April 4, 2019, Chicago – Every month, passersby at the corner of Belmont and Milwaukee in Chicago can observe a stirring sight: a group of Catholic women and men, vowed religious and lay people, standing on the corner with signs bearing witness to the dignity of immigrants and calling for a just immigration policy.
Many of the participants are members of Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants (SBI), a nonprofit Catholic organization that advocates for immigrants in the United States. SBI members, along with other advocates gather for this public witness for an hour before the organization’s monthly meeting.
The monthly demonstration “is to raise awareness about immigration and immigrants,” explained Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, a member of SBI. “The mission is to have a collective voice seeking justice for immigrants. We respond to the Gospel mandate to uphold the dignity of each person.”
Sister JoAnn is among many Adrian Dominican Sisters from the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, who participate in the public witness and in various other events to call for a just and compassionate immigration policy.
“We support anything that has to do with immigration,” Sister JoAnn said. Several Sisters and lay people gather at 7:15 a.m. every Friday outside of a detention facility in Broadview, north of Chicago, to pray the rosary and offer assurance and presence to immigrants who are being deported from there. The group is often joined by visiting college students who come to Chicago from other parts of the country.
Sister JoAnn and several other Adrian Dominican Sisters have also been involved in one-on-one English as a Second Language tutoring of immigrants at Aquinas Literacy Center in Chicago, one of seven literacy centers sponsored by the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The literacy centers typically offer tutoring to adult learners who are native English speakers, as well as to those for whom English is a second language.
Sister JoAnn moved to Chicago about four years ago, after ministering at Las Casas, a Dominican ministry based in Oklahoma that seeks justice in the lives of Native Americans. Two years before her move, she transferred to the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter and learned about the Chapter’s immigration initiative.
As an activist for immigrants and compassionate immigration reform, Sister JoAnn said her biggest challenge is “listening to the news about what’s happening at the border,” and particularly the government’s response to immigration. “The reform of our immigration policy just does not get to the table,” she said. “It needs compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform, and it just is not coming. This gets discouraging, but you try to educate and build up awareness so people will call their legislators” on behalf of immigrants.
Sister JoAnn is encouraged by her personal encounters with Dreamers – young adult immigrants who came to the United States as children with undocumented parents – as well as with people facing deportation and dedicated immigration advocates. “The people pushing for [immigration reform] are great people, and that’s encouraging – but when you listen to the news, that’s the part that hurts your heart,” she said. “But we keep on keeping on.”
Feature photo (top): From left, Sisters Cathy Fedewa, CSFN, Jean Keeley, OP, and Benita Coffey, OSB, give public witness in Chicago on behalf of immigrants.
July 28, 2017, Chicago – Adrian Dominican Sisters Jean Keeley, OP, and Joan Mary, OP, were part of a delegation of 40 people who attended a July 10 press conference at Chicago’s Thompson Center to deliver a special letter to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. The letter, signed by 174 faith leaders, implores the governor to sign the Illinois Trust Act, which would ensure that citizens asking for help from law enforcement officials will not have to fear being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to check on their citizenship status.
The legislation was passed by the state legislature May 5 and now sits in the governor’s office. He has until Aug. 28 to approve, veto or take no action.
“As people of faith, we are called to stand in solidarity with immigrants in our midst who are in danger of having their families separated and taken away from the homes they have created in our state,” the letter reads in part. “Illinois has always chosen to act with love towards immigrants, becoming a source of stability for immigrant families. The Trust Act will reassure all immigrants that they are welcome and that the state will do everything it can to protect them and their families.”
Among the cosigners of the letter are Sister Jean; Adrian Dominican Sister JoAnn Fleischaker, OP; and a number of Dominican Sisters from other Congregations and Dominican Friars from the Central Province.
Sisters Jean and Joan were part of a five-member delegation from Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants (SBI), an organization founded in 2007 by Catholic Sisters of the Chicago area to work on initiatives of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform. Membership has expanded to include associate members of religious congregations, religious brothers, and all who are committed to justice for immigrants.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ involvement is in keeping with the Chapter Initiative on Immigration adopted by the Congregation’s Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago. Through this initiative, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates in this Chapter commit to “answer the call to walk with immigrants in their struggle.” Individual Sisters and Associates choose to keep this commitment in various ways: by praying weekly with other people of faith at a detention center from which immigrants are deported; serving as witnesses for justice in immigration court; assisting on weekends at houses of hospitality for immigrants; working with immigrants at the Aquinas Literacy Center; and praying and advocating for immigrants.
Read more about the press conference and the Illinois Trust Act here.