A couple of weeks ago, I picked up a case of poison ivy. Now, I’ve never had poison ivy and didn’t quite know what to expect but after some Googling, I knew to try Calamine Lotion, anti-itch cream, soap, alcohol. I had the ability to learn about and obtain these ‘cures.’ Although there were times when the itching drove me to scratch, I mostly was able to let it alone to heal. Now it’s pretty much run its course and I can see an itch-free time ahead.
But it got me thinking about the many people in our world who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel or freedom from the pain they are experiencing. They don’t have the knowledge or resources to alleviate their pain. For instance: what about the doctor who has run out of medicine because of a civil war …. or the father whose child has been taken from him at the border…. or the young girl, raped by a terrorist, who is now pregnant… or the child who has seen her parents die of HIV…. or the humanitarian who can’t get food to where it needs to go. What about the little boy trying to be reunited with his mother or the mother without enough food to feed her children. So many of us have no idea of the immense pain suffered around the world.
Let us take a minute of silence to remember them.
In the big scheme of things my poison ivy was inconvenient, irritating, and itchy, but I had recourse to heal it. Let us remember and pray for those who aren’t so fortunate.
They say that pictures are worth a thousand words. On June 17, the New York Times featured a front-page picture of a little girl in red clothes at the border. She was crying as her mother was being patted down by a border agent. They were from Honduras as are so many others. Similar pictures have appeared each day and have touched the hearts (and souls) of many – myself in particular – because they represent the hundreds of children and families I knew and loved in Honduras during my 18 years in that country.
We are hearing of more than 2000 children separated from their mothers. We question the misuse of selective Biblical quotes used as justification for “zero tolerance” policies. We can’t believe it.
We notice once again that no one is asking why these families make their way to the border through the desert, the rivers, and all the other dangers. They know full well what may await them but they are desperate. Honduras, for example, is a military government (and considered as dangerous as the gangs that rule its cities).
We question why the voices of Congressional men and women do not shout out, why the wives of Congressional members do not speak out
Our President wants a “physical wall” at all costs. We fear that the cost of “the wall” will be the excuse to do nothing about the children.
Law is meant as a protection for the common good – Jesus’ law is about the love of enemies as the readings of this week tell us. How we see the “other” determines how we act. We exist in relation to one another as God’s children. That seems to be a foreign language to this administration.
Those who espouse “zero tolerance” are really afraid. So let us not be afraid: to speak out, to love, to be who we really are: preachers of the truth, preachers of love and members of God’s family.
For over thirty years, the month of March has been recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Organizations, families, and people with development disabilities use this month to educate our communities about developmental disabilities, to advocate for inclusion and access to services, and to share stories about the struggles and successes of persons with developmental disabilities.
The term “developmental disabilities” refers to a group of conditions that cause an impairment or delay in the areas of learning, communication, behavior, or mobility. These disabilities are present at birth or are diagnosed in early childhood, usually lasting for the person’s entire life. Developmental disabilities include: Down Syndrome, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and more. Nearly 1 in 6 children in the United States have been diagnosed with one or more developmental disability.
One area of advocacy during Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is the campaign to stop using the “R-word”. The R-word is the word “retard(ed)”. It has been used in the past to diagnose or describe people with Down Syndrome or other intellectual disabilities. In more recent years it has become a derogatory term used insult or question the intelligence of others.
Continued use of the R-word is hurtful and promotes negative stereotypes about people with developmental disabilities. Words can be powerful. The words we choose can shape our attitudes and direct our actions toward others. The Letter of James compares the tongue to a fire and asks us to “consider how even a small fire can set a huge forest ablaze.” (James 3:5-6)
Love impels us to choose words that celebrate each person’s human dignity, a dignity rooted in our creation in the image and likeness of God. A good way to celebrate this truth is to utilize “person-first” language. A person with a disability is, above all else, a person made in God’s image. Person-first language also embraces the truth about a disability far better than euphemisms such as “special needs.”
Rather than calling someone “autistic”, try to refer to them as a “person with Autism.” It is better still to get to know that person, to share not only their struggles but their hopes and dreams, and to come to know them by their name.
This Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is a good opportunity to reflect upon the words we choose. It is also an invitation to explore ways to advocate for and celebrate the dignity of people with disabilities.
Every day my ministry brings me into contact with immigrants. Some are citizens or legal residents, others have immigration cases in process, and still others have no realistic hope of regularizing their situations under our current laws. I listen to their stories, their worries, their dreams and help where I can.
One special group of immigrants is those we know as Dreamers or recipients of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). About 800,000 young people are currently enrolled in this program. An estimated 1.5 million more could qualify but did not enroll for various reasons, including the fear that enrolling would jeopardize the status of relatives in the country without documents.
Many of us have already written numerous letters and made many phone calls on their behalf. But now, even if we have already done so, we must take action again and write or call our representatives in Congress, or better yet do both—and urge them to protect these youth who were brought to this country illegally as children.
Dreamers have grown up in the United States. Many of them remember no other country. They’ve been educated here and speak English fluently. The youngest are still in high school. The rest have enrolled in college or are employed. Some are PhD candidates, doctors, attorneys, scientists, teachers and mechanics. About one thousand are members of the US armed forces. No one who committed a crime could even apply for DACA.
These are exactly the sort of people we can be proud to call our neighbors and friends. They have long lives ahead of them, lives with which they can make substantial contributions to our society. Leaving aside all the moral and ethical reasons why we should protect the legal status of these young people, for economic reasons alone DACA makes great sense. It is estimated that during their lifetimes these Dreamers have the capacity to add $329 billion to the US economy.
Recent non-partisan polling indicates that more than 75% of US voters want protection for Dreamers. More than 55% also want them to have a pathway to citizenship. Yet these young people are being used as bargaining chips in the larger debate on immigration.
I know some of these DACA recipients personally. They speak of feeling like they are on a seesaw, one week with hope, the next with despair. Their lives are on hold, waiting to see if they will ever receive a favorable response to their dreams. They wonder what they will do if no action on their behalf is forthcoming. Should they return to their country of origin? Or try to blend back into the shadows of the undocumented, losing their work permits, drivers licenses, and their right to be here as students?
I try to put myself in the place of Sylvia (not her real name), who is studying nursing at a state university. The new semester has begun, and she wonders if she will be able to complete it. Even more she wonders what her life would be like if she had to return to Mexico, especially since she only has distant relatives living there and has not been out of this country since she was too small to remember.
Or Jesus (also not his real name), who dreams of specializing in immigration law when he graduates in the next couple of years. Now he interns with a non-profit helping low-income workers protect their rights. What future awaits him?
Or Angel, a high school junior who never enrolled in DACA because he didn’t realize he could. His marks place him in the top quarter of his class, but he realizes he may not be here to graduate unless something changes.
DACA expires on March 5. Right now, before it’s too late, our members of Congress need to hear from us. We need to tell them that we care about Dreamers and want the DACA program renewed. As important, we want – and our faith demands – a pathway to citizenship so as not to uproot the lives of so many young people who’ve made enormous contributions to our communities and our economy.
In the words of the US Catholic Bishops Conference:
DACA youth are woven into the fabric of our country and of our Church, and are, by every social and human measure, American youth. As people of faith, we say to DACA youth – regardless of your immigration status, you are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.
If you would like to advocate for the Dreamers, please click here to send a letter to your government representatives.