The pope praised him for providing for his parents; now Texas may want to deport them

Ricardo Ortiz, a Roman Catholic parishioner in Houston, talks with Pope Francis during an Aug. 31, 2015, satellite live-link audience in a McAllen, Texas, church. With Texas' immigration enforcement law taking effect Sept. 1, Ortiz, now 21, worries about his parents, who are in the U.S. illegally. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Ortiz

FORT WORTH, Texas (RNS) — For the past two years, Mexican immigrant Ricardo Ortiz felt he had an advocate.

Pope Francis, speaking via satellite, had praised Ortiz for “the way you gave everything you could as a boy, when you supported your family.”

Now, the 21-year-old Ortiz — like numerous other Hispanics in Texas  — worries about how the Lone Star State’s immigration enforcement crackdown may make his family a target.

While Ortiz has a temporary work permit, his father and mother lack proper documentation. A new state law — set to take effect Sept. 1 if it survives legal challenges by major Texas cities — would allow a police officer to inquire about his or his parents’ immigration status in a routine traffic stop.

Ricardo Ortiz, whose parents are in the U.S. illegally, at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Houston. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Ortiz

“It’s basically people-hunting. It’s like the new sport here in Texas, and the sponsor is Texas,” the Houston resident said of Senate Bill 4, a controversial measure banning “sanctuary cities” — local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration laws.

“To me, it’s very racist, and I don’t know how people are able to look past that. I don’t understand how people are able to vote for that.”

Bishops for Texas’ 15 Roman Catholic dioceses — comprising an estimated 8.4 million parishioners statewide — are among the law’s harshest critics, maintaining it “neglects Christ’s call to welcome the stranger and undermines our nation’s heritage to offer the light of freedom to the oppressed.”

The bishops recently developed a resource guide explaining their opposition and providing a “know your rights” checklist on how immigrants can exercise their Fourth and Fifth Amendment protections.

Mass at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Denton, Texas, a part of the Diocese of Fort Worth. Photo by Juan Guajardo

“There’s so much confusion in the immigrant community about what this law means to them, so the bishops hoped that this would help address some fears that people might have with the facts about the issue,” said Jennifer Carr Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops.

Safety and security?

Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson this month called for the instructional materials to be included — in English and Spanish — as a bulletin insert at all 90 of his diocese’s parishes. More than half of the diocese’s nearly 900,000 Catholics have Latino surnames, according to the bishop.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed Senate Bill 4 into law, is a Roman Catholic who invited Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson to pray at the governor’s 2015 inauguration. Abbott believes the immigration enforcement measure “squares directly” with his faith. Photo courtesy of Texas governor’s office

Olson is a longtime friend of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s first Catholic governor in more than 150 years, and gave the benediction at Abbott’s 2015 inauguration.

Olson and other bishops unsuccessfully lobbied Abbott to reject Senate Bill 4, which requires local governments to comply with federal immigration laws and creates criminal penalties — including possible jail time — for officials who fail to comply.

In a May 7 bill-signing ceremony on Facebook Live, Abbott said he supports legal immigration but not “harboring people who have committed dangerous crimes.”

“The law is about the safety and security of Texans, and criticisms to the contrary are not based in the reality of what the law says,” John Wittman, the governor’s press secretary, said in response to the bishops.

Asked if the immigration law had strained Olson’s relationship with the Republican governor, Olson said, “In terms of the friendship, I don’t doubt the governor’s integrity as a man. We agree to disagree.”

Fort Worth Bishop Michael Olson unsuccessfully lobbied his longtime friend, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Roman Catholic, not to sign Senate Bill 4 into law. Photo courtesy of Roman Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth

State Rep. Matt Rinaldi, a Catholic Republican,  points to criminal arrest data compiled by the Texas Department of Public Safety as justification for the law.

According to the data, between 2011 and 2017, more than 150,000 undocumented people were charged with crimes ranging from homicide to sexual assault to theft.

“You’re talking about being able to prevent 800 murders,” said Rinaldi, who made national headlines in May when he and Democratic colleagues got into a physical scuffle over the new law.

