I read about the children's march at the White House last week, our precious hijos and hijas wearing the t-shirts that bore their plea: "Don't deport my mom." I had wanted to be with them, but it was a weekday afternoon and getting time off work was impossible.
Yesterday, the issue of deported parents was brought home forcefully again. At church, a flustered Maria asked me to substitute as lector at the last minute. "Where is Marco?," I wondered. She handed me the list of petitions and his name was on it. "Maybe he's out sick," I thought.
Fr. Joe scrapped his planned homily and spoke about immigration. He reminded us of the gospel call to welcome the stranger and said that we have become "mezquinos" as a nation -- we are stingy, small-minded, not expansive and generous as God would have us be to our brothers and sisters. And then he talked about Marco.
Marco, a commercial truck driver, had been picked up about 10 days before by ICE and is now being held in the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford pending deportation. Marco, our lector coordinator who greeted everyone with a smile as they arrived for Mass and gave them a bulletin on the way out. Marco, who set out the bread and the wine and organized the teenagers to take up the collection. Marco, who had assumed the duties of Don Orlando who, at 86, is wanting to relinquish his role as "liturgical logistics coordinator". Marco, whose abrupt departure has left a gaping hole in the heart of our little Catholic community. We feel desamparados, hopeless and helpless without his fatherly presence.
After Mass, Fr. Joe and a dozen members of the community gathered with Marco's wife and daughters to see what could be done. His wife was still in a state of depression and shock and when I hugged her and assured her of the prayers of the Renovación -- she and Marco had been participants in our retreats and healing Masses -- she burst into tears.
The meeting was disjointed, flitting from the personal to the political and back again. Rumors were flying and nobody knew quite what to do. They said that Fr. Joe had not been able to get in to the jail to see Marco. Marco's wife had been able to talk to him a couple of times (when he called her) and set up a jailhouse fund for him. At Rappahannock, there is no real visitation, only video teleconferencing and that must be requested via an online application. The poor, the digitally illiterate, and those who can't read and write English have no recourse.
Enma wants to organize another seminar to brief the community about the extent of the current immigration crisis and their legal rights. Last time, nobody came but maybe now, with Marco in detention, they'll wake up. Carmen says we need to hold another fundraising dinner. Francia agrees, but others are tired of cooking and cooking. Deportations are happening so frequently these days that the money goes out as quickly as it comes in. As hard as we try, a "fund" is never established.
As for the family, they don't know what to do. Maria thinks there are no viable legal options and suggests that perhaps it would be best for us to just take up a second collection and try to raise enough money so that Marco can pay his way "home", petition ICE to allow him to "self deport" so he doesn't have to hang around in jail waiting for them to get around to shipping him out at taxpayer expense.
After the meeting, I talk to Marco's daughters. The older one, who came here with her father and mother, is working and putting herself through community college, because her immigration status makes her ineligible for scholarships or even in-state tuition. Her younger sister was born in this country and is an American citizen. She is going into her junior year of high school next month. If she has to deport with her father, she will be going to a country, culture and language she barely knows. Her education and future would be left up in the air.
Both girls speak flawless English and, in most ways, are completely American. "We have to stay strong for our mother," the older one tells me. "She is falling apart right now, so we have to stay strong..."