VANCOUVER – Immigration lawyer Larkin VanDerhoef sees fear and uncertainty every day as he meets immigrants trying keep their families together.
Mental health professional Karla Garcia sees signs of anxiety and depression when she speaks with Latinos struggling to stay safe in a changing political climate.
Both were speakers at a March 4 “Know Your Rights” workshop at St. John the Evangelist Church in Vancouver. The event, presented in Spanish, was sponsored by the Archdiocese of Seattle as part of its efforts to support Pope Francis’ “Share the Journey” initiative, a global Catholic campaign to aid migrants and refugees that was launched Sept. 27, 2017.
About 300 people attended the workshop, held in the church sanctuary, with kids spilling out to the foyer and other rooms to watch a movie so their parents could concentrate on the presentations.
If there is a common theme across the complicated bureaucracy involving U.S. immigration enforcement, experts say, it is this: Families face situations that are all over the board.
“Within one family, every point of the spectrum — age, circumstances and when they came to the country — comes into play,” VanDerhoef, based in Seattle, said in a phone interview.
Men and women who came to the U.S. years ago may still be undocumented, but their children born here are citizens. Extended family with young children may have immigrated to join them, and now those children are “Dreamers,” beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which temporarily allows them to live, work and study in the U.S. without fear of deportation.
Immigration law “is confusing and most difficult because it is so complex, more than it needs to be,” VanDerhoef said. “From personal experience or knowing someone who was able to get [legal] status, they see that the smallest differences move individuals’ status in different directions.”
Larkin VanDerhoef advises the audience on how to deal with immigration officers. About 300 people attended the workshop, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Seattle, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Vancouver. Photo: Rachel Bauer
‘We need legal help’
After the 2016 elections, immigrants — in particular, Hispanics — felt threatened and targeted, said Joe Cotton, director of pastoral care and outreach for the Archdiocese of Seattle. That’s when he and others in his ministry went on a listening tour, visiting 12 Western Washington parishes, especially those with immigrant-heavy populations.
Though they heard the same concerns over and over, No. 1 was, “We need legal help, and lawyers we can trust” — that meant, for example, attorneys who would tell the immigrants upfront that they didn’t have a case instead of giving false hope. Other worries included a notable uptick in overt racism, even adult-to-child bullying, and a need to find more support in their parishes, Cotton said.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has long spoken out in favor of the migration of suffering people or those who want a better life. Local immigrants hoped those messages and efforts would trickle down to the parish level.
Hence, the idea for “Know Your Rights” workshops was born. The next workshops are April 14 in Bellingham and May 19 in Burlington (see box). An earlier session was held in Aberdeen, which drew about 40 attendees.
Tips for immigrants
During his Vancouver talk, VanDerhoef offered advice for immigrants on dealing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including:
- If immigration officers come to your door, they must have a warrant signed by a judge. Demand to see the warrant, but don’t open the door. The officials can slide it under the door.
- If an immigration officer stops you on the street, you don’t have to answer questions.
In her workshop presentation, Garcia, a Seattle mental health therapist and social worker, listed symptoms of anxiety and depression. She also told parents what to look for in their children’s behavior, when to call in professionals, and how to make emergency plans for the family, including child care, in case of a crisis.
If children ask questions, Garcia said, give them open and honest responses, and don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”
But Garcia also encouraged immigrants to rely on what she calls the “Seven strengths of the Hispanic community”: determination, the ability to adapt and thrive, faith, a strong work ethic, connection to community, resistance (or the courage to stand up for beliefs), and the ability to share strong emotional connections.
“These are powerful things in our midst,” Garcia said in an interview after her presentation.
‘Know Your Rights’ workshops
“Know Your Rights” workshops for immigrants are part of the Archdiocese of Seattle’s local effort to support Pope Francis’ “Share the Journey” initiative.
At each workshop, an immigration lawyer and a mental health professional address concerns that immigrants are facing, followed by individual meetings and opportunities to speak to representatives from the Mexican and Guatemalan consulates.
The next workshops are scheduled:
- April 14, from 2 to 4 p.m., at Church of the Assumption, 2116 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham
- May 19, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at St. Charles Parish, 935 Peterson Road, Burlington
Learn more about the archdiocese’s Immigrant & Refugee Ministry.
Janet Cleaveland is a member of the Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater in Vancouver.