7/13/2017 8:45:00 AM UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS Washington County Catholics
lose fellow parishioners in ICE raids
BY AMY LUKE STAFF WRITER
"Jesus always stood on the side of the weaker," said Rev. Thomas Babiuch, pastor of St. Joseph's parish in Fort Edward and St. Mary's/St. Paul's in Hudson Falls. "He never stood with the powerful. He stood with those who were not as strong as He was: the weak, the downtrodden."
The parishes have been in the media spotlight recently for doing the same after 12 Mexican families from St. Joseph's were caught up in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in April. Some of them worked at the popular Hudson Falls restaurant El Mexicano, which has now closed.
"These were my parishioners," said Father Babiuch. "They're visible because of their piety and how they carry themselves. They've been part of everything that this parish is."
The children from the immigrant families were very active in the parish, the pastor said. They received the sacraments and served as altar servers, ushers and lectors. Now, many of the remaining families with similar backgrounds have attended Mass less frequently out of fear, or have stopped coming altogether.
Julie Leonelli, pastoral associate for faith formation at St. Joseph's, is equally disturbed by the recent events. "We should be following Jesus' example and protecting the vulnerable, and comforting those in need of comfort," she told The Evangelist. "We're all equals as humans, [but] that's not the way they're feeling right now."
Mrs. Leonelli recalled a conversation with a few of the children in the faith formation program before the November presidential election: "One of the boys riding in the car said, 'Donald Trump hates us. He said we're all drug dealers.' It broke my heart for a nine-year-old to say that."
In Mrs. Leonelli's experience, the children from the immigrant families displayed good behavior, respect and concern for their parents and success in school. Many play musical instruments and are on athletic teams, she said.
Lisa Catalfamo of St. Mary's/St. Paul's, a school social worker and public advocate for the Hudson Falls area immigrant community, said that there has been no immigration policy reform in the United States since 1965.
Change is needed
"Our needs as a country, and our dynamics, have changed," she said. "We've been left with this really outdated immigration program that doesn't understand, and the public doesn't realize this. There's an assumption that we must have a legal way for people to come and milk cows [or do other jobs common to undocumented persons], but we don't."
Ms. Catalfamo said that President Donald Trump's new executive order on immigration has made it easier for ICE agents to profile individuals and not prioritize offenses among immigrants.
Father Babiuch has been working with his parish council and trustees to strategize how they can help the families from his area. He reached out to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), a Catholic, though that effort has been unsuccessful so far.
The pastor believes the only way for change to occur is for people call their elected representatives and push for alterations in immigration law.
Ms. Catalfamo also said that the targeted Hudson Falls undocumented immigrants -- all of whom have now received deportation notices -- were economically-contributing members of society. Because they had Individual Tax Identification Numbers, she said, they paid taxes and contributed to Social Security.
How to help
On July 27, Ms. Catalfamo will lead a 6:30 p.m. presentation at St. Joseph's to talk about the current state of immigration policy and how it affects the parish's Mexican friends and family.
Though the situation is "really upsetting," she said, "we're hoping it will be a greater catalyst for people in our community to think differently, act differently and vote differently."
"Some of them have nothing to go back to," said Father Babiuch of his lost parishioners. "Catholics need to understand that Hispanics are the future of the Catholic Church. If we turn our backs on them, what kind of Christians are we? Is there a future for us if we ignore them?"