During this Respect Life Month, here is a story of heartbreak, burden, and yet — hope — a hope that is sprung from faith in God and trust in His will. This is also a story of the strength of the human spirit despite so much trauma. Lastly, a story that gives a face to the numbers of people who are marginalized in our society.
The Family Reunification Program focuses on reunifying unaccompanied children from Central America with their respective sponsor in ensuring that they are placed in a safe, healthy and loving home environment. We ensure that our clients have access to local resources such as educational, health, mental health, and parenting classes, etc. Many of our children (clients) have a history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, trauma due to former caregiver being murdered, and other tragic concerns.
[Warning: The details in this post are explicit. Undocumented families’ stories are not well known. By sugarcoating their stories, we would be doing a disservice to their experience, and limit our own understanding, empathy, and recognition of the dignity they deserve. Personally identifiable information has been removed and alias names have been given.]
St. John Paul II stated in the On the Hundredth Year, “human persons are willed by God; they are imprinted with God’s image. Their dignity does not come from the work they do, but from the persons they are.” Undocumented immigrant families face ongoing obstacles to their dignity but their resiliency is an inspiration to all. This is a story of a child who seeks a better life in U.S. and was assisted by a CCDA Family Reunification Social Worker.
Maria was born and raised in Guatemala. Her mother, Lily, decided to leave for the U.S. in order to provide more for her children’s basic needs and education. Therefore, Maria and her sister moved in with her maternal grandparents. However, her grandmother did not take good care of her. She would not give her money for school, would not feed her, and would beat her with a wooden stick.
In May of 2016, Maria was sexually abused on her way home from school. Her perpetrator pursued Maria for several weeks and was even given Maria’s phone number by one of her classmates. Maria repeatedly asked the man to stop harassing and calling, which angered him. One day after school, he followed Maria. He started talking to her and when she was not compliant he attacked her. Maria tried to get away but he was too strong; she tried to scream for help but no one was there. The assailant then pushed her to the ground, took her clothes off, and raped her. Maria remembers the man kicking her twice and leaving as she sat on the sidewalk crying and hurting from the pain she had endured. When she finally returned home she took a shower and went to her room. Maria told her grandmother the next day she had been raped and two weeks later filed a report with the police department.
Maria became pregnant as a result of the rape. Her grandmother insisted that Maria have an abortion, but when Maria refused she violently beat her with a wooden stick in efforts to terminate the pregnancy. After her grandmother had stopped hitting her, Maria was told leave the home and never return. Maria said she began to experience labor contractions and took herself to the emergency room, where she was treated for her injuries and was given a medication to prevent miscarriage.
Following this incident, Maria lived with her maternal aunt for a week. When Maria notified her mother in the U.S. of the abuse and harassment she was experiencing at her grandmother’s home, her mother agreed to help her come to the U.S. to live with her. Maria traveled to the U.S. while pregnant, with the hope of an opportunity to parent her child. Since this journey, she is glad to have left Guatemala because she had a difficult life and knows that her mother will continue to care for her.
Lily, Maria’s mother, has lived in Virginia since 2009 and has not been required to attend any immigration proceedings. She remains an undocumented immigrant. Lily says that she constantly prays that God will help both her and Maria cope with their past traumas. (Lily’s second daughter – Maria’s sister—is also the product of rape.)
Lily’s partner passed in July 2017 due to medical complications and what Lily describes as poor medical treatment. Due to his death, it has been a challenge for the family emotionally and financially. He provided for the family financially and made sure that Maria obtained legal representation. Additionally, he performed all the paperwork and documentation for Lily. In spite of this tragedy, and the trauma, Lily and Maria have hope for their futures and trust in God’s providence.
CCDA family reunification social workers continue to have open communication with Lily to ensure her family’s basic needs are met. Lily also uses local resources and has been referred to the St. Lucy Food Project and other CCDA services.
“Our society does not personally see the struggles of others, but our work allows us to see the hurt, and the challenges of people that have less than us materialistically, but are rich in faith. This is the human aspect, not just seeing ‘marginalized members of the community’ as numbers,” says Hector Cendejas, a Family Reunification Social Worker.
Undocumented families, like Maria and Lily, bring a human face and a story to the marginalized members of our world. Pope Francis has given us a beautiful prayer to remember our own dignity and the innate dignity of every human (10 April 2013). Let us pray the below together and acknowledge the factual situations that confront families within our Diocese.
( Left: Maria’s Baby)
Let us pray:
“Lord, I believe. I believe in Your love. I believe that Your love has saved me. I believe that Your love has given me a dignity that I did not have. I believe that Your love gives me hope.”