November 1, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – While the United States is known as a nation of immigrants, recent federal policies have made it much more difficult for today’s immigrants to obtain permanent resident status, for people from Central America to be granted asylum, and for “Dreamers” who may have only known life in the United States to be safe from deportation.
That was the gist of a presentation October 29, 2019, by immigration attorney Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, JD, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office. Sister Attracta provided background on a number of specific immigration policies, described their current status, and in many cases suggested actions that the public can take to bring about just immigration policies.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was a policy built on “prosecutorial discretion,” delaying the deportation of young adults – known as “Dreamers” – who had come into the United States at a very young age with parents who did not have the proper immigration papers, Sister Attracta said. Since 2012, when the DACA act was passed, she said, about 800,000 young adults were granted temporarily relief from the threat of being deported. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of DACA on September 5, 2017.“We’re talking about people – many of whom are very wonderful professional people,” Sister Attracta said. “They have gone to school, held down two jobs, and worked really hard. Many of our DACA people are doctors and physician’s assistants, working where most U.S.-born professionals would not dream of going to work.” Many of the Dreamers have only known life in the United States and could face deportation to their parents’ country of origin, which would be foreign to them.
“The fate of DACA will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” beginning with arguments on November 12, 2019, Sister Attracta said. “Between now and November 12 we need to pray very, very genuinely from our hearts to open the hearts of the Supreme Court justices so they do what Jesus would do – look at these people as human beings who need to be treated with respect.”
Sister Attracta announced a novena – developed by Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation – that begins on Sunday, November 3, and concludes on Monday, November 11. She also encouraged people who live in the Adrian area to attend a prayer service for Dreamers at 7:00 p.m. Sunday, November 10, 2019, at the St. Joseph campus of Holy Family Parish, 415 Ormsby Street, Adrian.
Sister Attracta noted that asylum seekers – especially those from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua – have been in the news because of changes in the U.S. administration’s asylum policy and its treatment of those who have come to the U.S. border without formal papers.
Asylum is defined by international law as pertaining to “people fleeing persecution in their home country where the government will not or cannot protect them from harm,” Sister Attracta said. Those seeking asylum “must show past persecution or fear of future persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group,” she said.
The U.S. government no longer allows people seeking asylum to wait in the United States for their court hearing, Sister Attracta said. Instead, they must return to Mexico or apply at a “safe” country closest to their home country. But, Sister Attracta said, while the United States considers Mexico and the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to be safe, they actually are not.
It has been the treatment of families seeking asylum that has garnered the most attention, Sister Attracta said. Under the U.S. government’s zero tolerance policy, “all adults crossing the U.S. without proper documentation will be criminally prosecuted,” she said. In the past, such offenses were considered civil rather than criminal violations.
In June 2018, the U.S. policy of separating families at the border and holding children as young as less than a year old in confinement “shocked the world with its cruelty,” Sister Attracta said, adding that the public later learned that this policy had already been in practice a year before it became known. Although the courts ordered that this practice be stopped, many of the children have not yet been reunited with their families, Sister Attracta noted
Sister Attracta encouraged action to bring about immigration reform in the United States:
“Pope Francis urged us to embrace what he terms a ‘culture of encounter,’ face-to-face encounter with others, which challenges us with their pain, their pleas, and their joy,” Sister Attracta said. “The Christian way of life is to pray, be available, and passionately act for the common good. If we respond as Pope Francis calls us, we must look at the root cause of our immigration problem. We must work together to fix our very broken immigration laws.”
Watch Sister Attracta’s complete presentation in the video below.
March 2, 2018, Chicago – Adrian Dominican Sisters JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, and Dorothy (Dot) Dempsey, OP, were part of a group of Catholic clergy and religious from Chicago who took part in a recent press conference announcing a Lenten fast in solidarity with Dreamers.
Dreamers are U.S. residents who had immigrated to the United States as children with their undocumented parents. Advocates for these Dreamers are working to pass legislation that would protect the Dreamers, who had applied for temporary safety from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many of the estimated 800,000 Dreamers had never known any nation other than the United States.
Both Sisters JoAnn and Dot are members of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago. For years, Sisters and Associates in the Dominican Midwest have focused on their Chapter’s Immigration Initiative, which calls on them to walk with immigrants and to work toward a just and compassionate immigration reform.
Sister JoAnn is one of several Adrian Dominicans who volunteer to spend two hours for two weekends a month at the Marie Joseph House of Hospitality, a center in Chicago for women and children immigrants. Before the monthly meetings of Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, Sister JoAnn and others take part in an hour of public witness in support of immigrants.
As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Sister JoAnn has heard first-hand of the fears of deportation faced by many adult learners. “When you meet people who are in that situation and you hear them speak about their experience, it helps you understand tie issue so much better,” Sister JoAnn said.
Sister Dot spoke of her own experiences as a literacy tutor with immigrants and as a court watcher in immigration court, ensuring the immigrants who are represented in court that what happens to them is noticed by the community. “I listen to the struggles that they have while they’re incarcerated,” she said. Hearing their experiences gives her special motivation for being involved with the immigrant population.
Sister Dot is also among a group of Sisters who gather for interfaith prayer every Friday morning at Broadview, the detention center for immigrants. She explained that, in the past, immigrants detained at Broadview were often deported from there on Friday mornings, and the group was there to give them moral support.
“It’s a witness,” Sister Dot said of the Broadview gathering, noting that students on spring break often join them in their prayer. In addition, she said, law students from DePaul University often come to learn more about the experience of the immigrants.
Sisters in the Dominican Midwest Chapter and other concerned citizens in the Chicago area have an opportunity almost every other day to participate in an action on behalf of immigrants, Sister Dot said. “We all do what we can: calling, marching, being a presence. It helps to know what they must go through, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. It’s all for the Dreamers and our immigrants.”