One young woman was heartbroken when she discovered that some view her and other undocumented immigrants as unwelcome outsiders, devoid of feelings and ambitions.
Another spent all her earnings and paid cash to attend college but now may have to forfeit her education and dreams to return to a land she doesn't remember.
A young man recalled a harrowing, 30-day stint in a New Jersey detention center after agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement stopped his car a few days after they arrested three of his uncles and began deporting them.
These were among the voices of a group of so-called Dreamers – the nearly 1.8 million young people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children – who were invited to meet with Camden Bishop Dennis Sullivan on Friday to share their stories.
Sullivan wanted to make the public aware of their plight as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops prepares to launch an initiative Monday to stop the deportation of the Dreamers. After meeting with 14 Dreamers at a round-table at diocesan headquarters in Camden, Sullivan said he was deeply touched and "felt shame that our country is involved in this, what this great nation is doing to these people."
He and other bishops are calling on parishioners to call Congress on Monday to ask their representatives to reach a deal to protect the Dreamers and provide them with a path to citizenship.
In September, President Trump announced that he would end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which afforded 700,000 Dreamers temporary relief from deportation and legal permission to work. Trump gave Congress until March 5 to find a solution before the program ends.
But Congress and the White House have repeatedly failed to agree on a plan, leaving the Dreamers' future in limbo.
Sullivan said he felt compelled to reach out to these young people to tell them the church supports them and to listen to them. As a priest in New York, he had worked with undocumented immigrants. "I heard their pain, but never heard it told so forcefully" he said Friday after listening to the Dreamers who gathered to talk to him.
"Now I'm always scared," said Magali Rodriguez, 26, of Gloucester City, who was 3 when she came here from Mexico. "You don't know you're undocumented until you're in high school, and when I was asked if I was going to college, I had to lie. I was so ashamed of not having a piece of paper that says you are part of the U.S."
The Dreamers who met with the bishop all came from Mexico, brought to the U.S. between ages 1 and 10. They are now between 17 and 28 years old. Most work or attend school and struggle to make ends meet.
If Congress doesn't act, the deportations could be delayed while federal judges in New York and California hear legal challenges to Trump's action. The U.S. Supreme Court is also considering intervening.
The Dreamers say the uncertainty is taking a toll.
Abrile Revueltas, 23, of Stratford said that when "Trump canceled DACA, my work said 'We can't have you here. We can't risk it, and you might be deported,' " she said, her voice quivering. She had wanted to go to college, she said, but her high school principal told her she couldn't because she didn't have "papers."
Pedro Garcia, 21, of Bridgeton, was shocked when ICE agents arrested him last fall. He had not been in trouble, but was told his DACA application had expired. "I love America. I've never suffered here and have always worked on my own and and gotten what I need," he said, adding he has his own construction company.