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Cancer Patient Married to Undocumented Man Among 100 Women Who Marched 100 Miles to See Pope

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As Pope Francis begins a six-day U.S. trip, a group of 100 women, many of them undocumented, has arrived in Washington after marching 100 miles from a detention center in York, Pennsylvania, in order to greet the pope. The march was organized by We Belong Together, a national campaign co-founded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Organizers said the march is intended to send a message that families belong together and should not be separated by U.S. immigration policies. We speak to one of the marchers, Esmeralda Domínguez. She is recovering from bone cancer, and her primary caretaker is her husband, Jesús, who is undocumented.

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JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As Pope Francis begins his six-day U.S. trip, a group of 100 women, many of them undocumented, have arrived in Washington, D.C., after marching 100 miles from a detention center in York, Pennsylvania, in order to greet the pope. The march was organized by We Belong Together, which is a national campaign co-founded by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. Organizers said the march is intended to send a message that families belong together and should not be separated by U.S. immigration policies.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us now is Esmeralda Domínguez. She’s a domestic worker who took part in the 100-mile march. She’s recovering from bone cancer, and her primary caretaker is her husband, Jesús, who is undocumented.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! Talk about the journey that you took and what you would like to say to the pope if you could speak to him.

ESMERALDA DOMÍNGUEZ: Thank you for the invitation. It was a hard walk. It’s exhausting. You give it all you have, all your strength, all your spirit. Physically, mentally, emotionally, it’s draining. But we continued on, because every step, we take it in the name of love, in the name of unity for our family, dignity for all human beings.

If I would have a chance to—just one small chance to have the pope and be able to speak with him, I—as a woman of faith, I know he’s not going to be able to change the laws of the United States, but what I do know and have understanding is that he can change, by his words, the hearts of those that are creating the laws this precise moment, so when they do create them, they make them less harsher, and instead of separating families, they make them more uniting.

So, in my particular case, it is through faith that I am still walking. It is through love from my family that I’m still here and continue to fight and continue to—not just for my life, but also to keep my family together, because are those same laws that are separating us, and those are the laws that are affecting, criminalizing us, dehumanizing us, taking our dignity away.

If I would have him in front of me, I would tell him I don’t even care about the papers. What I want is for him to see through my suffering, what many of us immigrants have to suffer when we leave our place of origin in search of a happier place, in search of a safe place, in search of a place we can call home, where we can belong.

And this is one of the reasons why I am so thankful for We Belong Together, because that is such a powerful message, not just to have dignity for all migrants, but also to bring the crisis of all the migrants that are traveling from across the world, that are at this precise moment coming in, crossing borders, crossing rivers, in trains, walking, crossing—

AMY GOODMAN: Esmeralda, can you describe your own situation? You are a U.S. citizen. You have bone cancer. Your husband, Jesús, is taking care of your children. What are you concerned about? He is not a U.S. citizen.

ESMERALDA DOMÍNGUEZ: No, my husband is undocumented. I am an American citizen born abroad. My father is an American citizen, and my mother is a Mexican national. We, too, immigrated with my mother back in 1993. Through my father, we became American citizens, but unfortunately I’ve been unable to do a permanent status for my husband. Two of his waivers were denied because he came in illegally. And so, that affects my family not only financially, emotionally. Every kind of extreme hardship you can think of, I have faced it, because he’s my primary caretaker. He is my husband. He’s back home taking care of my son.

And by walking this 100 miles, I’m not only walking it, but I’m honoring his suffering, because he got lost in the desert. He had to walk 25 days, 25 nights, without water, without food, without shelter. We’ve been lucky, because we have so many people throughout the cities receiving us, giving us water, welcoming us. He didn’t have that. And so, my walk is an honor to all his suffering, so that, through me, people can see what we have to face when we are going in search of a better place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Esmeralda, you mentioned the trek across the Mexican border. Well, the pope had reportedly wanted to begin his U.S. trip by crossing the Mexican border, but the plan had to be scrapped for logistical reasons. In January, Pope Francis said, quote, “To enter the United States from the border with Mexico would be a beautiful gesture of brotherhood and support for immigrants.” Yet you’re hearing and many of us are hearing in these Republican candidate—presidential candidate debates all of this insistence on building, strengthening the wall with Mexico, of preventing the flow of migrants. What you’re hoping the message the pope will send to the American people?

ESMERALDA DOMÍNGUEZ: I will ask him to put my shoes on and come walk with me, so that through our eyes and through our feet he can feel that pain. And by feeling that pain, we can show the world how to be more compassionate, how to have more mercy for one another. I cannot sit on my table and say everyone is welcome, if I’m not opening the door for every single one person and recognizing them as a person, recognizing them as a human being. Politics and religion, a lot of times, are very kind of like hand in hand. For me, personally, that’s separated, because Pope Francis’ message is that of unity, that message that can transcend religion. I walked here with 100 women. One hundred women. We are 100 women of different nations, 100 women of different languages, 100 women of different colors. But what we did is we came together as one.

AMY GOODMAN: And many of you are domestic workers.

ESMERALDA DOMÍNGUEZ: Many of us are domestic workers. I, myself, am a janitor, and I’m also a domestic worker. It’s a really hard job, but it’s a very humbling job, because by doing that, we’re not only serving another person, but we’re also having time to spend with our family. It allows us that time to take our children to school. It allows us the time, in my case, to be able to have my radiation treatments, to be able to go see my doctors, for my husband to come along with me and work side by side with me, not letting me any moment out of his sight, because he’s been taking care of me every day, every night.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Julie Byrne, the significance of what the pope is expected to say before the joint session of Congress? He’s already said he will not be calling for the lifting of the embargo at this point, though, of course, he is for that. The issue of climate change and Esmeralda’s message around immigrants?

JULIE BYRNE: I think he is going to say something about immigration, and I really wonder what’s going to happen in the joint session as he does that. Obviously, he’s going to be speaking about a number of issues. And Roman Catholic policy does not fall neatly on either side of the liberal-conservative divide. He might have sometimes Democrats cheering, sometimes Republicans cheering. But overall, I think that immigration is so close to his heart, and he is going to push what President Obama has been pushing. He also is very interested in the margins, in general. He’s dovetailing, in very interesting ways, with the racial climate that’s been going on in the United states for two years now, including the Black Lives Matter movement, insofar as he’s visiting prisons. He’s looking—

AMY GOODMAN: He’s going to a prison.

JULIE BYRNE: He is. He’s going to a prison in Philadelphia. And he is, just by going there, calling attention to the unequal imprisonment of people who are brown and black in this country, and saying these lives do matter. I don’t think that he is as sensitive to the racial climate in the United States as some people are, but he is coming in sync with that, even if he’s unaware of that, just by his stances on these things.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And he’ll be visiting a prison only weeks after President Obama became the first president to visit an American prison, as well.

JULIE BYRNE: Like I said, dovetailing in this interesting way, even though I don’t think he’s terribly concerned to sync, or not sync, with American politics.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you all for being with us. Julie Byrne of Hofstra University, her forthcoming book is called The Other Catholics. Valentin Lopez, chair of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band. And Esmeralda Domínguez, a domestic worker and janitor, a mother and wife, who is part of a group of 100 women, many of them undocumented, who have just arrived in D.C. after marching 100 miles from a detention center in York, Pennsylvania, where immigrants are held, to greet the pope. And, Esmeralda, all the best to you and wishing you health.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, we look at the history of the Young Lords. Stay with us.

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