by Loretta Fulton
Some people, including Catholics, are skeptical about the Church's role in immigration affairs.
Some ask why the Church provides immigration services, like those found in the three offices in the Diocese of San Angelo.
Mike Wyse has an answer—and from a credible source. Wyse is the chancellor for the diocese. But he doesn't quote from a law book for his answer. He goes to a higher authority.
He cites the Gospel of John, Chapter 10, Verse 10, in which Jesus says that he came so that people may have life and have it more abundantly.
"And that's all I've got to say about that," Wyse said, to applause.
His audience consisted of clergy and laity from the diocese who met following a special Mass Aug. 11 at Holy Family Catholic Church in Abilene. The Mass, and the meeting on immigration services that followed, were part of a week of activities celebrating the 15th anniversary of the “hermanamiento,” or partnership, between two dioceses in Honduras and two in Texas.
Bishop Michael Sis of the Diocese of San Angelo and Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler represented the two dioceses in Texas. Representing Honduras were Bishop Michael Lenihan of the Diocese of La Ceiba and Bishop Angel Garachana of the Diocese of San Pedro Sula.
Wyse was assisted in his presentation by Bishop Sis, who served as translator. At the conclusion, the Rev. Msgr. Larry Droll, coordinator for the partnership with Honduras and pastor at St. Ann Parish in Midland, praised Bishop Sis for his excellent, and sometimes humorous, work.
"How about this translator," Droll said, eliciting enthusiastic applause.
One issue—possibly a concern of those who question the church's role in immigration—was alleviated right away.
"We can only assist people who are in the country legally," Wyse emphasized. That assistance comes in various forms and is free. The Diocese of San Angelo has three offices for immigration services in San Angelo, Odessa, and Abilene. Nelly Diaz, supervisor for the Abilene office, was scheduled to present the program Aug. 11 but was out of town due to a family illness. Wyse, who filled in for Diaz, joked at the beginning that he wasn't the best choice for the job.
"I'm not as pretty and I'm not as smart," Wyse said, "and I know just enough Spanish to get in trouble."
And that's why he left the translation to Bishop Sis, who is fluent in Spanish. Between them, the major topics handled by the immigration services offices were explained. Wyse noted that all the people who work in the diocesan immigration services offices are certified by the federal government. The process of getting certified takes one year. Once certified, Wyse said, workers must maintain their certification. Someone could be deported if an uncertified worker assists him.
"We have to be careful," Wyse said, "not to do harm."
The Church's immigration offices provide numerous services, such as helping families find resources like English as a Second Language, life skills and citizenship classes, and tax preparers who speak the immigrant's native language.
Although most immigrants served in the Diocese of San Angelo are from Mexico, quite a few are from other countries. The International Rescue Committee, which resettles refugees, has an office in Abilene. Since 2004, about 100 refugees per year from numerous countries have been resettled in Abilene. They speak a variety of languages, including Nepali and languages native to Africa.
The immigration offices also explain the different ways for immigrants to come to the United States, such as obtaining legal residence, getting a work permit, having a relative living here, and gaining citizenship.
The offices also can explain the temporary protective status available for immigrants from Central America, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals legislation (DACA) for youths, and the Violence Against Women Act of 2008, which allows a woman to file a legal petition without her abuser knowing it.
Having knowledge of the services provided by the diocesan immigration services offices came in handy for Clementine Urista of San Angelo when she visited Honduras. She met a young man who needed an ID card to come to the United States and had encountered obstacles when trying to obtain one. Urista and others helped him clear the obstacles, thanks to knowing the process.
"He had been waiting for two years," she said.