By Paul Witte and St. Vincent de Paul Committee of the New Sanctuary Movement

Sara Vazquez Garibay is a parishioner to celebrate. Two years ago she finally received a visa. But it was neither quick nor easy. St. Vincent de Paul parishioners supported her in the whole process. It goes back ten years to a relationship she and her two daughters had with Jim and Joy Wuenschel among others. Estella and Jennifer both went to our parish school DePaul Catholic and then Cristo Rey Academy where they were excellent students. Today, Estella is in her sophomore year at Georgetown University, and Jennifer is finishing at Cristo Rey and looking to attend college herself. Who would have thought that these girls would he where they are?

Their mother, Sara, came to the United States from Mexico when she was 16—to work. And work she did. When her health held out, she worked. But she has Lupus so it was always a battle to stay healthy. She couldn’t finish school because she had to work. She was undocumented so there weren’t a lot of jobs available—house cleaning mostly. Still she persevered, working when she could, learning English on the fly, living for her girls. She is separated from her husband, but he has been supportive over the years. We’re talking 17 years now. Antonio lives in Norristown and is in line for a visa too, but it is an even more drawn out affair for him. Many of us in the St. Vincent New Sanctuary Movement Committee have accompanied Antonio to his deportation hearings and continue to do so.

Sara got her visa and shortly afterward had a fall in a supermarket parking lot. She sprained an ankle and tore her rotator cuff. For most people, that would be a blow, a painful blow, but it was worse for Sara. Her livelihood required her to be able to move around, especially to move her arms. She was distraught but thought to enlist the help of one of the many tort lawyers who are out there. After incurring months of debt from useless physical therapy, something required by the lawyer to make his case, parishioners stepped in again to help. Many parishioners who have stuck with Sara over the years and prayed for her contributed to a fund to help her out. Other parishioners got help from neighboring churches. Fr. Sy often stepped in with help from the church fund. Credit goes especially to Gene Cleaver who accompanied her through thick and thin till she finally got a settlement. It was not much and it took two lean and frustrating years for Sara to get it, but she got something and in the process got better. She just recently got her driver’s license after four tries. Her life is looking up. Thank you, parishioners of St. Vincent for all the help.

We celebrate this immigrant family. They have persevered despite the tremendous odds against them. Little by little, not without help, but mostly by their own determination and grit, they are beginning to achieve “the American Dream.” Yes, it is the reason so many Latin Americans, Asians, Africans and others come to the United States: to work hard and to earn the chance to five the American Dream. Yet some in our nation do not seem to really understand that it is built upon such immigrants. Many have lost touch with their immigrant roots. Sara and her family serve to remind us of who we are— most of us anyway: immigrants. We are all immigrants. Some of our ancestors probably were undocumented. What has made America great is not documents, but determination and hard work!
We celebrate Sara. We celebrate the immigrants among us. We welcome the strangers in our midst. They are no longer strangers.