Catholic Bishops, DREAMERs use Mother’s Day as backdrop for immigration reform

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Mother’s Day is a time most people celebrate the bonds of family, but for some young immigrants in the U.S. — known as DREAMers — this Sunday will be a stark reminder of how resident status has torn their family apart.

In a conference call Friday morning, the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops joined education leaders, DREAMers and the immigration advocacy organization FWD.us to ask Congress to pass “just and compassionate” immigration reform. They are calling on House Republicans to bring immigration reform legislation to a vote this year.

For John Giotis, headmaster of the School of the Immaculata in St. Petersburg, immigration in Florida is a deeply personal issue.

A son of migrants, Giotis has witnessed the most devastating – an unheralded — extent of the current immigration system, homes and families split apart due to deportation of one or both parents over expired permits. Giotis was also among the Florida social conservatives supporting Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primary, playing a role in the candidate’s education circle.

“We have to stop separating families,” he urged, “not just Mother’s Day, but every day.”

Also in attendance was one of Immaculata’s star students, a high-school senior named Patricio, who is a DREAMer from Venezuela. Patricio was there to represent the millions of families facing uncertainty because of the way the U.S. currently treats immigrants.

Telling the group that although he wants to stay and realize his goal of becoming a doctor, Patricio sees the existing immigration regulations as “too complicated.” He has tried to secure a visa, and as yet have been unable to do so.

 “I love the U.S.A.,” he said. “I have the grades to go to college, and live my dreams”

Giotis added that Patricio, who will be graduating this month, has the grades good enough to attend any Florida college, but without a visa or legal residency status, he is ineligible for grants and other financial aid, making the cost of college prohibitive.

Ingrid Delgado, representing the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, agrees the current system is badly in need of repair.

As the Associate for Social Concerns/Respect Life, Delgado discussed the comprehensive, compassionate plan put forth by the state’s Catholic bishops to address immigration in the U.S. they call for congress to attack the problem on several fronts, including:

  • Broad-based path to citizenship of undocumented workers already in the country.
  • Temporary Worker program to provide a legal path for low-skilled workers to come and work in the U.S.
  • Restoration of due process protections in immigration law enforcement.
  • A policy that focuses on family unity, with the top priority being the reunification of parents with children and other relatives in the U.S.

Recognizing the importance of manual labor for agriculture, construction and the service industry, the Florida Catholic Conference believes the overwhelming demand for the limited number of worker visas has created an environment for abuses against immigrants, such as substandard housing, no benefits and inadequate wages.

The bishops believe that family unity—the building blocks of society—is threatened if Congress does not act immediately on immigration reform.

Few things are worse on Mother’s Day than to have a parent incarcerated over residency status, and scheduled for deportation.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.