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Immigrants are Not Criminals

Last week Noemí came to Casa Juan Diego to beg for a place to stay with her three children because her husband had been deported because of tickets. Well, not because of tickets, but because he was jailed for not paying traffic tickets on time. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has a desk in the Harris County Jail where they seek out undocumented people who happen to come there, send them to the Detention Center and then deport them. We have heard that sometimes the question is simply asked, “Does anyone here speak Spanish?” and those who raise their hands are sent to the INS desk.

Maria, another mother, eighteen years old, came to ask for help for rent or a place to stay for herself and her baby because her husband had been deported. We took her in.

Jorge, desperately worried, came to ask our help in locating his wife, who was seriously mentally ill. He had been deported and had just returned to the United States, only to find that she had disappeared.

The Houston Catholic Worker has published several times the teaching from the Second Vatican Council, and from the encyclicals Evangelium Vitae and Veritatis Splendor, that deportation is a serious sin, along with murder, euthanasia, abortion.

Sandra was desperate to get a job. She and her husband had mortgaged their home in Honduras for her to make the trip to the United States so that she could work here and send money back to help their children to be able to go to school.

Alma came to the door with her husband’s brother to ask for help from our clinic. She was seven months pregnant and had not been able to receive prenatal care in any government clinic because she had no ID, no paperwork of any kind. Her husband, the family bread-winner, had been deported. Alma was very worried about her baby and began to weep as she spoke of trying to get some medical help. We were able to get medical help for Alma.

Samuel came to stay at Casa Juan Diego. He had jumped into a train to make his way to the United States. He wasn’t able to see that the train car was filled with heavy metal pipes-which rolled over and crushed his foot.

Yesterday several groups of men came to ask our help. They had worked for several days in Houston and received no pay. They were undocumented.

Numerous battered immigrant women have come to us with their children in the last several weeks. They told us that in their own countries the husbands had not treated them so badly, but here, without any family or community support, things really deteriorated. One husband, who hit his wife with his fist, said, “You don’t have anyone here. Your family doesn’t want you, my family doesn’t want you.” But, of course, Casa Juan Diego did want her and gave her an unlimited amount of time to stay until she could get her life together. We know here that hospitality is empowerment.

Pope John Paul II has stated many times that people have a right to migrate, to cross borders, if it is necessary to feed their families.

The tragic stories of immigrants and the ethics about immigration taught by the Council Fathers and the Holy Father are not mentioned by Michael Novak and the heads of transnational companies who speak at programs like the one described in the last issue of the HCW. In a letter to the editors published in this issue Michael Novak mentions that migrants travel to capitalist centers and that most of them do very well. We have known many very good people who have worked very hard, but who have not done well. Michael Novak failed to mention that U. S. law forbids these hard workers to work and therefore to do very well.

We are grateful that the 1987 law which forbade immigrants to work left a provision for cooperatives in the law. While almost no one has taken advantage of this provision, we provide such a cooperative for immigrant men in Houston. If you have day work (yard work, moving, construction, finishing furniture, etc.), workers can be found at 4811 Lillian, the St. Joseph the Worker center, between 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

Immigrants are not Criminals

We knew that the Houston Chronicle would want us to clarify the picture that appeared on the Metropolitan page today (June 15). Pictured were “twenty-one suspected illegal immigrants” rounded up by police and sheriff’s deputies “while searching for suspected killer Rafael Resendez-Ramirez.”

These immigrants did not commit a crime. They do look dirty and ugly in the picture because they have been riding a train for days. They probably just participated in family Baptism or First Commuion, then headed North (an awful trip) to earn money for their families. They are not here to hurt anyone. They have this one great gift that means so much to the United States economy: They are dying to work.

After a shower and clean clothes (we’re short of pants), these “suspected illegal aliens” will look very much like your neighbor or fellow parishioner. It makes you think of Elie Wiesel’s statement about immigrants:

“You who are so-called illegal aliens must know that no human being is ‘illegal’. That is a contradiction in terms. Human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful, they can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong, but illegal? How can a human being be illegal?”

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIX, No. 4, July-August, 1999.