Advocating for two local potential deportation cases

Trinidad Molina of VIA, the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocesan immigrant and refugee ministry is with Wendy Mora of St. Sabina Parish and Raiza Guevara of Pastoral Migratoria Ministry, on the campus of the Morgan County Courthouse and detention center following a 30-minute visit to Crecensio Mendez, a Mexican immigrant being held there. (Photo courtesy Trinidad Molina)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

KANSAS CITY — Immigration is a hot topic in today’s world.

For centuries, most of the folks who settled and built this nation were born in another country. Over time, immigrant numbers ebbed and flowed, but people kept coming, for a chance at a better life, to escape war, poverty, religious persecution, enslavement or even all of the above.

During our lifetimes, however, many immigrants came from Central and South America as well as from other counties, most coming for the same reasons as the earlier immigrants. There were bad guys too, along with the men, women and children hoping for a better life.

More than a million children were brought by parents who crossed the border illegally. Those children grew up American, and since 2012, were protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, per an executive order signed by then-President Barack Obama.

Few had the resources to enter the country legally, a lengthy and likely expensive process. The bad guys also wanted to remain off law enforcement’s databases. And, for many Americans, undocumented became a synonym for illegal. But the vast majority of the undocumented are decent, law abiding, hardworking people who contribute to the well-being of this nation. Their status is often a matter of renewing or overstaying visas.

Since Sept. 2017, the current administration has put the brakes on illegal immigration; called for an end to DACA, detained and/or deported many undocumented people.

Several cases in point: Bangladeshi Syed Ahmed Jamal, a 55-year-old Park University chemistry professor, who has lived in Lawrence, Kan., for 31 years, is married and has three children; and 43-year old Hispanic immigrant Crecensio Mendez, who has lived and worked in Kansas City, Kan., for 13 years, and is married with four sons. Syed was arrested outside his home in Lawrence while taking his daughter to school on Jan. 24 and detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for unclear reasons. Crecensio was arrested Feb. 7 while checking in with the immigration office as required, and detained. The fate of the two men runs the gamut from deportation to stay of deportation and back. Jamal is currently being held in the Platte County Detention Center and Mendez is held in a detention center in Versailles, Mo.

Several events held recently in the Kansas City area attracted many to advocate for the men’s release, support their families and promote change in the current immigration policies. Trinidad Molina, Program Coordinator for the VIA Immigration & Refugee Ministry of the diocesan Human Rights Office, was invited to a “Free Syed” rally at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City Feb. 11, by Raiza Guevara, a member of Pastoral Migratoria, a new immigrant-to-immigrant ministry training program developed by the Chicago Archdiocese. Guevara had helped immigration attorney Jessica Piedra, of the Cosecha non-profit, organize the event. Molina, whose father was a child immigrant from Mexico, and whose mother immigrated at age 12 from Bangladesh, was invited in part because Syed Jamal is from Bangladesh. Molina gave the opening prayer, for which he used the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Prayer for Migrants and Refugees.

That prayer says in part: Lord Jesus, today you call us to welcome the members of God’s family who come to our land to escape oppression, poverty, persecution, violence and war. Like your disciples, we … are filled with fear and doubt and even suspicion. We build barriers in our hearts and in our minds. Lord Jesus, help us by your grace.

There were several speakers at the rally, including Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver (D-Mo), who spoke forcefully that Americans “are people of compassion.” Molina recalled being seated next to Cleaver, who had “just returned from …visiting Syed Jamal (then) in a detention center in Texas … Cleaver became very impassioned, declaring that he was going to fight, not because of partisan politics but because it was right. He yelled, ‘This RIGHT! WE are RIGHT!’”

Other speakers included Syed’s younger brother, Syed Hussain Jamal, who spoke on the situation and described his older brother as innocent in nature and character; Crecensio’s wife Yasmin, who spoke with the aid of an interpreter on his arrest and detention by ICE and the effect it was having on their four sons. One of the sons has a bone disease and must get a shot weekly. Crecensio was the family’s sole provider. A young Latina woman spoke about the end of DACA and its effect on her life and future.

