As a Catholic priest, I shudder when I read about families broken apart by the enforcement of our immigration laws. I know pastors with sizable numbers of immigrant parishioners who have stories about undocumented parents getting arrested, while their children who are U.S. citizens by birth, stand abandoned and feel bewildered.
A recent case in Kentucky should spark a meditation.
Erick Cortez lived in Bardstown with his wife, their two children and stepson. A resident of Nelson County for more than 20 years, he provided for his family by working in construction as a foreman at a concrete plant, and was known as a hard worker.
In 2010, he was pulled over by police because the tinted windows on his car appeared too dark. With that stop, police discovered Cortez was undocumented and reported him to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Cortez had emigrated to the U.S. when he was 15 years old.
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After his arrest, he unsuccessfully applied for a permit to stay in the country for those who came here as children. Last July when his appeals ran out, he was deported to Mexico, separated from his wife, children and the community he supported. He now must wait 10 years before he can legally apply to return.
With the recent decision to revoke the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, 800,000 young people in the U.S. basically between the ages of 15 and 25, and over 6,000 DACA recipients in Kentucky alone, face the possibility of deportation in six months.
I talked with one minister who encouraged young folks to “come out of the shadows” and register with DACA. He now feels betrayed by the government, embarrassed and angry. People in ministry try to build community and heal social brokenness. The current government policies on immigration destroy trust, breed fear, and stoke racism.
Our immigration system is broken. It divides families, allows corporations to detain people for profit, and compromises our historical commitment to refugees and asylum seekers.
Children live in fear that their parents could be gone when they return from school. DACA recipients face the end of their schooling and apprenticeships.
The border with Mexico has been labeled a militarized zone as more border agents oversee the area, and corporations anticipate the great profits from building the wall.
What values do these policies express? What kind of country do we want to live in? Politicians blithely target the most vulnerable — the undocumented who pick our vegetables and the youth unwittingly brought here — rather than address the difficult task of reforming the immigration laws to reflect our current reality.
Any person of faith can consult the Scriptures: “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34). In our political discourse, these values seldom surface.
Laws must be respected, but unjust laws hold no moral obligation. Securing our borders means effecting fair and just immigration policies that allow people a place in line — whereas currently no line exists.
We need immigration laws that honor families and extend compassion to DACA recipients, because more important than the papers we carry, is the image of God we bear as members of the human family.
Fr. John S. Rausch lives in Stanton and conducts a ministry in Appalachian Justice Education.