by Fr. Jim Betzen, C.PP.S., Ottumwa, Iowa

As the immigration debate continues, life goes on for parishioners at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, Iowa. Many immigrants came from Mexico and Central America around the turn of the century to better the lives for themselves and their children. Many came to work in meat packing plants in the United States because these low skill jobs were available to them. Many immigrants came to the United States with children and have had more children since they have come. Most immigrants seek a life with more possibilities for advancement and a life without violence and corruption. These immigrants seek an earned path to citizenship, but such a path is difficult and lengthy. And our parishioners who continue to work in the meat packing plants waiting for legislation to grant them an earned path to citizenship.

Instead, these immigrants must live with false names and false identification to protect themselves from being deported. ice raids send terror into communities where immigrants live. In May of 2018, there was an ice raid about an hour east of Ottumwa. The next few days, many immigrants were afraid to go to work or take their children to school. These immigrants did nothing wrong, but do not have the proper documents. When one of the two working adults is deported, the family struggles financially to survive. I see many at our parish office door asking for assistance.

Youth brought here as children from Mexico and Central America also wait, so that they can attend state universities and later be able to work. A year ago last spring, the high school teachers in Ottumwa organized a rally for their daca students. Several of the high school students shared their frustration and fears about not having citizenship. Many fear that they will be deported to a country of origin that simply is foreign to them. These youth have younger siblings born here that are citizens.

With the frustration and fear that continues in this immigration debate, and lacking any progress to reform the immigration process, immigrant families in our parish continue to work long hours at the meat packing plants or other low paying jobs. Children continue to attend school and religious education classes. Spanish Mass, sacraments, Quinceaneras, weddings, Our Lady of Guadalupe celebrations, and posadas are celebrated in our parish. They continue to attend classes to learn English, attend classes for ministry formation, and hold charismatic prayer meetings and healing retreats.

There are millions of immigrants in the United States Catholic Church and in our communities across the nation contributing to our economy. How long will it be until we allow them to become citizens of our country? If you would like to help the effort to reform the immigration process in our country, please join the immigration discussion group of the New Creation commission. Ω