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  • Sacred Conversations 2016

Welcoming the stranger

“My husband has not yet come home from work. We think he could be detained! Could you check and see if you can find out where he is?” I have heard this more than once and I am usually able to find where the immigrant is being held. That is some help to the family, but the family now has many things with which to deal. This family needs a way to get money for food, clothing, rent etc. There is now just one parent taking care of everything. There is the emotional impact of having one parent in jail. It does not take much imagination to know that this is not an ideal situation. It is hard on the whole family, especially the children, who are usually United States Citizens.

Why do people come here when things are so difficult living in the shadows, trying to stay invisible, hoping not to be deported? If you ask, the answer you will often hear is “I want my children to have something to eat.” Some people may tell you of leaving their country of origin because of violence where they were living. They just want a better life for their children – sounds like stories my grandmother told me. Maybe some of you who are reading this have heard similar stories from your parents or grandparents. Certainly, all want their children to have a better life.

The next question is, “Why don’t they come here legally?” Coming here legally is not so easy. If the immigrant has a special skill or family already here, he or she might have a chance; but how many people qualify that way? If they had a special skill; they could probably get a job in their own country to keep their family from being hungry. People do want to have all their legal documents in order, but right now, with the system we have, many cannot get proper documents.

Sometimes I hear people complain, “They don’t even speak English”. Actually, new immigrants learn English at about the same rate as immigrants of past ages. The children pick up English pretty quickly. Adults have more difficulty than children, but one might be surprised at how well many adults who started life in another country do speak English.

When I speak about immigration reform I am not alone. Faith Coalition for the Common Good, an organization which represents faith congregations, community organizations and labor unions, is also behind me. Many businesses from Illinois are also in favor of immigration reform.

For me, reform does not mean amnesty. I am asking for a viable way for ordinary people (not just those who have family already here or special skills) to come here legally to live and work here. I am asking for a path to citizenship; one that ordinary people can accomplish. I hope that students can study and then use the skills they have learned right here in the U.S.A. It does not really make sense for the United States to educate young people only to say, “Sorry, I know you have studied hard and now have talents and skills that you did not have before, but you cannot use these skills here in the U.S.A.” I am also asking for a way to maintain family unity. As stated above, it is far from ideal to have one parent in one country while the other parent and children live in another. I am asking that good, honest, hardworking people be given the chance to give their children a better life.

Sr. Ann Elizabeth Little visits the sick at St. Katharine Drexel Parish. She is a member of the Springfield Catholic Diocesan Immigrant Council and is actively involved in the Faith Coalition for the Common Good’s work on immigration as well as the work of the Coalition’s City Services Task Force. For more information: 217-544-2297

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