From staff reports
The fear that people are feeling is very real.
Such was the message heard by the roughly 200 people who attended an immigration workshop March 22 in St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.
Co-hosted by Catholic Charities’ El Centro, Trenton, and the Cathedral, the event aimed to help educate the public of their rights and resources available as deportation fears mount among immigrant communities.
The evening began with a welcome and prayer by Cathedral rector Msgr. Joseph Roldan and Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., sharing his support for immigrant communities and encouraging those in attendance to lean on their faith and trust in the God and Church that loves them.
Speaking in Spanish, the Bishop addressed the assembly who had gathered in the Cathedral’s lower hall. “I have come here tonight, not to give a speech, but simply to be present with you as your bishop,” he said. “I want to offer you my love and support at a time when I know you are worried and afraid. The Lord Jesus is with you, with us, saying, ‘Do not be afraid.’
“Put your faith and hope and trust in Jesus,” he continued. “I pray each day for you, and I place you in the arms of our loving Mother Mary, asking for her protection for you and your families. May God watch over you and bless you.”
The evening discussion featured talks by Roberto Hernandez, director of El Centro, and staff including Sandra Pinto.
Hernandez said the focus of the event was education and preparation.
“There is so much misinformation out there, and people are taking advantage of the fear it creates,” he said. “We are here tonight to assure that people are seen with dignity, to speak about people’s human rights and some practical steps they can take for their well-being.”
For example, Msgr. Roldan spoke on how immigrant communities need to educate themselves on their rights, such as what is legal during a traffic stop. He also encouraged immigrant communities not to put themselves at risk. At the same time, he urged communities in general to recognize the humanity and dignity of immigrants and acknowledge the benefits they bring to society.
One of the evening’s attendees, Cathedral parishioner Carlos Rodas, admitted that though fears have increased under the Trump Administration, immigrants with criminal records were deported under Obama’s presidency, too. His concern is that recent executive orders, once they clear judicial challenges, could mean the deportation of undocumented immigrants regardless of criminal record.
That fear, said Marlene Lao-Collins, executive director of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton, can lead to bad decisions. In an interview before the start of the event, she stressed the need for families to have plans in place and to take practical steps to protect themselves.
For example, El Centro offers services such as providing a power of attorney, job training, English as a Second Language courses, parenting classes and immigration services. Most services are offered free of charge.
“Kids are coming home from school afraid their parents won’t be there,” she said. “Catholic Charities has certified people who understand the law, and that’s why we’re offering this tonight.”
Rodas said he hopes there will be more information nights held in the future, adding that “We, as Church, need to be a refuge for immigrants.”
Hernandez, too, stressed the importance of faith and having compassion for one’s neighbor.
“If you have documents or no, when someone needs help, give them a hand,” he said.
“Todos tenemos la misma sangre,” he said. “We all have the same blood.”
Pinto ended the evening by saying, “This is the moment to put to use all of the values that the Church teaches us.”
As attendees left, paperwork was available for families to document with whom to leave children should they be separated. Those in the immigrant community were also encouraged to report to the police if they are ever victims of crimes. Reporting being a victim can sometimes help an immigration case by police pursuing those who are taking advance of immigrants, organizers said.
For more information about El Centro, call 609-394-2056.