“Campesino Ministry: Migration Issues Complicate Farm Worker Ministry” – by Fr. Mike McAndrew
President Obama has announced administrative changes in deportation policy for those undocumented who do not present a danger to American society. The changes are good news for families being separated by present practices and for students who have lived most of their lives in this country. Yet the changes only apply to the small percentage of people who are caught in the web of deportation proceedings. This involves a few hundred thousand people, while over ten million more undocumented live with no opportunity to regularize their immigration status.
The politicking around the issue is a distraction from the need for comprehensive reform of American immigration law and policies. For those involved in Church ministry, the reality of global migration calls us to focus on the complex reality of migration rather than the politics of the moment and sound bites that move American society.
Jesus sent the Apostles out to “all nations” and our mission is to bring the message of salvation to all people. We do not turn someone away from the work of the Church because of a person’s immigration status. Yet our access to the farm worker and the farm worker’s access to the services of the church are affected by the realities of the immigration politics of the United States. There is great stress placed on people by an immigration system riddled with inconsistencies and unreasonable administration of our unwieldy immigration system.
Ways that Migration Issues complicate Campesino Ministry
Issues of migration affect far more people than simply the individual who lacks legal status in the United States. It affects family members, children, employers and co-workers. There is a fundamental insecurity that requires that one live in the moment. All commitments that the undocumented make are, “I will be there if (I’m not caught)…” For the migrant, one does not know what the future may bring, so commitments are difficult to make. .
The stress of living in the shadows can affect people physically, emotionally and spiritually. A thirty-year-old man of Mixteco origin from Guerrero, Mexico, has been suffering severe pain as he walks and has been unable to work for four weeks. After examination by doctors, he was told that there was nothing physically wrong. He lives with his wife and two other couples in a two bedroom apartment. The families have 5 children in the household. He is the only adult who speaks Spanish and some English. The others speak Mixteco only. He feels great responsibility for the 11 members of the household. He works seasonal jobs as do all the other adults. They have moved several times in the past two years. None of the adults is documented. The stress of living separated from parents and family, the insecurity of being undocumented and the insecurity of not having stable employment play significantly in his physical condition.
Such stress is the daily burden of millions of undocumented people. This stress may be seen in physical, emotional, psychological and other destructive forces in the migrant community. These stresses are not addressed in oversimplified responses either by society or by religious ministers.
“The difficult experience of migration.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Many people have to face the difficult experience of migration in its various forms: internal or international, permanent or seasonal, economic or political, voluntary or forced.
(Pope Benedict XVI: 97th World day of Migrants and Refugees, 2011)
Pope Benedict XVI called attention to the global realities of migration and the church’s call to recognize the obligation of ministering as a Church to the suffering migrant and refugee. While recognizing the stress that migration places on the receiving nations of the world, we are called to witness the mandate of Jesus to the Apostles to “Go and make disciples from all nations…” (Mt 28:19)
So much of religious ministry is built on relationship with a community that we call church. We need to understand the intense emotional and spiritual stress that accompanies the experience of migration.
Examples of the difficulties of migration
Irma has moved into a home with her sister. Irma has two children who are in grade school. She is undocumented. Her husband abandoned her and her children. As a farm worker she works a series of temporary jobs to provide for her children. She has taught her children to pray and has kept them engaged in their studies even though the children have lived in four different school districts in the past two years. She does not have a car and lives 15 miles from the closest Catholic Church. She is not asking for help, simply understanding as she tries to pass on her faith to her children.
Pablo is a farm worker whose wife died of cancer two years ago. He has two children. When his wife, a U.S. citizen, died his application to regularize his immigration status ended. Now two U.S. citizen children of a deceased U.S. citizen are in danger of having their only living parent deported at any time. Pablo is concerned not so much for himself but his children who have never been to Salvador. He lives in constant fear when he goes into town for shopping.
The difficulties migrants face are extremely complex. They are not the first issues that come to the attention of the church’s ministers. In the above stories, Irma and Pablo came to the attention of catechists when the children of Irma and Pablo were in classes of preparation for First Eucharist. When the catechists looked more into the situations of both families, pastor and parishioners responded with pastoral sensitivity to the situations of each household. As single parents with significant stress about insecurity in the residency in a community, they experienced a listening and compassionate response in their church. The children were prepared for the sacraments in a timely manner that worked within the times that the families were able to participate.
It is so difficult to offer sacramental ministry in a timely manner with migrants who may leave a community at any time. There is no easy answer as to how much time of preparation may be given in preparing migrants for entrance into the sacraments of initiation or for marriage. Each case is unique, but the numbers of migrant cases are overwhelming. Communities try to form programs to respond to the needs, but each time a program is started, there are others who cannot attend at the same times and many other complications. Parish facilities are stressed in trying to provide opportunities for the celebration of sacraments for people on the move.
While there are no easy answers to setting up a program, the effort is worthwhile for every community as people are received into active participation in the church, even if that participation is very limited by insecurity and conditions not conducive to a regular relationship.
Father Mike McAndrew is the Director of Campesino Ministry for the Diocese of Fresno.
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