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Deportation of Wis. eighth-grader reveals immigration policy's painful side to class

GREEN BAY, Wisconsin (The Compass) - Students at St. Bernard School learned about the painful realities of illegal immigration recently when one of their classmates was deported to Mexico.

The situation and whereabouts of Miriam (the school asked that her last name not be used), an eighth grader at St. Bernard, are still unknown after her family apparently returned to Mexico in late December or early January.

A phone call to the school from Miriam’s mother, notifying them that Miriam was not returning to school, was the only notification the school received, said Renee Dercks-Engels, a teacher at St. Bernard.

“It was after Christmas, right around the time when (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) had a few raids around here,” she said. “They were targeting different businesses.”

Dercks-Engels said Miriam’s sudden departure was difficult for students to understand. For most of them, immigration issues were only subjects discussed in textbooks and on television.

Questions and answers

Knowing that students had questions, Dercks-Engels, contacted Laurie Martinez, an immigration counselor at Catholic Charities, who agreed to talk to students.

Martinez, whose daughter, Larissa, is a sixth grader at St. Bernard, spoke to more than 100 students in grades six, seven and eight on April 25.

Four of Miriam’s eighth-grade classmates spoke to The Compass May 1 about her departure and the circumstances surrounding it.

“For me it was kind of difficult,” said Jasmin Torres. “This is my first year here and she was like the only person I knew when I got here. It just made it a lot harder coming to school without her.”

Elle Bellisle attended St. Philip the Apostle School with Miriam before it closed two years ago. “When it closed down we came here,” she said. “She was like the only one I hung out with.”

When she heard Miriam was in Mexico, added Bellisle, “I thought she was on vacation.”

Her reaction was typical for students who don’t know about the deportation of undocumented immigrants, said Dercks-Engels. “They don’t understand the dynamics. That’s why we brought in the speaker.”

Eye-opening discussion

As an immigration counselor for Catholic Charities, Martinez said she speaks to church and civic groups about immigration issues, but it was the first time she spoke to young students.

Martinez discussed the immigration process, types of immigration, the length of time it takes for people to gain permanent residency, and the consequences of bypassing the legal process.

Because the wait for permanent residency can take years, sometimes decades, some people enter the country illegally, students learned.

“I didn’t know it took like 14 years or longer” to apply for residency, said Collin Marshall. “I didn’t know how hard it could be to get visas. (Martinez) talked about the asylum immigrants, and I had no clue about that, how they are coming to the U.S. because they are fearing persecution in their country.”

“The main thing they want is for their family to come to the U.S. and (often) it takes a lot of time or doesn’t even happen,” added Connor Gindt.

When policy hits families

For Torres, who is Hispanic, the immigration issue hit close to home.

“At the same time Miriam left, one of my dad’s sister’s husband got deported, too,” she said. “It’s really hard for us. It was really unexpected.

“They just came in his house one day and took him and left a card saying call this number if they wanted to know more,” she continued.

“I understand that he like did something wrong when he crossed the border, but taking him away from his family and taking everything he worked hard for, I think that’s messed up.”

Her aunt and cousins have since moved to Mexico.

“My aunt had to sell her house and her car to get money to go to Mexico,” said Torres. “They worked so hard for everything and one day they just lose everything. My cousins went to school one day and they come home and their dad is not there any more. I think they should do something to fix that. If they are going to take one person, they might as well take the whole family so they can be together.”

Torres said she intends to learn more about immigration issues.

“Since my parents are citizens, I never thought it could affect me,” she said. “I never imagined I would be (affected), and one day it’s like bam. That’s when everything started to get more personal. Now I’m a lot more concerned. I’m trying to get more into it.”

A teachable moment

According to Kay Franz, St. Bernard principal, the school’s demographics have changed since the closure of St. Philip School. Hispanic enrollment has jumped from 20 students two years ago to 30 last year and 36 this year. The school has an enrollment of 395 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Franz and Dercks-Engels said Miriam’s departure was a teachable moment for the school.

“It makes us more aware of the needs of the community and how the kids can respond to helping out one another,” said Franz.

“We just started touching on the subject because this is new for all of us,” said Dercks-Engels. “Honestly, as adults we think we know what’s going on, but once it impacts (students) and when it’s so personal, we realized how much we had to bring it to them.”

It was an opportunity not just to talk about immigration issues, she added, but to reflect on what the Christian response should be.

As a result of Miriam’s departure, the middle school students decided to donate their school Mass collections for two weeks to the diocese’s Hispanic Ministry Office. “We are trying to be a little pro-active, but it’s all new to us,” added Dercks-Engels.


This story was made available to Catholic Online by permission of The Compass (, official newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay,Wis.



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1 - 10 of 10 Comments

  1. Jack Gordon
    5 years ago

    It's nice to see the Catholic Church in the US responding to this matter like....well, like Catholics. It wasn't so long ago that the Catholic Church in France responded to immigration questions, both illegal and legal, with something less than charity. Those who are "tough" on illegal immigrants now might benefit by studying the case of the Church in Marshall Petain's France. That shameful episode could make them rethink their current iron-fisted politics.

  2. John Bush
    5 years ago

    First off let me say that I am 100% for open immigration to our country - if you want to come here you should be allowed. The red tape involved in the current process seems extreme.

    That being said, legal processes need to be involved to ensure justice for everyone, including the immigrants. Illegal immigration hurts everyone including the illegal immigrants. It is a big, nasty, business. Illegal immigrants are open to abuse from the time they choose to illegally enter the U.S. through their entire time here. They are often transported by unscrupulous individuals who also trade in illegal drugs and weapons. They are often hired by unscrupulous business owners who pay them far less than acceptable local minimums, and are constantly under threat of blackmail.

    Articles like this that seem to trivialize the fact that illegal immigration is illegal doubtlessly cause many people grave harm. It is unfortunate that as much effort is not spent on addressing the root causes of illegal immigration.

  3. Russ Godsil
    5 years ago

    Most Illegal Aliens steal identities to obtain work. Doesn't bother most folks but I lost a position because it took time for the hiring authority to figure out I didn't lie on my application by not disclosing all of my employers. And no I'm not the busboy in Buffalo. The Alien I don't know where he was from could have been Canada just dunno. But theft of ID is big business in the southwest and is an off shoot of the illegal alien mess.

    I'm part Native American the rest is Irish descent. My Irish blood says we love everybody my Native American kin aren't so inclined.

    Here in the Southwest we see the real tragedy of Mexican Goverment corruption that forces entire villages to have no young men walking the streets with their families. We need to pray for Mexico and all poor countries that they will one day really be free.

  4. William Van Duzen
    5 years ago

    Refering to Rafaelmarie's comment. Whats wrong with blue eyes. Are people with blue eyes racist? I support a strong imigration policy.It hast to be fair for blue eyed Europeans as well as brown eyed Mexicans.Hiding in a Church when you break a law does not make it right.This is also a good example for the students to witness the concquences of breaking the law.Imigrints that work hard to become an American, make excellent citizens.Mexicans are not starving, and their government can and does take care of their people, it might not equal our level of care but nether does the rest of the world.And I have blue eyes!

  5. vsedriver
    5 years ago

    Actions have consequences. If you cheat the system and you get caught you must pay the price. To say it is OK to cheat because it feels wrong to have to go through the proper channels puts emotion over reason. Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

  6. rafaelmarie
    6 years ago

    Call them what you want, "illegals", immigrants, dayworkers, Mexicans, whatever.
    The truth is that they are poor people looking for a better material life.
    All this hullaballoo about illegals flooding our country and they can possibly be terrorists, steal jobs, etc., is a bunch of baloney.
    It is an excuse by racists to panic the general public in sealing our boders with Mexico. Because they fear that the Hispanic population will overtake the Anglo population. Tough. Maybe if they didn't have so many abortions there wouldn't be a perceived shortage of white people?
    The point is that America belongs to everyone, not only the Anglo-Saxons.
    The term "illegal" is also a racist man-made term, NO ONE IS ILLEGAL IN GOD'S EYES! ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL BY GOD!
    These poor immigrants take jobs that nobody wants!
    They work hard and pay taxes!
    I am sure if these "illegals" had blond hair, blue eyes there would be no hullaballoo.
    The wall dividing our countries IS AN ABOMINATION IN GOD'S EYES!
    This oppression of Aliens is just part of the general decadence this country is suffering, making it further justified to be greatly and further chastised by God!
    1. Exodus 12:49The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you."
    2. Exodus 20:10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
    3. Exodus 22:21"Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.
    4. Exodus 23:9"Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.
    5. Exodus 23:12"Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
    6. Leviticus 16:29"This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves [ Or must fast ; also in verse 31 ] and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you-
    7. Leviticus 19:10Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
    8. Leviticus 19:33" 'When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.
    9. Leviticus 19:34The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.
    10. Leviticus 22:18"Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites and say to them: 'If any of you-either an Israelite or an alien living in Israel-presents a gift for a burnt offering to the LORD , either to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering,
    26. Leviticus 23:22" 'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.' "
    27. Leviticus 24:22You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.' "
    28. Leviticus 25:35" 'If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.
    29. Numbers 9:14" 'An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born.' "
    30. Numbers 15:15The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD :
    31. Numbers 15:16The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.' "
    32. Numbers 15:29One and the same law applies to everyone who sins unintentionally, whether he is a native-born Israelite or an alien.
    33. Deuteronomy 1:16And I charged your judges at that time: Hear the disputes between your brothers and judge fairly, whether the case is between brother Israelites or between one of them and an alien.
    34. Deuteronomy 5:14but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do.
    35. Deuteronomy 10:18He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.
    36. Deuteronomy 23:7Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country.
    37. Deuteronomy 24:14Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.
    38. Deuteronomy 24:17Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.
    39. Deuteronomy 24:19When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
    40. Deuteronomy 24:20When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
    41. Deuteronomy 24:21When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.
    42. Deuteronomy 26:12When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.
    43. Deuteronomy 26:13Then say to the LORD your God: "I have removed from my house the sacred portion and have given it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, according to all you commanded. I have not turned aside from your commands nor have I forgotten any of them.
    44. Deuteronomy 27:19"Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow." Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"
    45. Deuteronomy 28:43The alien who lives among you will rise above you higher and higher, but you will sink lower and lower.
    51. Joshua 20:9Any of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.
    52. 2 Samuel 1:13David said to the young man who brought him the report, "Where are you from?" "I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite," he answered.
    53. Psalm 39:12"Hear my prayer, O LORD , listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were.
    54. Psalm 94:6They slay the widow and the alien; they murder the fatherless.
    55. Psalm 105:23Then Israel entered Egypt; Jacob lived as an alien in the land of Ham.
    56. Psalm 146:9The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
    57. Jeremiah 7:6if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,
    58. Jeremiah 22:3This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.
    59. Ezekiel 22:7In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.
    60. Ezekiel 22:29The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice.
    61. Ezekiel 47:23In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance," declares the Sovereign LORD .
    62. Zechariah 7:10Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
    Yours in Jesus through Mary and Joseph, accompanied by St. Philomena,

  7. ConcernedCatholic
    6 years ago

    What a tragedy for both the family and the school. We must remember, however we feel about this issue, that many of these immigrants are our fellow Catholic brothers and sisters.

  8. Mary
    6 years ago

    "Thou shalt not steal." When did the lefties decide that this was removed from the commandments? When people come illegally, they are STEALING: Jobs, Education, Taxpayer dollars in the form of BENEFITS and FOOD STAMPS. Anchor babies? As long as the US does not have laws like Italy, Ireland, Germany and countless others that limit citizenship to the children of LEGAL RESIDENTS, we will continue to have this problem. Why was this little girl in Catholic school??? I love Catholic education but it seems odd they had the foresight to get her a Christian education but lacked the simple foresight to get a VISA or even a TEMPORARY RESIDENCY PERMIT. We are propping up corrupt regimes and drug-dealing scum throughout Mexico and South America from the dollars these folks send home -- and preventing the real reforms these countries need.

  9. Jenni
    6 years ago

    I can understand how such a situation would be difficult for a group of eigth graders to understand, especially since immigration policy is apparently not something discussed very often in schools. Explaining the current policies and perhaps pointing out certain aspects of the policies that could possibly use some revision are good ideas. However, the fact still remains that just because you don't happen to like a certain law or how long it takes to go through proper channels, gives no right to break the law. This is an insult to every single person who made a choice to obey the laws and respect the rules of the country into which they want to come. Thousands of people from all over the world have done it the legal way. Wanting better things for your family is wonderful, but teaching them to feel free to break the law if they don't like it is neither scriptural nor beneficial!

  10. Tom
    6 years ago

    Send them back, they broke the law and take advantage of our communities. Only a brandead catholic truly believes it's ok for over 15 million to break the law and enter illegally, many who have disease and commit felony crimes (re CA prisons). Tell me where it is from the Pope or catehism to support illegal behavior that ruins this nation? Are you not american too? My wife is from Colombia and she can here legally, waited, paid fees, proved she wouldn't be a welfare burden, and came in. Because they're mexican and a border country gives them no right to come illegally and shame on all you insane people to support this. What about all those waiting to legally come from asia, africa, eastern europe, what about them? You're a disgrace and un-american.

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