NOGALES, Ariz. — It had been years since Maria Miranda of Tucson attended Catholic Mass with her son Jorge Lopez.
On Tuesday, they finally did. But they were separated by the U.S.-Mexico border fence in southern Arizona.
“I’m just a couple of bars, a couple steps away from her,” the 35-year-old said he told himself. “There’s a fence, but it’s the same ground.”
At one point, Lopez even forgot that he was on the Mexican side. He forgot about how immigration officials, he says, denied him an extension on his green card. He even forgot about how his illegal status finally caught up with him at work three years ago and he was deported.
Lopez was one of about 300 people who gathered at the border fence in Nogales to attend a transnational Mass led by Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston and bishops from across the West and Southwest, including Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle; Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson; Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso; and Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, N.M.
The Mass to celebrate the lives of those who have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is an attempt by the Catholic Church to call on President Obama to use his executive powers to limit deportations of people who are in the country illegally.
Obama has come under fire from immigrant rights activists who have nicknamed him the “deporter in chief” in reference to the high volume of deportations under his administration, although federal statistics now show that expulsions of people who are settled and working in the U.S. have fallen steadily since his first year in office, and are down more than 40% since 2009.