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.
October 30, 2019, New York, New York – Sister Durstyne Farnan, OP, is building on her years of experience in justice and peace advocacy, collaboration with the Dominican family, and global travel as she embarks on a new ministry: United Nations Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Dominican Representative. She succeeds Sister Margaret Mayce, OP, a Dominican Sister of Amityville, who was recently elected International Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International (DSI).
Sister Durstyne is accountable to the Dominican Sisters Conference (DSC), an organization of U.S. Dominican Sisters, and is a member of the DSC Executive Committee.
“I’m excited. I hope I represent the Dominicans at the UN well,” Sister Durstyne said from New York, where she began her three-year term in late October. Already, she is keeping up a hectic pace: attending a meeting in Rome earlier in October with the Dominican International Justice Promoters; settling into her new home in New Jersey, not far from the Caldwell Dominican Sisters Motherhouse; attending a UN side event on the environment; and attending an all-morning orientation on ministry at the UN offered by Religious at the United Nations (RUN).
Sister Durstyne’s principle job will involve attending sessions of UN working groups, particularly the working groups on homelessness and women and girls. “Homelessness is not necessarily a UN effort at this point, but what they’re trying to do is shift from homelessness as the fault of homeless people to the idea that having a home is a human right,” she explained. “They’re trying to change the language around homelessness and advocate more,” both at the UN in New York and in Geneva, where human rights issues are discussed.
Much of Sister Durstyne’s ministry involves connecting the Dominican family to the United Nations. “I’d like to communicate with the Dominican Sisters in the United States about what’s happening in the United Nations and how they might be able to assist me at their level,” she said. She would also like to know which issues the Dominican Sisters are working on with their justice promoters and how she can help them.
In addition, Sister Durstyne would like to work directly with special groups of Dominicans. She sees the Women and Girls Working Group as a connector to the Commission on the Status of Women and hopes that continental coordinators at the DSI can identify the names of two women from their continent who can attend the 64th session of the Commission, which will meet at the UN March 9-20, 2020.
In response to the UN’s concern about reaching out to youth, Sister Durstyne also hopes to get Dominican youth more involved, particularly members of the Dominican Young Adults and the International Dominican Youth Movement. She also encourages Dominican colleges and universities in the United States to establish UN Clubs so that students can learn more about the United Nations.
Sister Durstyne was encouraged to respond in the Spring of 2019 to an announcement that Sister Margaret Mayce’s position as Dominican Representative to the United Nations was opening. “People sent me the application,” she recalled. “Some of our Sisters and Sisters from other congregations encouraged me to reply.” After her third interview, she learned that she had been chosen for the position. “I felt very honored and blessed that they chose me,” she said.
Sister Durstyne said that her experiences prepared her for her new ministry. “I’ve had so many opportunities as a religious,” she said. For the past three years, she has served as Justice Coordinator for the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, both based in Milwaukee. Before that, she was Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, coordinating the justice and peace efforts of Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates. She also served as North American Justice Promoter with DSI and has been part of delegations to Iraq to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena, based in Iraq.
“The various opportunities that I’ve had as a Dominican have really prepared me for this ministry, and that’s the feedback I get from so many people,” Sister Durstyne said. “My working with Dominican Sisters International has given me a more global perspective. My hope is to become more familiar with the UN and its structure and to connect the Dominican family even more to the UN.”