Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Fragile Immigrant Families

On the occasion of the coming World Day of Migrants and Refugees, and looking at the Holy Family of Nazareth, icon of all families, I would like to invite you to reflect on the condition of the migrant family. The evangelist Matthew narrates that shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph was forced to leave for Egypt by night, taking the child and his mother with him, in order to flee the persecution of king Herod (cf. Mt 2:13-15). Making a comment on this page of the Gospel, my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Pius XII, wrote in 1952: “The family of Nazareth in exile, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, emigrants and taking refuge in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are the model, the example and the support of all emigrants and pilgrims of every age and every country, of all refugees of any condition who, compelled by persecution and need, are forced to abandon their homeland, their beloved relatives, their neighbors, their dear friends, and move to a foreign land” (Exsul familia, AAS 44, 1952, 649). In this misfortune experienced by the Family of Nazareth, obliged to take refuge in Egypt, we can catch a glimpse of the painful condition in which all migrants live, especially, refugees, exiles, evacuees, internally displaced persons, those who are persecuted. We can take a quick look at the difficulties that every migrant family lives through, the hardships and humiliations, the deprivation and fragility of millions and millions of migrants, refugees and internally displaced people. The Family of Nazareth reflects the image of God safeguarded in the heart of every human family, even if disfigured and weakened by emigration.
In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI called attention to the fragile condition of migrant families throughout the world in his World Day of Migrants and Refugees Message. He offered as a model of compassion the Holy Family that lived through this displacement, in their case as for many war refugees, as a result of lethal threats. We are invited to see every family as the image of the Trinity. This is not necessarily the first thought in the immigration debate which is rife with accusations and acrimony.

The most shameful aspect of the new crackdown on immigration has been the separation of families, including young children (citizens if born here) taken from their parents who are then incarcerated pending deportation proceedings. Some cases are documented here (Face 1, Face 2 and Immigration Families). Others are in financial and legal limbo awaiting immigration proceedings, as for those caught in a raid last September 27th at a McDonald's in Reno:

Marta lost everything after the arrest. She is now out of work and can’t get a new job until her immigration case has gone to court, presumably within the next two months. Unable to pay rent or even buy supplies for her two infant children, she is forced to live with friends and rely on services provided by NHS. Marta says her hardships don’t change the fact that living in Reno gives her the opportunity to improve her circumstances. If she had stayed in her hometown, Mexico City, there was hardly a chance to earn a decent living....

Elena has family in Reno, who have helped since her arrest. She has also been unable to work until her legal status is clarified. Left with no alternative, she has sold most of her belongings in order to pay her bills and feed her three children. She will have to remain unemployed until her case can be heard by an immigration judge. The judge will determine if she can acquire a work permit. Though nervous, she says she hopes she can stay in the United States because living here provides better opportunities for her children than in Jalisco.

For those brought to this country illegally as children, educated by Supreme Court mandate through high school, what awaits them is also a legal limbo. They cannot legally work, and they have to pay out-of-state tuition for college. An independent movie, "This is America", produced by a young man who was brought here illegally at three years of age, makes the case for the now dormant Dream Act.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would have allowed certain students to apply for conditional status for up to six years of legal residence. During that time, the students would be required to graduate from a two-year college, complete at least two years of classes toward a four-year degree or serve in the U.S. military for at least two years. At the end of six years, students would be given permanent residency if they met the conditions. To qualify, students would have to have come to the United States when they were 15 or younger and would have to have been here at least five years before applying.

Introduced in some form every session since 2001, the most recent version died last fall.... The National Immigration Law Center blamed the Dream Act's failure, in part, on a White House statement against the measure that was released the day of the congressional vote. (Caught in the Crossfire)
Hillary Clinton recognizes the special need to keep immigrant families intact:
We do need to work with the Congress to get legislation that is comprehensive. I am proud to work with Sen. Menendez on trying to make sure that in the process of doing immigration reform, we don't separate families, we try to have family unification as one of the goals. So in addition to giving people a path to legalization, we want to make sure their families can come along with them. There does have to be an intensive effort with our friends to the south to see how the United States can once again be a partner, with a relationship based on mutual respect, where we work together to find ways that we can help them address the needs of the people living in countries to the south. Finally, we have to educate the American people about why immigration is as important today as it was when my family came through into Ellis Island.

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