I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me:  Ministry with Imprisoned Migrant Families

I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me: Ministry with Imprisoned Migrant Families

by Fr. Anthony Pizzo, OSA

McHenry County Detention Center is located approximately 60 miles Northwest of Chicago. It is one of several detention centers that detain people who have immigration cases. I am a member of a ministerial team that visits the jail monthly. It is a grueling day for travel in the morning (no less than 1 hour and a half) and the return trip is more than 2 hours. However, what happens between the morning arrival and the afternoon departure is worth the stress of traffic. 

We meet with several groups throughout the day starting with the women detainees who are followed by the men’s groups. We sit with each of the detainees who share with us their story on how they wound up at the detention center. Some were arrested in the State of Illinois and others are brought to this detention center from as far as California, all waiting to process their respective cases. Many sign for deportation rather than fight the case. Others refuse to sign with legal counsel representing them to push the case to its limit, depending on the nature of the offense. It can be a drug/DUI case or simply driving without a valid driver’s license to a back brake light not functioning while they are driving. 

As with any of these cases, each person has his/her own story.

Several that I have spent time with are young people who have been in the U.S. most of their lives and whose respective families are here with few or no relatives in their country of origin. These are difficult cases for these individuals: they are being deported to unfamiliar surroundings and at great distances from their families here. Most face the heartache of family separation. I have heard some very dramatic personal stories and have accompanied some to their court dates (Chicago cases) to offer support. When more dramatic cases of separation of spouses from each other or parents from their children gnaw at me, I cannot help but recall the words of Pope Francis on the island of Lampedusa in 2013 when referring to the migrants who lost their lives: 

“Has any one of us wept for these persons…? For young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion.”

Pope Francis

It is these stories, each with its own circumstances that offer the listener insights in the plight of these persons with no status who are simply seeking to sustain themselves and their families.

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