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Who Called Immigration on Casa Juan Diego?

Casa Juan Diego has been a sanctuary for political and economic refugees and immigrant battered women and their children since 1980. For several years Casa Juan Diego has offered to help the City and the West End community organize a hiring hall for the day laborers.

“Isn’t it strange?” she sobbed. “They took my husband struggling to make a few dollars for food and rent, but still on the street corner in front of Eckerd’s on Washington is the man who put a pistol to my chest to steal the little chain around my neck.”

This is the problem: the drug people, the prostitutes, (male and female) and those who cruise the area looking for an AIDS-free population are still on the street, but those who want to work have been deported by Immigration. The trouble makers are even on Spanish TV giving their commentary, still there after the raid, because they are legal.

Went for Help

We went to Cynthia Gorczynski, our Councilwoman, to seek help in cleaning up the streets, because there is so much crime in the area, and she responded positively, we thought. We collaborated with the police who called us and met with us. We didn’t protest the zero tolerance of the police in the area which was first-class harassment of the day laborers.

What did We Get?

What did we get from the city for trying to clean up the neighborhood? Immigration busting into Casa Juan Diego at 6:00 a.m. on the Feast of the Day of the Dead, posing as labor contractors (offering $5.00 an hour), entering our property and even trying to drag men off who refused to leave their home at Casa Juan Diego. These are the facts.

Why Casa Juan Diego?

We were very disappointed that the City of Houston set up Casa Juan Diego as the primary target for Immigration’s attack. It was the first place they came and the first people at the City park detention center on Scotland Street were from Casa Juan Diego.

None of Casa Juan Diego’s guests are on the streets. They are not on the street corners and have not been on the street corners in the last year. Casa Juan Diego does not feed people into the streets. The City and the police knew this.

Some of the city people involved in this raid on the poor immigrants and refugees of Casa Juan Diego are practicing Catholics who receive the Eucharist. (See Oct. issue)

What makes us most uncomfortable is a Houston Independent School District elementary school principle who was instrumental in calling in Immigration. We wonder if she knows (according to reports we have received) that some of the people picked up for looking for work are parents of children in her school.

Many hundreds of children of families who have lived at Casa Juan Diego have attended the school of this principal. What will happen to the children of Casa Juan Diego who are there now? Do children pay for the sins of their parents?

Meanwhile, What?

Immigration’s attack on Casa Juan Diego hit us like a ton of bricks. It was the first time.

However, the day was filled with ironies. Every time we sat down to discuss the attack we were interrupted by various city, county, school and United Way agencies asking for help with their various unsolvable problems.

The Harris County Psychiatric Hospital called, asking for travel funds to help an undocumented patient. The Houston Police Department Family program (an excellent program) called to ask us to take in a battered Honduran mother and her child.

We received numerous calls from neighborhood mothers whose husbands had been picked up or other family members called in desperation. They had been calling Immigration and various detention centers, trying to locate disappeared family members. Some women begged us to help them find live-in jobs, since they could not survive without their husbands or brothers.

We received a call from Harris County Social Services asking us to provide housing for a family of six who are living in their car while waiting for the inspection of their Section 8 public housing.

St. John Vianney Parish called to send a mother and child who have been living in a small apartment with nine people.

We received a call from AVANCE, which provides parenting classes and other programs for Spanish-speaking parents, asking us to house a woman who has nowhere to go.

A Cuban American woman called to ask us to give hospitality to a friend who has six little children and is in an impossible, abusive relationship with her husband.

Herman Hospital social workers called to ask for housing for a paraplegic undocumented man currently in that hospital.

A Ben Taub Hospital social worker called for assistance with very difficult problems concerning a mother and her children. An HISD elementary school called for help for a battered woman.

The Texas Department of Health called to ask us to assist with $60.00 for temporary legal papers so that Mexican parents can stay with their seriously ill, hospitalized child.

St. Stephen’s Church called to arrange for help with travel for a family. A church called to get information for medical care for someone who speaks Spanish.

A woman called begging for help. The Harris County Probation office wanted us to accept an unaccompanied minor.

Who Will be Next?

Who will the City and Immigration target next?

– The battered, homeless women brought to us by the police and school principals?

– The men on crutches and in wheel chairs who are homeless and sent by Ben Taub and LBJ Hospitals?

– The little homeless babies?

– The 200 immigrant women who come for food each week?

– The 200 immigrant women who come for clothing each week?

– The sick immigrants who come to our various free clinics?

– The people who will be at our Thanksgiving dinner?

– The people who come to English classes?

– The youths referred to us by the Juvenile Probation office?

What to do Next?

What can we do? What we will do is keep serving the many thousands of people sent to us by the agencies and the churches of Houston. We will work with the families of the disappeared of Houston just as so many have worked with the families of the disappeared of Central America.

We will continue to bind up wounds and console the suffering and take in the strangers who come to our doors. We will continue to accept the pregnant women and women with children that Immigration sends us after apprehending them.

We will continue to accept the unaccompanied minors sent to us by Harris County Juvenile Probation. We will continue to distribute food and clothing to so many families on the margin to try to help them to stay
in their own homes.

And we will pray for a positive solution. We will pray for those who made the decisions to persecute the most humble and vulnerable. We will meet with round-table discussions of people of goodwill who want to work toward a positive solution.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIII, No. 4, November 1993.