Hardships faced by undocumented immigrant families

Hardships faced by undocumented immigrant families

40DaysOfFrancis-LOGO-WEB

Catholic Charities is leading the Diocese of Camden in 40 Days of Francis, a time of preparation for the pope’s visit to Philadelphia. This is the fifth in a series in which leaders in the community reflect on particular issues of poverty in the Diocese of Camden and how people of good will can respond, in the spirit of Pope Francis, to the “cry of the poor.”

Every Sunday at every Mass the people of our parish pray for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform. Though present political discourse, family detention centers, and attacks on “sanctuary cities” make the reality of reform seem like a distant dream, the people persevere in their prayer and in their advocacy.

While federal action languishes in courts, several parishes in our diocese presently work with “Faith in New Jersey,” a branch of a national community organizing network founded by a Jesuit priest. Their goal is to pass state legislation that would give driving licenses to undocumented immigrants and improve public safety by ensuring that these drivers know the rules of the road and have passed a driving test. Such legislation has been passed in 12 states as well as in Washington, D.C.

This legislation would greatly help our immigrant families. In most cases driving is a necessity for work, school, and medical treatment. For a family living on minimum wage and/or seasonal employment, a simple traffic violation can create an economic crisis. Such was the case for one of our parishioners, a single mother, who, after a full day of work, picked up her 4-year-old son from the daycare. Shortly before reaching their home, the young boy released the belt on his car seat. The mother thought she could reach home safely and then attend to her son.

A patrolman parked near the Camden border saw what had happened and pulled the car over. In addition to the charge of the unrestrained child, the mother was charged for driving without a license and was required to pay court fees. Because of her minimum wage and the need to provide for rent, food, clothing, and other basic necessities, she had to work out a financial plan to cover the cost of her son’s impulsivity.

In some cases a simple traffic violation has led to detention and deportation. No wonder the presence of a patrol car creates so much anxiety not only for the driver but for all passengers in the car, especially children.

Many people in our state are against granting driving licenses to people who have broken our law. It seems that entering our country without permission, a civil offense, is the only offense for which there are no mitigating circumstances. Law abiding people who contribute to our communities, harvest our fields, landscape our homes, care for our children and our elderly are defined by this one act, leaving everything they loved, risking everything they have, to provide a better life for their families. These are our sisters and brothers. Many gather with us around the Eucharistic table.

Today our church and country anticipate the coming of Pope Francis who has given us such a great example and has challenged us to participate in his mission, which is clearly the mission of Jesus. On the first pastoral visit of his papacy, he traveled to Lampedusa, an island off the coast of Sicily, to pray for refugees and migrants lost at sea. Here he warned against “a culture of well-being that makes us think of ourselves, that makes us insensitive to the cries of others….that brings indifference to others that brings even the globalization of indifference”.

As we prepare for Pope Francis, let us pray and act for immigrant justice. Let’s continue the work that Catholic Charities has begun in these “40 days of Francis.” Cross a border and attend a Sunday Liturgy with an immigrant community. Volunteer in an ESL (English as a Second Language) program. Learn more about the work for New Jersey Driving Licenses (wbuchmannccop@verizon.net). Join the people of our parish in prayer and advocacy for comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform.

Sister Veronica Roche is a Sister of St. Joseph who serves as a pastoral associate at St. Joseph Pro-Cathedral Parish in Camden.