The Human Side of the Immigration Issue

The Human Side of the Immigration Issue

Father Julius Tvrdy
Father Julius Tvrdy

Father Julius Tvrdy Finds Fear, Needs in Crete

Father Julius Tvrdy sees a side of the immigration issue that others may not see: the people.

Father Tvrdy is the pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic church in Crete and oversees St. James Catholic School. He spent nine years in Venezuela ministering to people through a mission in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, then sponsored by the Catholic Diocese of Lincoln. He learned Spanish; he learned the Hispanic culture.

And he's using both in Crete as he ministers to the large percentage of Spanish-speaking people in the community who came to Crete to work at the Farmland pork slaughtering and manufacturing facility, which opened its doors in Crete in 1975. Some workers are documented, some are not. And Father Tvrdy doesn't ask their status.

Fifty percent of the students in St. James School, which is a grade school, are learning English. Most are Hispanic, he said, but there are some Vietnamese students, as well. Many more Vietnamese used to work at Farmland, he said, but in about 1999, most just left.

"The Hispanic people have a strong identity with religion," Father Tvrdy said. "I feel I have in inroad already." Hispanic people tend to be devout Catholics, and feel that the church be a part of family life. "If we have about 700 people attending Mass on Sundays, about 300 of them are Hispanic," he said.

"Our Hispanics are industrial migrant workers," he said, "and unless there's a green card, there's no moving forward. It's a long, impossible process (to get one)," he said; everyone is looking for a toe in. Undocumented workers generally fall into one of three categories, he said:

  1. people who have sneaked into the United States;
  2. people who overstayed educational visas, who may not have had malicious intent; and
  3. people who were brought over as children, such as Susan (not her real name), who is now 37 years old.

Susan was brought over the border to America when she was a child. She is still undocumented, and now has a husband and children who were born here. If she is deported to her home country, Father Tvrdy said, she knows no one, has no home there, does not know the language well. "I don't hear anyone addressing any part of this complicated issue," he said.

There are unique needs in Crete, he said. They're very short on family counseling in Spanish, but Catholic Social Services is trying to address that. For example, there's a grieving process when you leave people behind. And as with all cultures, it is important to recognize and treat depression and intervene in domestic violence situations.

Who do you punish when you deny them education?

Once a week, Father Tvrdy visits the inmates in the local jail. He doesn't ask why they're there; he just tries to help in whatever way he can. Sometimes they end up in jail because they don't understand the culture thoroughly; they may not understand the laws; they may have had to quit school at an early age to go to work and may have turned to selling drugs to make money.

Education is they key. "Who do you punish when you deny them education?" Father Tvrdy said. "The best students are those who come directly from a foreign country and go right to school," he said. If there is a delay, students may lose a sense of self due to possible loss of identity. "Do you like what you see in the mirror?" he said. And, he added, "I want (English-speaking) kids in our school to learn to read and write Spanish."

Father Tvrdy has plans for the future. He wants to bring people together to get to know each other, put on festivals and hold other activities that are normal in church life. "It's a new challenge to incorporate new immigrants," he said, but he thinks forming youth groups will help, and "pulling in the people who have their papers, and encouraging them to serve on committees" might be a way of bridging the gap in cultures.

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