When Paulina Bustillos was 11 years old, her dad didn’t return home one day after work. An undocumented immigrant, he had traveled from St. Cloud to Fargo for his job and no one had heard from him.
For a week his family wondered if he was OK, if he had been deported or if he was being held somewhere by law enforcement. Her mother was constantly in tears, having called every jail and police department between the two cities.
They finally learned he was detained in Fargo by law enforcement who questioned his immigration status. They were able to talk to him, but only via a computer screen, not face to face, a traumatic experience for Bustillos.
Now a senior at Tech High School in St. Cloud, Bustillos choked back tears as she told the story to those gathered April 18 for a prayer vigil at St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph.
The vigil, held in the monastery’s Sacred Heart Chapel, included prayers for the U.S. Supreme Court as justices were hearing oral arguments the same day for and against the Obama administration’s executive actions on deferred deportation.
Prayers were also offered for members of Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a local faith-based Latino social justice organization, who traveled to Washington, D.C., in support of the actions.
The court listened to arguments about President Obama’s 2015 executive actions, which expanded a 2012 program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, and created the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, known as DAPA.
In many cases, deportation separates families. The Obama administration’s executive actions would allow nearly 4 million undocumented immigrants — people that were brought here as children as well as undocumented parents of children born here — to stay in the United States and attend school or legally work here.
Twenty-six states, not including Minnesota, are suing the federal government in the case, saying the president went too far with his actions. Some are concerned that the actions would not only temporarily block deportations but allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for benefits such as Social Security and Medicare.
Bishop Donald Kettler spoke at the vigil, emphasizing the importance of caring for all of God’s people.
“If God created us, and if God gave all human beings dignity, and if God cares for them, knows them each by name and loves them all, how can we do anything but care for God’s people?” he asked.
“It doesn’t take a great argument or analysis about why we are here,” he said. “It’s simply because we are going to care for all of God’s creation, for every human being. We care for those here today [who are] perhaps without documents.”
Keeping families together is something to work for right now, he said. “We need to pray for a change in people’s hearts.”
“We must stop deportation and separation of families immediately,” said St. Cloud State University student Gladys Gutierrez.
Gutierrez was born in the United States to immigrant parents and spoke at the prayer vigil about the sacrifices her parents have made to give their children a better life.
Her parents work long hours at their jobs to provide for their children, she said, and she wonders how she would take care of her siblings if something happened to her parents.
“My parents are my life,” she said. “I live in fear of a phone call to be notified that my parents or some other family member has been deported.
“What would I do?” she said. “How would I take care of my 13-year-old brother and my 6-year-old sister? No child should be separated from their family. It is unjust and it is cruel.”