November 16, 2007

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

Why our Hispanic brethen come to America

Thirty years ago, I learned about the “maquiladora,” a term used primarily to refer to factories in Mexican towns along the United States- Mexico border.

These factories encompass a variety of industries and are 100 percent foreign-owned, usually by U.S. companies.

The term “maquiladora” refers to the practice of millers charging a “maquila,” or “miller’s portion” for processing other people’s grain.

The workers in these factories have been subsidizing our privileged lifestyle for years.

The majority of maquiladora employees are women. Women are preferred to men because women will typically work for cheaper wages and are easier for male employers to direct and impose poor working conditions on.

Some maquiladora operators also have admitted a preference for women because women often display a greater level of patience and higher dexterity than men in performing the standardized and repetitive work of an assembly plant.

Therefore, the maquila industry has, based on these conditions, been accused of the exploitation of women. The preference for female workers is a reason why so many young Mexican men cross the border for work in the U.S.

Low wages, long hours and environmental concerns are significant issues, but pale in comparison to the phenomenon of hundreds of female homicides in Mexico.

Called “las muertas de Juárez” or “the dead women of Juárez,” the cases involve a series of rapes and murders of young women who worked in maquiladoras factories, and the violent death of hundreds of women since 1993.

The victims are workers who are bussed from their homes many miles away and, after 10 to12 hours of work, are bussed back.

The crimes take place late in the night in isolated rural areas. Many are reported missing by their families, but with little follow-up. Their bodies may be found days or months later abandoned in vacant lots or outlying areas.

In most cases, there were signs of sexual violence, abuse, torture or mutilation. More than 340 bodies have been found, and more than 400 women are still missing.

It is no wonder these good people want a new home and a new life. This, in essence, is why we need immigration reform.

This is the message of our Catholic Church, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the bishops of Indiana, who wrote in their pastoral earlier this year:

“We Catholic bishops of Indiana recommit ourselves and our dioceses to welcoming others as Christ himself. In the Gospels, we learn that our neighbor is anyone who is in need—including those who are homeless, hungry, sick or in prison. A neighbor may well be a complete stranger whose background, experience or social standing is very different from ours. Persons have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. As Catholic bishops, we wholeheartedly support efforts to further develop our nation’s laws concerning the migration of people to our country.”

A new round of education initiatives can begin with reviewing resources for immigration education. “I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me—Meeting Christ in New Neighbors,” the pastoral written by Indiana’s Catholic bishops, can be found at

(John Valenti is the associate director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. E-mail him at †

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