Catholic “dreamers” fly “prayer kites” and pray for mercy
Reprinted from the Twin-City News, Batesburg-Leesville, SC, 11/14/13. Photos are of Ismael Gerardo and Jennifer Zuniga.
“Unity in Diversity” is the motto of our church, St. John of the Cross in Batesburg. As I helped our youth group make and fly “prayer kites” recently, I witnessed their dedication to making this dream a reality.
“They’re good kids,” said religious education director Janet Hayden, who has helped many of the undocumented immigrant youth with their applications for DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA was a memo signed by President Obama on June 15, 2012. It allows deferred action for certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service here. “Dreamers” began application for the program on August 15, 2012.
“Dreamers” was the name first given to those who would have qualified for the DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), a legislative proposal first introduced in the Senate on August 1, 2001. If passed into law, the bill would have provided conditional permanent residency to certain immigrants of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the U.S. as minors and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment. Components of the DREAM act have been included in recent legislative proposals for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). A bill for CIR with a pathway to citizenship has passed the US Senate, and advocates are hoping for a similar bill to be passed in the House of Representatives this year.
St. John of the Cross “dreamers” want immigration reform not only for themselves but for their friends and family.
I interviewed them as they were constructing their prayer kites, simple creations of paper, straws and tape, decorated with prayers and transformed into artistic expressions of their visions for a better world. “I’d like to stay in my church and become an electrical engineer and live the American dream… be in the country without fearing,” said 15-year-old Jose. He was brought to this country from Mexico when he was 4-years-old and is now in his first year of ROTC. “I want to give my parents a better life in their old age,” he said.
15-year-old Irma was brought to Lexington County from Mexico when she was an infant. She dreams of graduating from high school and going into the criminal justice field. “I want to help people in the same situation as me,” she said.
Wanting the American public to understand immigrants’ situation, 13-year-old Francisco said “My dream is to help other people understand that we’re not different. In the constitution, everyone’s equal.” Francisco said he wants to be a lawyer or a social worker.
Most of the youth I interviewed said they were born in this country and are citizens. Nevertheless, they have family and friends who are undocumented. “I feel very lucky to have the papers,” said 15-year-old Wendy. “I wish my family could get papers.” 13-year-old Ismael, who was born in Lexington County and wants to be an engineer, said “It’s really sad they (friends and family) don’t have the kind of freedom we have.” 14-year-old Jennifer said she is “so worried” about her family. She dreams of going into the Army to become a nurse and ultimately a pediatrician. 15-year-old Sanjuana, who was born in Texas, said she wants to be a successful RN and for her parents to be proud of her. She is worried about her stepfather, who is “not from here.” “I wish I could do something to help him,” she said. 16-year-old Rachel said she tries to comfort her family: “Jesus is going to be with them. Leave everything with Him.”
On the kites, prayers of thanksgiving and trust were interspersed with appeals for mercy and justice. “It made them think,” said Janet Hayden about the project. At a recent church picnic, they were given the cue to fly their kites across the parish lawn. A cry of excitement arose as they took off across the field. Some of the kites broke in the process and will have to be repaired, but they will continue to fly them as an outward expression of their prayers and their dreams.
I’m a volunteer for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants” (JFI) campaign. Like many denominations, we support comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship and that preserves family unity. Please consider learning about your own denominational campaigns for CIR. There are websites for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Immigration Table, “Bibles, Badges and Businesses” and many others.
This is a truly interfaith and bipartisan effort, and it’s beautiful to see the “unity in diversity” present among advocates.
After all, many of us can relate to the scripture from Leviticus 19:33-34: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
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Sara Damewood is the Parish Ecumenical Representative for St. John of the Cross Catholic Church in Batesburg. She is employed as a psychiatric social worker and volunteers for various local and national organizations that support immigration reform.