For The Dialog
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – The woman calmly talked with Sister Eileen Eager at Catholic Charities’ Seton Center, requesting help to update her children’s passports.
It was a simple request, typical of many forms she and her fellow Sister of Charity, Cecilia McManus, help the Spanish-speaking population of Somerset County fill out. But the simplicity belied a deep-set fear in the Hispanic community here of late.
The mother is not a citizen of the United States, and does not have the legal paperwork required by the United States government to be here.
Given President Trump’s campaign promises to deport those who are illegally in the United States, and his actions toward fulfilling other promises such as constructing a wall along the Mexico-United States border, she fears she might be deported to her Central American homeland.
The passports are insurance that her children could be reunited with her if she was to be expelled from the U.S., Sister Eileen said.
The fearful mother who visited the Seton Center is not alone. Others have asked for passport help or seek forms to name guardians for their minor children. “They want someone [they choose] to have custody of their children,” Sister Eileen said. “That’s a worry.”
She and Michele Canopii, Seton Center program manager, said many in the Hispanic community fear what may happen, especially to their children, during Trump’s administration.
Children are citizens
“The children of most of those in the area were born in the United States, children of families that have been in the United States for years,” she said. Those children are American by birth, but have parents who do not have legal status here.
“The uncertainty of it all is the most troubling,” Canopii said.
While Sister Eileen decried the rhetoric of last year’s presidential campaign, she said that fear has always been part of life for those in the United States without proper documentation.
“There’s always been something that scares them,” she said, citing the immigration raids over the years. She and Sister Cecilia, who also continues to work at Seton Center, came to Princess Anne with two other Sisters of Charity in 1983 to work with migrant workers, mostly Hispanics or Haitians. Their early ministry led to Seton Center, which later became part of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Wilmington.
Migrants who settled
“Many of these people migrated [followed the crops] at first, then settled here,” Sister Eileen said of Hispanics in Somerset County. Hispanics account for 3.6 percent (approximately 925 people) of the county’s 2015 estimated population of 25,768. “They work. There’s no question about that.”
The Hispanic migrants also tend to be self-reliant, and usually do not ask for economic assistance programs aimed to prevent evictions or utility disconnects, Sister Eileen said.
15 families per week
“Many of their issues [in requesting the sisters’ help] involve traffic tickets and various forms, especially school forms written in English,” she said. An average of 15 Hispanic families come to Seton Center for assistance each week. Both Sisters Eileen and Cecilia are bilingual.
Seton Center also provides immigration services once a week, which these days mostly involves people of Haitian background rather than Hispanics.
Concerns over what the Trump administration might do concerning those without proper immigrant documentation is not limited to just Somerset County or eight other Lower Eastern Shore counties of Maryland that are Seton Center’s service area.
“We’re getting calls from throughout Maryland and from Virginia and Delaware,” Sister Eileen said.
The fears of many Hispanics in Somerset County are shared by Hispanics elsewhere as President Trump determines his policies and puts them into action.