Cardinal Sean O’Malley recounted this powerful story at the launch of Crux, which I had heard previously, but found just as compelling:
I often share the story of my first days at the ‘Centro Católico’ when I was visited by a man form El Salvador who sat at my desk and bursts into tears as he handed me a letter from his wife back in El Salvador who remonstrated him for having abandoned her and their six children to penury and starvation.
When the man was able to compose himself, he explained to me that he came to Washington, like so many, because with the war raging in his country it was impossible to sustain his family by farming. So a coyote brought him to Washington where he shared a room with several other men in similar circumstances. He washed dishes in two restaurants, one at lunchtime and one at dinnertime. He ate the leftover food on the dirty plates so as to save money. He walked to work so as not to spend any money on transportation, so that he could send all the money he earned back to his family. He said he sent money each week, but now after six months, his wife had not received a single letter from him and accused him of abandoning her and the children. I asked him if he sent check or money orders. He told me that he sent cash. He said: “Each week I put all the money I earn into an envelope with the amount of stamps that I was told and I put it in that blue mailbox on the corner.” I looked out the window and I could see the blue mailbox, the problem was it was not a mailbox at all, but a fancy trash bin.
This incident helped me to glimpse the hardships and humiliations of so many immigrants who come to the States fleeing from poverty and oppression, seeking a better life for their children.
It is important to move beyond viewing issues like immigration in a purely abstract way and think about the consequences of our actions and inaction on the personal lives of real people. Stories like this are invaluable for doing so.