Written by Mary McCusker
The blistering cold did not stop a congregation of 35 individuals from gathering in front of Senator Cory Booker’s office in Camden on December 6. The group – consisting of Bishop Dennis Sullivan, Diocesan clergy, Catholic Charities staff, parishioners, and other community members – were there to participate in a prayer vigil and stand in solidarity with two particular individuals in attendance: Oscar and Humberta Campos.
The Campos’ – parents of three American children, business owners, and beloved parishioners of Holy Cross Parish in Bridgeton – accompanied the group, standing side by side with family members. In Oscar’s hand was a sign: “Stop Deportation.” It was the day before he and his wife would report to ICE to present them with one-way tickets back to Campos’ hometown of Tamaulipas, Mexico. It was possibly the last day that they would be together as a family.
“The town I come from is so dangerous that you can’t even own a home, a business or a new car without being extorted by the drug cartels,” Campos was quoted in a press release, adding, “They control everything.” According to Campos, if you refuse to pay a certain amount of money, members of the family can be kidnapped or murdered. “Living in the United States was my only hope.”
In 1989 Campos fled the violence and dangers of his hometown and crossed the border into Texas. He made his way to Bridgeton, where he was able to pursue the American dream – raising his kids, obtaining a work permit, starting a business, buying a home, earning his GED, and serving as an active member in his church with his wife and children.
His youngest son, Erwin, stood wrapped in blanket at the vigil service, holding a sign: “I want my parents to see me graduate.”
Glancing at his father who was speaking with Bishop Sullivan, he said, “I’ve been praying to God every single day that they won’t be forced to leave. I need them to stay with me. I can’t even imagine what living without them would be like.”
Oscar’s daughter, Janet Campos, fought her way through tears as the congregation prepared to pray the rosary. “My parents are good people. I can’t say that enough. They’re hard-working and they’ve lived here for 30 years,” she said, pausing. “And they fought so hard to provide us with a better life than they had.”
While both Oscar and Humberta Campos have been working legally, paying taxes, and continuing to meet regularly with immigration authorities, they have been living in fear of deportation.
And, the family’s fears came true in early December 2013 when a van approached Oscar as he waited in the parking lot for his wife to finish a routine visit with immigration authorities. Oscar was arrested and held at Elizabeth Detention Center, capturing the attention of the media and spurring a series of rallies and vigils which were held outside of the facility, led by his loved ones, clergy, and members of the community. On Christmas of 2013, Oscar was released from the facility where he was greeted with his family. Their only Christmas wish was to be reunited with their father.
Yet, now almost exactly four years later, the family once again has only one Christmas wish: avoiding permanent separation. In one final attempt to remain together, the family prayed the rosary with the congregation, with hopes that the vigil would serve as a reminder of the intended assistance that Senator Booker had promised.
“Senator Booker has been a champion for immigration. We want to hold him to that standard for the law abiding, hardworking people, who are looking for a better life in the U.S.,” Deacon Arnaldo Santos stated.
Bishop Dennis Sullivan added, “I encourage politicians to work towards repairing this broken immigration system. And there is a human aspect to all of this. [The Campos family] are my brothers and sisters, and they are yours.”
Statement of Bishop Dennis Sullivan on the impending deportation of Oscar and Humberta Campos:
Pope Francis, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the New Jersey Conference of Bishops, and the Diocese of Camden have, for years, held fast to the belief that immigrants to the United States deserve our refuge, our protection, and our support.
This was clearly outlined by the USSCB in their 2000 statement, Welcoming the Stranger Among Us: Unity in Diversity, where they write “the Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all, especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances.”
For nearly 30 years, Oscar and Humberta Campos have been residents of Bridgeton, N.J. Good, caring, productive members of their community. They raised a family (their three children are U.S. citizens), started a business, paid taxes, and lived peacefully.
They are the very definition of good neighbors. The kind of people any community would be proud to call their own. And yet, because of the broken system of immigration in the United States, these good people will be deported, torn from their children.
While the issue of immigration is certainly nuanced, the three principles of Catholic Church teaching on immigration are simple:
- People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.
- A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.
- A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.
Unless the third principle is consistently met, then our policies on immigration are unjust.
I call on our political leaders to rescind the order of deportation targeting the Campos’, and to give immediate and serious consideration to rethinking the current policies on undocumented immigrants in the United States. As is the case of the Campos’, these policies subject good people to unnecessary harm.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden