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Locals await changes in immigration law

Posted By December 4, 2014 | 5:19 pm | Featured Article #1

By Tanya Connor

Some local Catholics are praising President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration, calling for more action and seeking ways the Church might help.
“It’s an important step for protecting immigrants and families and it is in keeping with Christ’s directive in Scripture to welcome the stranger,” Diane Lambert, administrator of family and community services at Catholic Charities Worcester County, said.
“It is also in keeping with Catholic social teaching to honor the dignity of the human person,” she said.
“Our immigration staff will be learning the details and procedures over the coming days and weeks so that we can process applications for those who are eligible when the application process opens up.”
Catholic Charities is a member of Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., founded by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It receives information and training from CLINIC, Ms. Lambert said.
She said Catholic Charities currently does not process applications for people who did not enter the United States legally, because there was no process they could apply for. But Catholic Charities has been helping with various legal immigration applications for others, she said.
“We need a more permanent solution and we hope Congress, working with the president, will find one through legislation,” she said. “But this is an important step;” it stops eligible people from being deported and allows them to apply for employment.
The diocesan Hispanic Apostolate will play a role helping people to navigate the immigration system. Hispanics feel more comfortable with someone who speaks their language, understands their culture and knows their family situation, said Deacon Franklin B. Lizardo, director.
Those who may qualify for relief don’t know all the details of the president’s action, may fear the government and need someone to speak for them, but probably don’t have money for a lawyer, he said. Some people could be defrauded because they lack education or facility with the English language, he said.
Some may say: “I’m not going to apply for this. I’m here. I waited 10 years. I can wait another three.”
If the Church helps them, that will speak volumes, “because this is affecting their families,” Deacon Lizardo said.
After receiving help, people will say, “These people helped me; I want to be with them,” he said. They will want to know why Catholics helped them.
“That’s when we’re going to say, ‘Jesus told us to do this for you; we have been praying for you for a long time,’” Deacon Lizardo said.
He said there is a mix of opinions because the president’s action is not for everyone.
People must be careful because this is a political move; politicians are seeking to win voters’ sympathy, he said. He said the government can make money if undocumented people come forward and pay taxes, and the government might not do anything for them.
“This is small medicine for the disease; this is not the solution,” he said.
Eva Passos, a member of the Brazilian Catholic community at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Milford for 25 years, echoed this concern, saying things could change in the future. But just the fact that this step was taken makes people more hopeful, she said.
Throughout November St. Mary’s Brazilian community was praying about immigration laws each week at Mass, so this weekend they thanked God for prayers being answered, she said.
“It was good news from God,” she said of President Obama’s action.
“I’d say 70 percent (of local Brazilians) are happy about it because they have a kid,” she said. “Those that are qualified are very happy about it.” Others are disappointed because they have been here a long time, working hard and waiting for something, and don’t qualify, she said.
It is hard for vulnerable people to come forward, so it is really important for the Church to support the president and push for more, said Jesuit Father William Reiser, chair of the religious studies department at the College of the Holy Cross, who ministers to Hispanic communities at Our Lady of Providence Parish in Worcester and St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Westborough.
He said this issue is urgent and is now front and center, and people need to think about what to do next.
“Building walls (on the border) is not the solution,” he said. “The only solution long term is to help those countries,” from which people emigrate, to become more stable politically and economically, so their citizens do not feel the need to leave.
Illegal immigration doesn’t seem to be a problem in the Vietnamese community. Father Tam M. Bui, pastor of Our Lady of Vilna Parish in Worcester, home of the Vietnamese Catholic community, said he doesn’t know of any undocumented Vietnamese here. Usually people are sponsored by a family member, or marry in Vietnam and come back with their spouse, who is from America, he said. Those whose visas expire return to Vietnam; life there has improved, so they can stay there, he said.
With the United States bishops, “I wholeheartedly support Obama’s approach; it’s a long time overdue,” said Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki, who was deputy director for immigration, in charge of Europe, for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops during the fall of Communism. He served in that position from 1987 to 1993 and is now pastor of St. Joseph Basilica in Webster, a Polish national parish.
“So many people, including many, many Polish – those who overstay their visa or who are undocumented – are living in the shadow of society, without any rights, in constant fear of being deported,” he said. People who do not have a social security number cannot get a driver’s license and if they are stopped for a traffic violation they can be reported to authorities, he said.
“Also, this is very devastating for the children of the immigrants, who do not have any rights,” Msgr. Czarnecki said.
He said there are close to one million Polish people in the United States who might qualify for relief under President Obama’s executive action.
“Over the last several years so many people were coming to the rectory to seek some help – some undocumented, some overstayed,” he said. He said he directed them to Catholic lawyers and Catholic Charities, but nothing could be done because they were here illegally.
“We paid close attention to their faith and their participation in church and also extended some help, whatever we could, though very few came for financial assistance,” he said.
Many are educated people who want to use their occupation to contribute to America, he said. But, he said, the political culture is turning against all immigrants because of those who don’t respect the laws and those feared to be terrorists.
Hearing promises of immigration reform “they were waiting in hope,” he said, and now President Obama’s action “put … a smile on their faces,” and they feel more secure.
The president’s action is not the whole solution, but an emergency step to reunite families and get the immigrant community out of the shadows, Msgr. Czarnecki said.
“Local people cannot do anything except extend the welcome” they already extend to immigrants, he said.
But when the time comes, he will write letters of support for his parishioners that they can submit with their applications for work permits, he said.