But in a column published last month in The Monitor, a newspaper in the South Texas border town of McAllen, San Antonio Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller and Brownsville Bishop Daniel Flores wrote: “It is not the case, as the governor and others argue, that only criminals need to fear SB 4. … People are now afraid that pretexts will be invented so that they can be stopped and asked about their immigration status. Yes, the law prohibits discrimination and profiling, but the immigrant poor are not likely to have the resources or the counsel needed to defend themselves.”

‘A fishing net’ for undocumented residents

Margarita Morton is an immigration attorney and parishioner of St. Patrick Cathedral in Fort Worth, Texas. Morton says the state’s new law cracking down on “sanctuary cities” and allowing police to ask about anyone’s immigration status is causing fear and uncertainty in the Hispanic community. Photo by Gary Logan

Margarita Morton, an immigration lawyer and parishioner at St. Patrick Cathedral in downtown Fort Worth, said immigrant mothers are terrified they’ll drop off their kids at school and never see them again.

“If people knew the impact, you would take stronger measures to make sure the laws are targeting the people you want it to, and not just making it a fishing net in the ocean where you grab whatever is in there,” Morton said.

The Fort Worth bishop voices fear that the new law may put an undue burden on police officers and create a climate of mistrust between migrants and local law enforcement. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported last week that teens who carried out nearly a dozen robberies targeted Hispanics “because they’ve got money, and they don’t call the police.”

“I think a lot of people who are here are frightened. It seems to cast too wide of a net,” Olson said of the law. “We have to continue to work for comprehensive immigration reform, and I don’t think Senate Bill 4 is a step in that right direction.”

Texas has an estimated undocumented immigrant population of roughly 1.5 million, out of a total population of 28 million.

Debate over the Texas law coincides with tough talk on immigration by President Trump, including his push to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and his court-challenged executive order barring refugees from six Muslim-majority nations deemed terrorism threats.

At a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last month, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston — the group’s president — extended a bishops’ working group on immigration, citing “the continued urgency for comprehensive immigration reform, a humane refugee policy and a safe border.”

A son’s love

Pope Francis recently tweeted: “Migrants are our brothers and sisters in search of a better life, far away from poverty, hunger, and war.”

Ortiz, the immigrant who talked to Francis, was 4 years old when his parents brought him to the U.S. The family came on a visa but stayed after it expired.

Ricardo Ortiz, back center, and his brother Rodrigo, right, are in the U.S. legally under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Younger brothers Ronald, left, and Robbin, front center, are U.S.-born citizens. But their parents, who stayed after their original visa expired, are in the country illegally. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Ortiz

When Ortiz’s dad got hurt in a work accident, the teen earned money to help provide for his struggling family — including three younger brothers, two born in the U.S.

“When I spoke to the pope, I told him my story,” Ortiz said. “Something that I keep real close to my heart is that he told me God had made me a father before my time, but the only reason he did that was because I had a father that taught me how to be a good father. … I can really connect with that.”

Ortiz’s love for his father makes accepting the new Texas law all the more difficult, he said. He describes his father as a patriotic sort who taught his children at early ages to respect police and honor the U.S. flag.

“He’s kept a clean record. He raised us the right way,” Ortiz said. “Now, the people he taught us to look up to are the people who can deport him and decide what his future is.”

About the author

Bobby Ross Jr.


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  • Speaking as the very proud son of a naturalized parent who came, LEGALLY, in a earlier wave of economic immigration, it is not un-Christian to expect that that when you break laws, your life should be complicated. Somehow these sorts of articles miss that point, and that while inconvenient, there is a perfectly straightforward way for those who “lack proper documentation” to remedy that. Note: this does not involve rewarding successful criminals at the expense of those who have applied for entry in accordance with our laws and customs.

