They have gotten to know the families. Esmeralda serves as a translator for immigrants whose English is limited.
On this day of the gift-giving mission, Loxi and Esmeralda are deep in conversation with Rosita Oliva, whose husband, Elmer Espinal, remains in detention in the Muscatine County Jail. Words aren’t necessary when Rosita is asked how she and her kids are preparing for Christmas. Her eyes tear up.
A flyer posted on the church’s bulletin board in the front entryway announces the Posada Festival. “Iowa WINs (Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors) and the Hispanic Community invites you to a traditional posada festival to celebrate our lives together as one community,” the flyer reads. Posada, which means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish, re-enacts the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their search for a place to stay.
“This is pretty much the situation we are in now,” says Victor Rodrigo Noris, who is overseeing the community’s posada. He was not involved in the ICE raid, but he is the brother of Julieta and Yesica. The posada festival is a way to express gratitude for the organizations and faith groups, including the Davenport Diocese and St. Alphonsus Catholic Church in Mount Pleasant that have assisted the families.
This Christmas, Victor and his family will pray for the return of Yesica’s husband and for a positive outcome to court hearings for all of the men. “We are a community. We need to help each other to keep going. Life is full of ups and downs. If we stick together as a community, we can do lots of things,” Victor says.
Sister Mary Bea Snyder, CHM, one of Monday’s gift-bearers, displays cookies and other edible creations — melting snowmen, reindeer cupcakes, Rice Krispies wreaths – that she and her friends prepared and packaged — 32 plastic containers in all. Sr. Bea also purchased 45 gifts for the immigrants’ children, with donations from the Humility of Mary Sisters of Davenport, associates, friends and others.
“Children love Christmas, and gift-giving is a part of Christmas,” Sr. Bea says. “These kids don’t have what they need to begin with and to think they wouldn’t have something for Christmas broke my heart. It’s living the Gospel with joy to do for others as you would want them do for you.”
Tammy Shull, Iowa WINs chair, said it’s still a scary time for the immigrants. The Christmas gifts offer a “little hope that maybe there is a future for them.”