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Turn to beatitudes for plight of neglected immigrant families during coronavirus: Edith Avila Olea

Immigrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, cast shadows on a National Institute of Migration building after they were deported from the United States April 21, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

By Edith Avila Olea

What prayer has been getting you through the pandemic? For me, it’s been staying close to the beatitudes:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Edith Avila Olea, associate director of justice and peace for the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., writes the “In Pursuit of Justice” column for Catholic News Service. (CNS photo/courtesy Edith Avila Olea)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3-10).

In the midst of COVID-19, I feel as though we’re all walking through some degree of the hardships listed in the beatitudes. It’s no surprise that the pandemic has spared no group of people. Yet, we must recognize that the pandemic has impacted some groups of people more than others.

Around the country, the pandemic has devasted minority communities, specifically black and Latino communities. These are communities that already live in vulnerable conditions. To name a few, these conditions are shaped by the lack of living wages, a broken immigration system, a broken justice system and poor economic opportunities.

These families don’t even have the privilege to practice the recommended safe guidelines. I know that in my own Latino family and thousands across the nation, some live in multigenerational homes where all adults are essential workers. For many, working from home is not an option.

These are the people who I see in the beatitudes — the domestic worker who won’t get paid if he doesn’t show up; the warehouse worker who is forced to work without personal protective equipment; and the farmers who still have to plant and harvest our foods without benefits or protection.

There are so many workers who are given little to no choice in protecting themselves from COVID-19.

I also think of the children, those who God put in all of our care. I see the work of older siblings left to take care of younger children while their parent(s), an essential worker, is risking his or her life. Consequently, these kids aren’t able to continue their education with e-learning.

There’s also another starker reality for immigrants without legal status who lost their restaurant or nonessential job. It’s the fact that they don’t qualify for unemployment and their future employment at the same job isn’t a guarantee.

If these challenges weren’t enough, immigrants without legal status have also been left out of the federal relief packages. The federal government deliberately excluded residents without a social security number, despite the fact that at least half of undocumented immigrant households pay taxes using a government assigned individual taxpayer identification number.

For the thousands of mixed status families living in America, even if a spouse is a U.S. citizen, he or she won’t qualify for relief either. To clarify, U.S. citizens married to an undocumented immigrant will not be receiving a check for themselves, his or her spouse or their children.

The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act) also included relief for college students, but it was decided that students in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program wouldn’t be eligible for that relief despite the same level of need.

To be an immigrant today is to be the beaten man on the street of Jerusalem. Though we may be facing an unjust sentence, we are not forgotten. This is particularly why I have received so much strength from the beatitudes.

I’ve spent the past several weeks working with community leaders, agency directors, volunteers and donors working around the clock to organize various relief funds for those who have been left out and increase access to health care. I strongly believe they are our good Samaritans helping us keep our hope alive.

While justice might not be present, our faith hasn’t been shaken. As my dad told me just the other day, “Mija, Dios siempre nos cuida” — “My daughter, God always takes care of us.”

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Edith Avila Olea is associate director of justice and peace for the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois. The 2015 winner of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award, she holds a master’s degree in public policy and a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication.