By Effie Caldarola | Catholic News Service
Recently, I was invited by a group working with migrants and asylum-seekers to attend a hearing for a Mexican man who faces deportation.
The idea is to "accompany" someone on his journey through a complex legal system, to be a supportive presence to him and his family and to demonstrate to the system that ordinary Americans are interested and watching.
I was torn. I feared getting lost finding the Homeland Security Administration. It was a rush-hour trek 30 minutes from my home. So, being the wimpy procrastinator I am, I didn't commit, but instead told God to wake me up if I should go.
I don't claim a pipeline to God, but I did wake up early and a little voice of conscience badgered me to get out of bed.
After all, this voice said, it's Lent and one goal of Lent is to stand with the poor.
We have a new hunting season in this country, and the hunted are virtually anyone who doesn't have clear citizenship.
In a Feb. 16 essay in The New Yorker, Masha Gessen says the ultimate effect of our recent war on immigration "is to create a class of people who are never safe."
The Trump administration's abandonment of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the "Dreamers" program for young people who grew up American after being brought here illegally by their parents, and the unleashing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has the intent, Gessen says, of "deporting the maximum possible number of people."
People are being arrested at the strangest times: when showing up for an asylum application, or when, as a spouse of a U.S. citizen, they come to file their initial applications for a green card. Many of them have "documents" like temporary visas or even social security numbers, according to Gessen.
Many people fear reporting crime because they think it may result in their own incarceration.
And since the people being targeted often have legitimate reasons to appeal, the courts are becoming clogged and deportations have slowed.
During the 2016 presidential primaries, candidate Jeb Bush was criticized for his 2014 statement that migration is often "an act of love." Meaning, people often flee one country for another to keep their families safe and provide them with economic and educational opportunities.
That seems obvious. Most Americans would probably agree. We want border security, but we also want a humane system; not amnesty, but a path to citizenship.
For example, surveys show most Americans want a path to legal status for DACA recipients.
The Clinton and Bush administrations deported millions. President Obama earned the nickname "the deporter in chief" from immigration groups because of large deportations.
The difference between the Obama administration's efforts and now is that under Obama there were clearly articulated priorities. The focus was on sending border crossers back before they became integrated into society and on banishing criminals.
In announcing his executive action on immigration in 2014, Obama said, "Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who's working hard to provide for her kids."
Whether those principles were realized is debatable. Whether they are any longer our principles is not.
The man whose hearing I attended has been in this country 25 years. Employed, he and his wife are in the process of buying a home. They are parishioners at a largely Hispanic Catholic parish. Their three American children attended the hearing, observing their father stripped of his dignity in leg shackles. He has been jailed for six months.
He has little recourse. It's a broken system and Congress will not act.
Next week, there's another hearing. This time, I'm committed.