Two Sides of the Border: The Trauma of Maria

January 1, 1998

by Zulma Ramos Prieto

Zulma Ramos Prieto, Goshen, Indiana, edits El Puente (The Bridge), a Spanish language newspaper, and helped start the Hispanic Council of Elkhart County.

We heard about Maria a year ago. She was one of 60 people who were deported after an Immigration and Naturalization Service raid on Gleason Industries in Goshen, Indiana. The December 1996 raid was the first of five INS raids in Elkhart County in the past year.

Maria is married and has three children. In Mexico she never had the money to support herself and her children. Her husband is a legal resident of the U.S. Three years ago he applied for a resident visa for Maria. Her papers have not come through. When she joined her husband in the U.S., she did not want to steal or become dependent, so instead she chose to get a job under an assumed name, as an “undocumented worker.” She couldn’t use her own name because that would have ruined her chances of ever getting a legal resident visa.

On the December evening of the INS raid, Maria’s family waited for her. She didn’t come home. The next day her husband had to choose between taking care of their children and going to work. A year has passed and the family has not recovered from these experiences.

Under U.S. law, Maria is a criminal. She has committed the crime of belonging to the poor of the earth. Like many immigrants long ago, Maria came to this country to work. She fled from an economy that suffers because of “free trade” practices that benefit not the impoverished people of her country, but those wealthy enough to move capital across national boundaries.

When they arrive in the U.S., people like Maria, desperately seeking a way to support their families, get the lowest-paying, least desirable jobs. A U.S. visa is a big expense for third world people who have little formal education, no property, no land. The wealthy amass more excess wealth at the expense of these new arrivals. The immigrants support the U.S. economy with their labor, and also by buying goods and paying for services they use.

But these undocumented workers live in fear. They fear the new immigration law and the agents who enforce it. They fear people who can abuse them and get away with it, because they cannot appeal to the law for protection.

For all the Marias there must be hundreds of Janes and Johns who wonder about these brown people. What can you do? How can you contribute?

  • Learn more about what happens to people like Maria.
  • Find out how inhumane immigration laws are, and learn how they are enforced.
  • Join others who protest the discrimination and racism of U.S. immigration policies.
  • Discuss the issue in your church.
  • Create a food pantry to help family members who are left behind after raids.
  • Send letters to your elected officials.
  • Write to the local media.

Above all, get to know your undocumented neighbors, co-workers, employees. Put a face on the problem. People who are able to establish and maintain sometimes uncomfortable relationships can make the most difference. Understand that pain of these immigrants. Unite around them. Pray and love with all your might.

MCC US prayer cards for Zulma and instructions for braided prayer hearts are available from PJC. This activity creates a visual aid to remind us to pray for Christ’s peace.


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