John Herrera is the director of the Immigration Legal Services program at Catholic Charities. He gave these remarks at a Christmas party hosted by friends of Catholic Charities.
For me, today has been special for a couple reasons. I just came from the Lloyd Center, where my son was playing saxophone in honors band. I was thrilled to see him playing up there on that beautiful stage. That’s the first reason.
Today is also very special for another reason, which is because I crossed that door right there into this beautiful home in which we’re all standing. It’s special because in 2004, I was here, in this house. I stood right over there, close to the stairwell. I had just come from Colombia, speaking no English, a stranger in need.
Catholic Charities of Oregon had taken my case for immigration purposes. I was seeking asylum from Colombia. While I was working with the attorneys at Immigration Legal Services, the program manager at the time came up to me and said, “Hey, John, your story is so great. Can you come and talk with the ‘friends of Catholic Charities’?”
The friends of Catholic Charities? I thought. What could that mean?
But I said, “Yeah! Let’s go.”
So anyway, I was standing there, back in 2004, telling my story to a bunch of “friends of Catholic Charities.” I didn’t know what that meant until much, much later. And today, I’m proud to have the opportunity to stand here in front of you again and tell you: Thank you for being a friend of Catholic Charities because it’s the only reason many of us are alive and are able to survive in this world.
Your amazing work has no meaning but to save people’s lives and keep families together. I was standing right there, with all my fear of being in a new country, just happy to be alive. Somebody in my country didn’t want me there, so I just moved here.
That’s the story of the modern immigrant. But your participation as friends has a real impact on my world and the world of so many immigrants and refugees and asylum seekers trying just to survive, to stay alive. And what else can you do for a friend besides make them happy? That’s the only thing you do for friends, regardless, and that’s what Catholic Charities does because of you. Thank you.
Thank you for letting me stand before you today, fifteen years later, having gone from a client to the director of the Immigration Legal Services program. I could not be prouder than to be serving my community because of you.
I have the honor of being called friend, husband, and dad, but I had never been called an angel until last week.
Last week, I went to the Immigration Legal Services office. I was representing a client whose husband was abusing her. She couldn’t attend her interview. She came from Peru, and her name was Martha. Martha came on a fiancée visa, and she married her husband, and she was trying to set up a new life. This guy became abusive and wouldn’t let her go to her interview. Because of that, she came so close to being deported – because she couldn’t go to her interview. So she came for a consultation. We had that consultation, and we told her, “Yes, we can help you.” So we prepared a case for her.
Last week, she went to the immigration services office. The officer assigned to her case, he took a look at everything, and said, “Everything here looks fine!” he said. “The application you presented was good. Everything is fine.”
So we waited a few minutes. Thirty minutes passed. An hour passed. And then the immigration officer came in and said, “Your case is approved.”
The woman looked at me and said, “That means…está bien?”
I laughed and said, “Yeah, that’s it!”
We smiled, thanking the officer, and we walked out. Now, this woman – está bien – she speaks the same language that I do. Spanish. She came and said, “Can I give you a hug?”
I said, “Of course!” You know, because I’m a hugger. Why not? So she hugged me. And she gets close to my ear and said, “Thank you. You are an angel.”
And that’s when I remembered what an angel is. Isn’t it someone who brings good messages from God to humanity? Isn’t it an angel who opens the door for us to be there with God?
And that’s why you guys do. You are the angels of Catholic Charities.