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Pope Francis to meet New York family that faced deportation to Mexico - The Guardian

Pope Francis will meet with the mighty and the meek during his five-day visit to the US.

After meeting the president, speaking to Congress and addressing the United Nations, the Pope will visit Our Lady Queen of Angels, a Catholic school in East Harlem.

There the “people’s pope” will meet with day-laborers, unaccompanied minors and other migrants who fled violence in Central America, victims of religious persecution and aspiring first generation college students.

Among them will be the Duque family.

Francisco Duque Gonzalez and his wife, Maria Silvia Castañeda, immigrated from Mexico to the US in the early 2000s, seeking a better life for their two young children.

“Mexico was very difficult to survive. It was very hard to find a job,” Duque told the Guardian.

After they crossed the border, they came to New York. At first it was very difficult. Both Duque and Castañeda struggled to find work because they didn’t have the proper paperwork.

Duque said he eventually made the difficult decision to use fake documentation to find work. Not long after, he took a job at Stewart international airport in Newburgh, New York.

The family, which had expanded by two since they moved to the US, lived happily in their new country for several years. Then one night, Duque, by then a supervisor, heard a manager say over the radio that “nice personnel” wanted to speak with him.

“When I walk[ed] to see this ‘nice person’, I saw the logo ‘ICE’,” Duque said referring to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. “It wasn’t ‘nice’ but it was Ice.”

He and several other workers were arrested and put in jail. Duque was charged with using forged immigration documents, and was told he could either sign his deportation document or remain in jail.

Duque said his family is in the US now, and in Mexico he would only find unemployment and poverty. It wasn’t a choice.

This period was a trying one for the family. The eldest daughter, Silvia, was diagnosed with diabetes. With Duque in a detention center and Castañeda at the hospital with Silvia, the younger girls found themselves cared for by people they didn’t know well.

“The most difficult time of my life was when my dad was gone,” said Fatima.

Through neighbors, Castañeda was connected with the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, who has kept Duque in the country and with his family.

“It doesn’t matter what your immigration status is, you have status in the sight of God,” said Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York. “Therefore if you need a meal, if you need a place to live, if you need a job, we’re going to work with you in the best way possible to make sure that those basic human rights are going to be met.”

Catholic Charities took on Duque’s case and helped secure his release from the detention center he had been transferred to in New Jersey. Over the course of more than 100 hearings in criminal and immigration courts, Duque’s lawyer has argued that the arrest was unlawful because the officers did not have a search warrant. The case is ongoing.

Meanwhile, Duque and his family have begun to rebuild their lives. They live in Margaretville, New York, a rural town in the Catskills mountains. Duque now works as a handyman and his wife assists him. His older daughters Silvia Celeste, 19, and Fatima Andrea, 15, qualify for temporary legal residency and his youngest daughters Vanessa Corina, 12, and Aurura, 6, were born in the US and are citizens.

Ahead of Francis’s visit to New York, Fatima has prepared a letter that will be presented to him along with letters from other immigrants. In the letter she described her dreams for a better life, and said that she hopes to go to college and become a lawyer, but said she is restricted by the current immigration laws.

“I want to do so much, but I can’t,” she wrote in the letter. “I want to be able to.”

When the pope arrives in East Harlem on Friday afternoon, he will first meet with 250 elementary school children from Queen of Angels, which mostly serves low-income, immigrant children, and three other nearby Catholic schools. Francis will then go to the school’s gymnasium, where he will meet with immigrants who have been helped by Catholic Charities.

“That the pope has chosen to make the plight of immigrants and refugees his cause will make it such an incredibly moving experience,” Sullivan said.

For the Duque family, it is the opportunity of a lifetime.

“To the meet the pope is the answer of God because we had all these problems and we never gave up,” said Duque. “This is our prize.”

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