US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Homeland security gives with one hand, takes back with the other

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Immigration advocates have only small victories these days, even under the supposedly immigrant-friendly Obama administration. For us here in Chicago, we gratifyingly had one this week. Jamina Wasilewski returned from Poland with her U.S.-born son as wll as with a green card—authorization to stay and work.

She originally fled Poland in the early 1990s because her activities with Solidarnosc (the Solidarity movement in Poland) aroused the suspicions of the still communist government. She applied for asylum here, and after years was denied and ordered her to leave the country. She had already married and gave birth to a son, so she ignored the deportation order and with her husband developed a cleaning business. She continued to seek residence, often with the help of Illinois U.S. senators and the local congressman and much church and community support. She pleaded for compassion, but was denied again and then forced to leave the country.

Her husband and lawyer continued the fight. For the husband it led to bouts of depression and heavy drinking. While he had permanent residency, his wife would not be able to apply again to enter the U.S. for 10 more years. Finally, persistence paid off, and Wasilewski was allowed to return.

Homeland Security (DHS) and the immigration courts have the authority to take into consideration the suffering a deportation could create for others here legally, such as it did for Wasilewski’s husband and her son. The courts are also supposed to consider physical danger to the one being deported. In Wasilewski’s case, the communists had been from power and an immigration judge saw no danger  to Wasilewski. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, a staunch advocate of immigrants, pursued her case with the couple’s lawyer, and they seemed to have prevailed, though Rep. Gutierrez is still pushing the Obama administration and DHS to widen its practice of granting admission for compassionate reasons.

There are thousands of stories like Wasilewski’s, though most families do not have the influence of congressional intercession or even the resources for dogged lawyer to pursue their cases. The American bishops’ strong support of comprehensive immigration reform is founded largely on its pastoral experience of what misery happens when families are slit up.

DHS, ironically, is also discouraging unauthorized immigrants from leaving the country to go back home. Apparently, as a side effect of DHS's other responsibilities on the border to prevent gun and currency smuggling, it is stopping buses bound for Mexico. But along with the few smugglers, agents are rounding up undocumented aliens because they have no, or obviously false, identity papers. Some are turned over to the courts to be formally deported—usually with the 10 year prohibition to return that Wasilewski received—while others are allowed to proceed out of the country. The fear of being stopped at the border exiting is playing on the decision of many undocumented to return home. This puzzles even the advocates of strict immigration enforcement; they’re moving heaven and earth to get them to leave, only to see them stopped by DHS agents at the border.