Abuelos y Nietos Juntos (Grandparents and Grandchildren Together) began with a dream – a dream in the hearts of immigrants in Worthington, MN and their families in Guatemala that one day they would be together. Many of our Guatemalan immigrants (and immigrants from other places) are undocumented, and this prevents them from going back to Guatemala to see their families. It’s also difficult for the family members in Guatemala to obtain a visitor’s visa to the U.S. So we have many situations where our immigrants here haven’t seen their families “back home” for 15 or 20 years.
With the aging of these grandparents back in the country of origin, they have a great longing not only to see their children once more, but to meet for the first time, their grandchildren in the US.
Originating with the immigrant population at St. Mary’s Church in Worthington, we are a faith-based group, and we believe that the idea for our first venture was divinely inspired. The idea was this: those who came here can’t go back home and the families back home can’t visit here, but the children born here are U.S. citizens. It is possible for them to travel. And so, after much planning, preparation, and fundraising, in July of 2013 a group of ten volunteers took fourteen children of immigrants to Guatemala.
They met not only grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, but in two cases younger siblings met older siblings for the first time, and one boy saw his mother for the first time in four years. For those of us who were blessed to be a part of this venture it’s something we have difficulty putting into words – that experience of seeing family members united for the first time. It was an encounter of profound emotion, and an understanding of what is truly important for all of us – the desire to be connected with those who love us unconditionally, those who have passed along to us our very identity – our families of origin.
This experience also helped us (the non-immigrants involved in our organization) to understand the pain and suffering that occurs because of our broken immigration system. Our immigrants that cross our southern border come for many reasons, but mostly for the same reasons our ancestors came. They can’t provide for and educate their families in the difficult economic and political situations in their home country. So they risk what is a perilous and dangerous journey to get here, leaving all that is dear to them behind. This decision is not made lightly and the personal consequences are incredibly painful. But economic desperation creates an environment where people are forced to make difficult decisions, and in my personal opinion, situations where heroes are born.
In our immigration system today, there are few remedies which allow these immigrants to apply for permanent status here in the US. The quotas are small, and the wait is long. For many people there simply is no “path.” Meanwhile, many good, faith-filled, hard-working people live in the shadows, fearing that at any time their families might be separated by deportation. These conditions expose them to exploitation in the workplace. People – and especially children – should never have to live with this fear.
And so we have become an organization that will not only plan future “unification trips” for children, we also continue to exist to educate and inform about the issues of immigration, to support immigrant families, and to encourage the immigrants in having their stories heard and to be able to speak in their own voice.
Our group is looking forward to joining our voices with others who support immigration reform that will unite families and respect the contributions of our immigrants on Saturday, Oct. 5th at the Day of Action in Minneapolis. We encourage others to join us.
Lisa Kremer OFS is the Project Coordinator for Abuelos y Nietos Juntos, an organization dedicated to working together to reunify families torn apart by our broken immigration system. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
On a side note: One of the great blessings from our July trip is that we were accompanied and supported by filmmaker Luis Argueta (producer/director of “abUSed – the Story of the Postville Raid” and “the Silence of Neto”) who is now creating a documentary that will tell not only the story of our trip, but also bring to life the stories of some of our immigrant families. You can view the trailer on YouTube.