  • Pope Francis has some agreement with Trump on border policy. “Yes, each country has the right to control its borders, who comes and who goes, and those countries at risk – from terrorism or such things – have even more the right to control them more, but no country has the right to deprive its citizens of the possibility to talk with their neighbors.”
    The week before the U.S. elections, Pope Francis said, “The migrant must be treated with certain rules, because to emigrate is a right, but it is a very regulated right.”
    No US prelate has offered any of his properties as a sanctuary.
    Congratulating Trump on his victory, Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, the elected president of the USCCB, said “We are firm in our resolve that our brothers and sisters who are migrants and refugees can be humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security.”
    A week later, the USCCB repeated that their pro-immigration efforts would “honor and respect the laws of this nation,” still echoing Pope Francis’ position.

  • Allowing illegal immigrants to stay is a slap in the face to those who went through proper channels and entered the country legally.

  • The short story is that Melania has described in interviews how when she was first working as a model in the US, her visa required her to go home to Slovenia at regular intervals to get a new or renewed visa. The problem with this is that such a visa would not have allowed her to work in the US, making her an illegal immigrant. Now of course I have no interest in seeing her actually get deported, I just like pointing out the irony. Why is that white illegal immigrants never seem to get targeted?

  • I knew nothing about her. Thanks. She should be if she is illegal.
    What I don’t understand, if it is true, the liberal media isn’t making a fuss about this and it would give them something legitimate, so why aren’t they?

  • There were several articles about it during the campaign. It was more brought up to show the hypocrisy than to actually advocate for deportation.

  • “To me, it’s very racist, and I don’t know how people are able to look past that. I don’t understand how people are able to vote for that.”

    To me, you’re very illegal and I don’t understand how people are able to look past that. It’s against the seventh and tenth commandments to appropriate or covet rights and privileges that are not yours. Ask your parents to file the proper documents and wait till they’re legal. Then come back to us with your “racist” rant. (I’m a brown person myself, so careful with your bile!)

    I, too, was an immigrant (in those days, the word “immigrant” meant “legal”) and I followed the law no matter how hard the process was. There’s nothing racist or immoral to it.

  • I am sure Donald petitioned and won residency for her when he married her, which makes her legal. And now she’s a naturalized US citizen.

    As another commenter says, there are legal ways for an illegal alien to become an immigrant. Calling people “racist” is not one of them.

  • Your assuredness is wrong. Melania received her green card in 2001, long before she married Donald. He did not sponsor her. She became a naturalized citizen in 2006. None of which changes her illegal entry or work in the United States a decade before. BTW, I recall a major GOP candidate decrying the use of H-1B visas, the kind Melania now claims she had, during the campaign. Want to guess which candidate that was?

  • Our limited resources should be spent on keeping out and deporting gang members, drug cartels, gun runners and violent illegals. We don’t have the resources to go after anyone else even though they are illegal and it isn’t far to legal potential immigrants.

  • Frankly, this is what in logic is called the ‘red herring’ fallacy.

    Melania and others have firmly denied these allegations and no documented evidence has been given to support them.

    However, even if the allegations proved to be true (which they have not) it would not be relevant concerning the status of millions of illegals in these United States of America who are continually utilizing resources that first of all should be for its citizens.

  • Sir, I would be grateful if you could answer a general legal question that puzzles me. Though inserting the question here seems a bit awkward. I’m quite sure that you are familiar with the series of television programs which are offered under the general rubric of “Law and Order,” which could best be described thematically as “police and prosecutorial procedurals.” In one narrative I viewed recently, during a vehement discussion in chambers, the jurist threatened an assistant DA with contempt. It is my understanding, most likely wrong, that contempt would be limited to actions and words in open court or publically, and that while in chambers attorneys have much greater discretion in expressing themselves. Am I, in fact, in error with this supposition?

  • Hi Edward- attorneys and judges are able to speak more freely in chambers than in open court. For example, they can talk about something the jury or spectators aren’t supposed to see. However, you can’t say just anything you want, and being in chambers doesn’t give you the ability to disregard court orders, etc. So the judge on the show could have legitimately threatened the ADA with contempt. Keep in mind of course that all such shows overdramatize real court proceedings, however. I don’t watch them because I always yell out “that can’t happen!” I imagine doctors feel the same way about Grey’s Anatomy etc.

  • Thank you for that very sensible answer. In in certain areas of my professional experience, I too have responded with a scoff or two when a dramatic portrayal clearly departs from the common reality.