Cleaver also mentioned plans to draft a private bill addressing Syed’s case. A bill was introduced by Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.) several weeks ago, and supported by Rep. Cleaver, who helped draft it. That bill would grant Syed and his wife lawful, permanent residence in the U.S. Cleaver expected it to be passed by a large majority. At this point, however, it is still in limbo. As of a week ago, Syed remained in detention in Platte County. His family has been able to visit but only see him through a plexiglass window and talk over the phone.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, last year called for immigration policies that do “not tear families apart.” and a “humane” approach to border policing, while still upholding the government’s authority to protect border security.

Immigrants comprise a large share of the 68 million U.S. Catholics, including a growing number of Latinos, both newcomers and U.S.-born. Pope Francis has made aid for immigrants and refugees of all nationalities a priority of his pontificate. And according to Miguel Salazar, diocesan director of Hispanic Ministry, the 27-county Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is home to 90,000 Latinos.

Awareness of local refugee crises, including these, must be spread across the diocese, right now, Molina said. “We are called by the Church to welcome the stranger. … We can’t give into fear tactics. … It is a responsibility of the Church to help people not feel abandoned.”

Support for Jamal, Mendez and their families, the Dreamers of DACA, and others locally and across the country has been illustrated by thousands of signatures on petitions, rallies, statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and local representatives of the U.S Congress, even the Mexican Consulate in Kansas City. Immigration attorneys have filed individual and class-action lawsuits to try and get justice and due process for the unlawful immigrants. Immigrants in detention or in fear of possible arrest and detention felt both hope and despair. Then the U.S. Supreme Court dealt immigration advocates a defeat on Feb. 27, ruling that immigrants can be held by U.S. immigration officials (ICE) indefinitely without receiving bond hearings, even if they have permanent legal status or are seeking asylum. The 5-3 ruling, with Justice Elana Kagan recusing, stated that “Immigration officials are authorized to detain certain aliens in the course of immigration proceedings while they determine whether those aliens may be lawfully present in the country,” reversing a recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Molina said the events of the past few weeks have been “a bit scary and a bit hopeful.” He accompanied Raiza Guevara, who along with other participants in Pastoral MIgratoria was recently commissioned at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and Wendy Mora of St. Sabina Parish to visit and pray with Crecensio Mendez in the Morgan County detention center.

Petitions on Facebook asked that both men be allowed to go home to their families. A GoFundMe account raised more than $73,000 to help pay legal fees for Syed Jamal.

According to a March 2 news release from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), 20 “criminal aliens and immigration fugitives” were arrested in Kansas City, St. Joseph, Belton, Blue Springs and Independence. Fifteen men and five women, aged 18 – 61, originally from Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, Romania and Sierra Leone, were arrested. The release stated that “several of the aliens targeted by ERO deportation officers during this operation had prior criminal histories that included driving under the influence, child neglect, child abuse, drug offenses, fraud and larceny.” Four had feloniously re-entered the U.S. after deportation, two had overstayed their visas. “All were amenable to arrest and removal under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.”

A recent George Washington University study of 213 Central American (predominantly Salvadoran) parents of adolescents compared the parents and families across a variety of immigration statuses. One third were undocumented, one sixth had Temporary Protected Status (TPS) given to those in the U.S from countries afflicted by war or natural disasters, one third were green card holders and another one sixth were U.S. citizens. Most, 70 percent of the teenaged children were U.S. citizens.

The study found that the parents lived in fear of deportation, especially those with TPS status. In recent months, the administration announced that TPS protections to Haitians and Nicaraguans would cease in 2019, and, in January 2018 announced that Salvadorans would likewise lose TPS protections.

Most of the parents said they worried about family separations, and if children would be able to finish school. They talked to their kids about avoiding authorities, changing behaviors – who they hung out with and where, and not seeking medical care.

In the Feb. 2017 Missouri Bishops’ letter regarding the administration’s order on refugees and migrants, the four bishops stated unequivocally, “In faith, we believe that each person, regardless of their official status, is made in the image and likeness of God, and as such deserves to be treated with respect, justice, and love.”

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  • Jim Thomasson

    The Church is really wrong on the illegal immigration issue or the Church is aiding the Democrat party in flooding the US with third world people and third world culture. It seems that the Church is attempting to change the US from a vibrant, safe place to live to a place that pits one side against another on the issue of illegal immigration.

  • Miguel Salazar

    Good job Trinidad, Wendy and Raiza and Pastoral Migratoria team! Thank you for taking Christ’s words to heart: “I was imprisoned and you visited me” (Matt. 25:36).

Thursday
November 15, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph