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Joyce Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World. She has worked in communications and media for Catholic organizations for several years. Most recently, she served as assistant editor at Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newsweekly.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Living under the radar

From Oct. 21-24, Auxiliary Bishop John Manz made his 10th visit to migrant workers on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Over the years, Bishop Manz has crisscrossed the country visiting these workers, who often fall under the radar of the local community and the church.

Photo editor Karen Callaway and I travelled along on his trip to Alabama. We met workers from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico who work on the tomato farms there, in construction or in chicken processing plants. They were people of faith who work hard jobs for very little compensation.

Many of these folks have also endured abuse of some kind.

Auxiliary Bishop John Manz listens as a migrant woker shares his story during a recoption at Good Shepherd Parish in Russellville, Ala., Oct. 22. The reception followed a Mass in the church. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

The first people we met shared their stories of coming to the United States from Mexico to live with relatives and work.

Giselle Jimenez came to live with an uncle who got her a position as a domestic worker in a man’s home. However, there was more expected of her than just cooking and cleaning. The man expected sex along with her other duties and locked her in a trailer for one year. She eventually escaped and found another home and work.

Another woman shared her tale of coming to the United States for work because her father was ill back in Mexico and couldn’t support the family. Judith Garcia and her sister came to live with an aunt who was an American citizen. Their aunt kept them in her home for a year, working them from the morning through the night, cleaning and baking bread. She didn’t pay them at all during that time and didn't let them outside.

Eventually, Judith broke out of the house and made her way to a nearby store, where she met people from her mother’s hometown in Mexico. One of the women she met was also an American citizen and told Judith that what her aunt was doing was illegal.

Judith and the woman she met went back to the aunt’s home to get her sister, but the aunt wouldn’t let them into the house. The woman from the store threatened to call the police so Judith was finally allowed in to collect her things, but the aunt would not let the sister go with her. So Judith went back at midnight and knocked on her sister’s window and convinced her to leave the home.

They were able to find other work and safer living conditions. But the struggles didn’t end there.

Later, Judith met a man she loved and had three children. Three years ago, her 10-year-old daughter was struck by a drunk driver when she was walking in a yard. The driver, a white man, swerved off the road and hit the girl.

The girl, Brittany, suffered brain damage and is unable to talk or walk. Police never charged the man and ruled the incident an accident.

Her parents turned to lawyers for help in the situation, but say the lawyers took advantage of them since they are undocumented. They told us they have no hatred for the man who hit their daughter. They just want justice for her.

We found stories like these common among the people Bishop Manz met in Alabama. They are harrowing stories of what people will endure to make a better life for their family or to live in a country with more freedom than their own.

The stories and photos from Bishop Manz’s trip will appear in the Nov. 24-Dec. 7 issue of the Catholic New World. You can check them out at www.catholicnewworld.com.

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