By Rose O’Connor | Correspondent
“I am scared. I wake up every day nervous to hear the news. I have three children, and they are scared their mom could be deported.”
Those were the words of a young parishioner from St. Mark Parish, Sea Girt, one of the 800,000 “Dreamers,” or youth brought illegally to the United States as minors, once temporarily shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created by President Barack Obama in 2012.
The Trump Administration announced Sept. 5 that the program, commonly known as DACA, would be rescinded, though full implementation of the rescission would be delayed six months.
“My 10-year-old is very nervous. We have a lot of friends, too, who are part of DACA,” said the parishioner, who wished to remain anonymous.
To qualify for DACA, applicants must have arrived in the United States before 2007 and been younger than 16. As long as applicants don’t have a serious criminal background, DACA recipients can live and work legally in the United States for two years, at which point their applications have the possibility of renewal.
St. Mark Parish has a history of being proactive in helping DACA recipients with the application paperwork, which is one reason it invited immigration lawyers to volunteer their services Sept. 10.
“They are our parishioners, we love them and they are part of our family,” said Msgr. Sean Flynn, parish pastor. “Their concerns are our concerns.”
Parishioner Jim O’Brien, who worked closely with Msgr. Flynn on the information session, said, “The parish was instrumental in helping 120 to 130 parishioners fill out the initial paperwork. When the [Trump Administration] announcement was made, we knew we had to make sure their renewals were in order.”
As a result, they reached out to fellow parishioners Justin English and Eileen King English, immigration lawyers from the law firm of Weiss, Hartington & King English, LLC, which has offices in Freehold, Hammonton, Vineland and Mount Laurel.
The lawyers, both fluent in Spanish, volunteered their services to fellow parishioners who may need assistance in their DACA renewals. The impromptu meeting attracted 35 attendees.
“We gave an overview of the renewal process and the nuances of the termination, relevant work effects, travel effects,” Justin English said.
“They had great questions and hopefully came away with real, accurate information. That was our goal – to give clear and accurate information and articulate what the process is going to look like and what may be permitted with the current DACA authorization,” he said.
As many of the cases will require individual attention, the lawyers have made themselves available to fellow parishioners and are “open to meet with those who need help in the future. We don’t want to waste any time or resources,” Justin English said.
O’Brien touted the information session as a success. “We are fortunate to have people like that in the parish. They provided counseling and precise and realistic information. Of course, there are more complicated cases that need one-on-one attention, and I wish there were more lawyers like Justin and Eileen who can assist the struggling community.”
O’Brien was quick to credit other organizations within the parish that assist the Hispanic community on a regular basis, as well as the unending support of Msgr. Flynn.
“Both Msgr. Flynn and Father Jose [Fernandez-Bangueses, parochial vicar] are great and truly understand Catholic social teaching and live that,” O’Brien offered, also extoling praise on the N.J. Catholic Bishops as well as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for calling on Congress to pass the Dream Act of 2017, which would protect DACA youth.
“This is our responsibility, this is social teaching and what we are called to do,” O’Brien said.
“We need to contact our congressional representatives and state government and let them know we are in favor of comprehensive reform. These are our brothers and sisters, so we need to join forces with other organizations and urge quick legislation of DACA reform,” he said.
“The community is struggling, and they need our help,” he continued. “I keep in mind the words of Pope Francis when he said, ‘Build bridges not walls.’”
As for the parish community, St. Mark Parish will continue to assist its parishioners as they navigate through uneasy waters.
In reference to his parishioner who spoke on condition of anonymity, Msgr. Flynn said, “Her story is just one, but her fear is reflective of all of them.”
While the Dreamers’ future is still uncertain, the faith of the young woman from St. Mark Parish remains strong.
“Everyone has been very supportive of us,” she said. “It’s scary sometimes. I am afraid to go to the grocery store because not everyone is nice and people hate you for no reason. But I am hopeful. I do have hope.”