Father Kenneth Hallahan, right, speaks at a press conference to call attention to the way immigration laws hurt local families, on Ash Wednesday, March 5, in front of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Camden.
Photo by James A. McBride
CAMDEN – Bishop Dennis Sullivan stood with immigrant families, faith and lay leaders on the steps of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception here on Ash Wednesday for a press conference urging President Barack Obama to bring relief to families of undocumented immigrants who face deportation and detention.
“We turn our hearts to God and to the suffering immigrant families,” Bishop Sullivan said. “Immigrants built this nation, and they are essential to the church and to the country. We want them here.”
Three individuals shared their personal stories of how detention and deportation impacted their families, and how they live in fear of separation because of current immigration policies.
“My family is one of hundreds of thousands who are affected by the unjust immigration system,” said Emily Navas, a resident of Delran, who was recently reunited with her fiancé, Carlos, after he was released from detention due to the efforts of community advocacy groups.
“I ask President Obama to stop deportations and senseless family separation by providing relief to immigration families,” she said.
Edgar Trinidad Mendez came to the United States from Mexico at the age of 6, grew up in New York and currently lives in New Jersey. He described his ordeal of not being able to obtain a driver’s license and of not being able to study abroad because of his status as an undocumented individual.
“Being undocumented is like having ball chains tied to the limbs of your body, preventing you to move forward,” he said. “When opportunities are at the reach of your hand and you reach to grab them, and they seem to disappear in thin air.”
“If God authorized my living presence and safety this far from my native home, then why am I being asked for a man-made permit to work and survive in the land of opportunities and dreams? An immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship (should be) passed (so) all of us, the undocumented immigrants, can demonstrate that we can continue working toward our dreams.”
Maxwell, a native of Mexico and Williamstown resident, told his story, with his wife, Gabriela, and 5-year old daughter, Sofia, next to him.
Two and half years ago, he said, he was arrested by immigration authorities in front of his daughter.
“I just want to contribute to society,” he said, urging President Obama to “make the law more just; right now, the law is hurting my family.”
Father Ken Hallahan, who ministers to Latinos in Camden, and one of the organizers of the event, strongly urged lawmakers to remember the words in Leviticus, to “love the foreigner as yourself.”
“The present immigration policy is harming and oppressing immigrants,” he said.
Faith leaders in the Diocese of Camden are currently working with PICO New Jersey and clergy across the nation in asking for President Obama to expand deferred action for all undocumented immigrants that could qualify for citizenship under proposed legislation in Congress.
The push to stop deportation is taking place under the “I Am Josue” campaign, which was launched to highlight the recent deportation of a family man in Kansas City, Mo. Through this campaign, the PICO National Network hopes to put faces on the reality that nearly 2 million families have experienced under the Obama administration.
“We are called to be people of love and justice, and we commit ourselves to making the world more just,” said Michael Jordan Laskey, director of the Camden Diocese Office of Life and Justice.
“Today, we lift up stories of families and suffering, and learn to treat people with dignity. Even though we might be discouraged by the inaction of Congress, we can still keep up the work to call President Obama to enact executive power” to help undocumented immigrants and their families, he said.