March 9, 2018

Dreamers in Indianapolis relay wish to help ‘whole country’ on ‘Catholic Day of Action’

Father Michael O’Mara, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, listens as Zahrya Aremas of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis shares her witness as a Dreamer—an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States as a child—after a special Mass for “Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers” on Feb. 27 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Father Michael O’Mara, pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, listens as Zahrya Aremas of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis shares her witness as a Dreamer—an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States as a child—after a special Mass for “Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers” on Feb. 27 at St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Like all mothers, Zahrya Aremas, 29, wants what’s best for her two children, ages 4 and 2. It was the same desire for a better life that led Aremas’ own mother to move the family to America from Mexico when Zahrya was 6.

Obviously, Aremas had no say in the move. But “after almost 24 years living here, this [country] is pretty much what I call home,” said the member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis. “I know [my children] will have better choices and better opportunities if we keep fighting for them right now.”

That fight recently gained new urgency for Aremas and nearly 800,000 others like her.

They are called “Dreamers”—undocumented immigrants brought into the United States beyond their control as children. And March 5 loomed as the potential end date of the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program allowing Dreamers to request deferral from deportation, renewable every two years.

Without DACA, Dreamers like Aremas could be deported back to the country of their birth, forcing them and their families to live “in a country that is not home, where opportunities are not good, where life is not as good,” she said.

Aremas shared her story with The Criterion as she joined about 40 other Dreamers and Catholic supporters on Feb. 27 in a procession—complete with signs and singing—from St. John the Evangelist Church in Indianapolis to the Indiana Statehouse. They had just participated in a special Mass with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, followed by a sharing of Dreamers’ witness stories at the church.

The event was in response to the call for a “Catholic Day of Action for Dreamers,” sponsored by People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO) National Network and coordinated by the archdiocese’s Office of the Archbishop and Office of Intercultural Ministry.

On Feb. 26, Catholics were encouraged by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to contact their members of Congress as part of a “National Call-in Day for the Protection of Dreamers.”

Both the call-in day and the day of action were prompted by the impending March 5 end to DACA.

In regard to that date, Archbishop Thompson began his homily with good news.

“As many of you may have heard, … the March 5 deadline has been extended now,” he said, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision on Feb. 26 not to hear at this time the Trump administration’s case challenging a lower court ruling that blocked the president’s plans to end DACA by March 5.

“But we still gather to support the movement toward a permanent solution” for the legal status of Dreamers, the archbishop continued. “Today in Washington D.C., there’s a gathering” of Catholic Dreamers, clergy, religious and lay supporters, “so we meet in solidarity with them, as well as our connectedness with one another.”

Archbishop Thompson was asked to write a statement to be read at the PICO‑sponsored event in Washington. He shared that statement during the homily:

“The key principles of Catholic social teaching demand our solidarity in defending the dignity and well-being of immigrants, migrants and refugees as our brothers and sisters within the one human family, the family of God.

“Thus, I offer my full support to the Catholic Day of Action for our sisters and brothers known as Dreamers who have become intricately woven into the very fabric of American life in this country known as a ‘land of immigrants.’

“Together, let us ‘Share the Journey’ with the Dreamers and their families by means of prayer and advocacy toward a solution that is marked by a true sense of both justice and mercy.”

Referencing his Feb. 14 pastoral letter, “We Are One in Christ,” Archbishop Thompson noted the document’s mention of immigrants, migrants, refugees, racism, gun control, the opioid crisis and other “respect life” matters.

“I believe when we start to look at issues in a silo separate from each other, somehow we miss the mark,” he said. “They’re all connected, as we are all connected with the one Father and brothers and sisters in this one family of God, standing in solidarity not only with immigrants and migrants, but for all people, all who are on the margins.

“That is our challenge. That is our calling, not only on this Day of Action, but day in and day out in our lives, living out that baptismal call to help all those in need.”

Archbishop Thompson concelebrated the Mass with pastors of five Indianapolis parishes: Fathers Rick Nagel of St. John the Evangelist, John McCaslin of St. Simon the Apostle, Christopher Wadelton of St. Philip Neri, Todd Goodson of St. Monica and Michael O’Mara of St. Gabriel the Archangel.

After the Mass, Father O’Mara called forward all Dreamers present and those who stand in unity with them. He then invited Dreamers to share their stories. The two women who spoke—Aremas and Ethel Serrato—gave their witnesses in Spanish, then later shared their thoughts in English during the procession to the statehouse.

“I have faith that … Dreamers will have the opportunity not just to continue living here, but to contribute to the state and our community and [our parish],” said Aremas. “I understand that DACA is not just so we can stay here and not be sent back to our countries, but DACA is also an opportunity for America to have hard‑working hands legalized and productive that can contribute to the whole country and make a great America.

“I don’t know how long it will take, and if it will end with our generation, but maybe for the little ones, the little Dreamers as I was once.”

It is the little Dreamers who Serrato, also of St. Patrick Parish, wants to help.

“Us Dreamers have goals,” said the 23-year-old who immigrated with her family to the United States from Mexico when she was 6. “Mine is to become a teacher and educator for young children, to help them grow as people and fulfill [their] dreams … and to help our community.”

She participated in the Catholic Call to Action Day “to give my voice to those who couldn’t come today, to say, ‘We’re Dreamers. We want to fulfill our dreams and [see] the future [generation’s] dreams be fulfilled.’ ”

Talk of contributing to the whole country and a desire to teach the future generation fall in line with Father O’Mara’s opinion of Dreamers and immigrants.

“They have so much to offer us,” he said after speaking and leading the participants in prayer by the south steps of the statehouse. “We need these people.”

Beyond such a need, there is also the factor of human dignity, he said.

“These are people who are human beings, who have real names, faces. They are children, teenagers, young, old. Many of them are leaving their countries because of political persecution, because of lack of any opportunity. To stay is to be destined to a life of utter poverty.”

While he was pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision which in effect did away with the March 5 deadline for DACA, Father O’Mara still expressed frustration with the country’s immigration system.

“Going back to the days of President [Ronald] Reagan, he granted an amnesty to nearly a million undocumented people,” he recalled. “And he told Congress: ‘Fix the immigration problem in this country.’

“How many years later is this now, and we are still not able to find a solution?” †

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