A Mother’s Day Tragedy Only Congress Can Fix

Because Congress has failed to pass immigration reform, mothers will be separated from their children throughout America this Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is time to celebrate the first women in our lives who teach us to love. From a baby’s first breath, the role of a mother is to love, nourish and protect her children. My faith tradition teaches that family is a central social institution that must be supported because it impacts human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.

In the shadows of communities across the country, families now face a terrifying threat — that of immigrant mothers torn away from the children they love, with their families left to cope alone and broken. This is a moral outrage. The only permanent solution is for Congress to fix our broken immigration system.

Our nation desperately needs immigration reform, and make no mistake: our broken immigration system will not be repaired until Congress acts.

Last May, NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus hit the road on a 6,800-mile bus trip across the country in support of immigration reform. As I reflect on the journey, I am more concerned than ever that the cries we heard in community after community are not being taken seriously by all in Congress. I believe that if they could hear the pain of these families as we did, their hearts would be moved to action.

What is missing in the immigration debate in Congress is a sense of urgency born out of the realities these hardworking families face. Let me share a few stories.

Angelina, an undocumented woman in North Carolina, was driving her three young children to school one morning when she was rear-ended by another driver. Being hit with small children in a car alone is enough to cause great concern, but the accident had far more disastrous consequences for Angelina and her family. Immediately, she was placed in the back of a police car and taken away; her small children were left alone with police officers who scrambled to reach another adult so the children could get to school.

Then there was Ida, who had just received her driver’s license in Georgia. Ida told us how she constantly worries about her parents when they go to work each day. She warns her mom and dad not to talk to strangers or to “call me right away if anything changes, and tell me where you are.” Her earliest childhood memories are steeped in fear; Ida knows that if her parents are “found” they can be deported. Meanwhile, her parents work in the fields picking the vegetables that feed families across America at wages that hardly support their daily needs.

Finally, we heard the story of a mother whose name I will never learn. On our trip through Arizona, we were told about a woman recently found dead in the desert. When her body was moved, her infant child was found beneath her. This mother risked everything to make a better life for her child. Death in the desert is a tragic and common experience as migrants attempt in vain to find work in our fields, build our houses, and provide daycare for our children. This is an outrage and one of the great moral failings of our time.

Last year, the Senate passed bipartisan, comprehensive reform that provides immigrants with a path to citizenship. Months later, what progress has been made? Immigration reform stalled and we are no closer to resolving this issue today than we were a year ago. People of faith and immigration activists across the country have rallied, lobbied, fasted and gotten arrested to emphasize the pain our communities are feeling. Our nation desperately needs immigration reform, and make no mistake: our broken immigration system will not be repaired until Congress acts.

Pope Francis, in his letter Joy of the Gospel, offers a path forward to Congress to resolve these issues. He states that “realities are greater than ideas.” Resolution of the immigration dilemma is in danger because the ideas of reform have become detached from realities in our nation. Angelina, Ida, the unknown mother in the desert, and many other families are being torn apart by our broken and unjust immigration system. That is the reality.

I hope we all take a moment this Mother’s Day to think about our own mothers and grandmothers from generations past who journeyed to this country in pursuit of a better life for themselves and their families. I ask that everyone stand in solidarity with immigrant mothers and children living in fear. Pope Francis tells us that it “becomes possible to build communion amid disagreement, but this can only be achieved by those great persons who are willing to go beyond the surface of the conflict and to see others in their deepest dignity.” We can honor this Mother’s Day by acknowledging the desperation of our most vulnerable mothers and imploring Congress to fix our broken immigration system. Now. 

  • Robin Vestal

    I hardly know where to start. I agree that the plight of so many here suffering under our current immigration system and even dying badly calls for relief and justice. But I take issue with the Senate Bill better called the Border Security Act as being the path forward. A very limited number of people will get relief but it does not create a just way forward and deaths and suffering will continue. It’s a travesty to call the Senate bill reform. It’s a change but it’s no justice. It’s deeply discouraging to me that work by fine caring people is going to try to move this bill forward. Let’s start again and try to work for real justice. Getting something passed isn’t the goal, getting justice is.

  • Teresa Trujillo

    Sister Simone, you cannot protect people from the consequences of poor choices. Parents who cross international borders against the law of the lands they are crossing as subject to man’s laws. There should never be a time when someone is rewarded for their bad choices.

    I am sympathetic to those who want to come to the United States, and I believe the process of coming here legally should be reformed. But, effective reform cannot take place until the problems caused by illegal immigration are addressed. If I robbed a local store and was caught, I would be expected to bear the consequences of my poor choices. But, somewhere along the progressive continuum of thought, it is okay to break some laws and rules without consequence. In fact, if you break the “right” laws you might be rewarded with access the “free” education, healthcare, housing, food, etc. There is nothing “free” in this life. If a government is giving “free” benefits to someone, it is because they have taken that benefit from the earning of someone else. In California, the average wage earner is paying in excess of 50% of their earnings in Federal, state, and local taxes. This includes taxes on gasoline, sales taxes, and other assessments.

    I could afford to be much more charitable than I am right now if the government did not confiscate so much money. Granting government money to one person after taking it to another is legalized theft. It is a choice of who should win, and who should lose. 72% of the money taken for social welfare programs is squandered on bureaucratic overhead. I would never voluntarily give my hard earned dollars to a charitable group that had such a high ratio of overhead.

    My English speaking son attended public school in California. His school was 70% English learners. The teacher spent very little time instructing the English speaking students because her time and attention was required elsewhere. The immigrant population in the neighborhood was often prey for the unscrupulous shopkeepers, street gangs, and landlords who acted with impunity because they knew that the immigrants would not report crimes against them.

    My elderly mother-in-law was accosted outside of a large retail store that she frequented by immigrants who stole her purse. There is a large population of drivers in the neighborhood who drive without licenses and insurance. The estimates are as high as 70% drive without these documents. When accidents occur it is not uncommon for their to be a hit-and-run.

    My experiences tell me that the immigrants are easy to call “victims” of a broken system. What about the wage suppression that affects American low wage earners as there is a steady flow of those willing to work for less? When do you recognize that the victimization rises to a much higher level than just those who cross the border illegally?