By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Three mothers seeking refugee status and an immigrant whose job is at risk, shared distressing stories with U.S. Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa, during a virtual meeting Feb. 26 organized by the Iowa City Catholic Worker.
Bishop Thomas Zinkula and two diocesan priests who minister to immigrants also spoke at the video conference in support of three requests that would benefit immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, and all people struggling through the pandemic.
Father Guillermo Trevino, Jr., parochial vicar of St. Patrick Parish-Iowa City, St. Joseph Parish-West Liberty and St. Bernadette Parish-West Branch, opened the meeting with the requests. They focused on support for complete and inclusive immigration reform, COVID-19 relief for undocumented essential workers, and a follow-up meeting in August with Miller-Meeks.
Each mother, speaking in Spanish, told Miller-Meeks how immigration officers deported their husbands even though they followed the rules. Emily Sinnwell of the Iowa City Catholic Worker, served as interpreter. “Separating our families is not justice,” Modesta, a mother from Guatemala said. “It’s very sad. We don’t want this to happen to other families.”
Miller-Meeks, who told the gathering she is Catholic, listened to each person’s story and expressed compassion regarding their situations. Ninoska, a mother from Honduras, said she is working two jobs –16 hours in a row — to support her family. She asked Miller-Meeks to support immigration reform. Nancy, another mother from Honduras, expressed grief because immigration authorities took her husband away in front of their two daughters, without letting them say goodbye. She also is working, but said the hours are not consistent. She, too, asked Miller-Meeks to support immigration reform.
Ivanna De Coss, a 23-year-old immigrant with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status, spoke in English by phone from Des Moines. She lives with her mother and her brothers and sisters. Her parents are undocumented so work can be sporadic or low-wage thus her full-time employment helps pay the bills.
However, the government has not processed the young adult’s DACA renewal papers, filed on time, which has put her job in jeopardy. She is trying to resolve her case, but told Miller-Meeks that she is seeking immigration reform for everyone’s sake. Miller-Meeks urged the young woman to seek help from her congressional representative. “I’m really moved by your circumstances,” the congress member added.
Asked if she would support the COVID-19 relief bills, Miller-Meeks said not in its present form while money remains unspent from previous relief bills. Hours after the video meeting, she voted against the COVID-19 relief bill. Regarding immigration reform, she said, “If the president is willing to work in a bi-partisan fashion, I am willing to work in a bi-partisan fashion with the president.” She blamed both major political parties for the broken immigration system.
Time constraints limited the one-hour meeting to 30 minutes. Bishop Zinkula shortened his prepared statement, noting, “Pope Francis speaks often of the importance of encountering the other – people who live on the peripheries and are different from ourselves. He talks about listening to them and accompanying them.”
“… I join with my brother bishops from across the United States in requesting that you support comprehensive immigration reform. Church teaching supports the right of sovereign nations to control their borders. But enforcement of borders must include the protection of the basic human rights and dignity of the migrant, and not place lives at risk. The Church opposes enforcement-only immigration policies. … The current system is broken and needs to be fixed. This is a huge concern of mine and of the Church.”
Before leaving the meeting, Miller-Meeks said she prays a daily rosary during Lent for world peace.
“Representative Miller-Meeks was very cordial and listened attentively,” Father Rudolph Juarez, the pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, told The Catholic Messenger after the meeting. “We heard some very moving stories of immigrant women whose spouses were taken into custody even though they were meeting all requirements of the legalization process. This was a clear indication that our immigration system is not working.”
“The representative did mention the need to work in a bi-partisan way on any legislation. She seemed amenable to making sure checks and PPE (personal protection equipment) would be made available in the COVID-19 relief package.”
Father Juraez asked Miller-Meeks about a future meeting with her and the Gamaliel Foundation (an organization that works on giving everyday people a voice in matters of environmental, social, political and economic decisions). “We will follow-up with her office to get that scheduled.”
“All in all, given the short time period involved, I felt that it was a positive meeting and it is my hope that we can meet with her again and further discuss legislation that will create a more humane alternative to the immigration system we have now. It is so important to be in dialogue with our elected leaders.”
After the meeting, Father Trevino provided a statement on behalf of the Iowa City Catholic Worker. “Representative Miller-Meeks needs to do more to represent the undocumented essential workers in her district, by supporting complete and inclusive immigration reform and COVID-19 relief for everyone. We look forward to meeting with her again soon to follow-up on these urgent issues.”