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, Washington, D.C. – Four Adrian Dominican Sisters were among about 200 Catholic priests, Sisters, lay leaders, and Dreamers who on February 27 gave public witness to the Catholic call for a clean Dreamers Act that would allow a path to citizenship for young immigrants who had come to the U.S. with their parents.
Sister Elise García, OP, General Councilor, was among about 40 participants who were arrested in a nonviolent act of civil disobedience, staying in the Capitol Rotunda to pray for just and compassionate immigration legislation after the Capitol Police had warned them three times to disband. Standing in solidarity with her and with the other arrested protestors were Adrian Dominican Sisters Attracta Kelly, OP; Corinne Sanders, OP; and Heather Stiverson, OP.
The national Catholic event was organized by Faith in Public Life, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, PICO National Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, NETWORK: Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, and other Catholic organizations. Events included Mass, followed by talks by two Dreamers; a press conference; the civil disobedience action; and the opportunity for participants to meet with their legislators to lobby for the passage of a clean Dream Act to protect the young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – established under the administration of President Barrack Obama – offered the Dreamers temporary safety from arrest and deportation. President Donald Trump had set March 5 as an expiration date for the program, but the move has been blocked in court.
Sister Elise described her experience of being arrested as very sobering. “As I was being handcuffed and taken away, I knew that I would be free within a couple of hours and could get on with my life,” she said. “But I was also aware that arrest for the Dreamers, without legislation providing them legal status, would have disastrous consequences for them and their families for their entire lives.”
Sister Elise described civil disobedience as a “nonviolent form of action undertaken to draw attention to an injustice.” During her arrest and processing afterward, she said she felt the support of the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “Our three other Sisters participated in solidarity their presence, further symbolizing and giving witness to this action as one that is communal.”
Sisters Corinne, Attracta, and Heather also expressed their solidarity with the Dreamers and their commitment to ensuring that the Dreamer Act is passed. “I wanted to do anything that might help change [the legislators’] minds so they could … take a stand and get the Dream Act passed,” said Sister Attracta. An immigration lawyer and an immigrant from Ireland, she directs the Congregation’s Office of Immigration Assistance.
“The Dreamers didn’t choose to come to this country, but once they got here, they embraced it and it’s now their home,” Sister Heather said. “Those who graduated from college are now working and contributing to our country. They just want to stay here and give back to our country.”
Sister Corinne also recognized the plight of immigrants. “People immigrate not necessarily because they want to, but because of violence, lack of food and water, and justice issues” in their home countries, she said. “I have come more and more into an understanding of immigration and a desire to work more closely on behalf of those who are in our country, and to look for more comprehensive and just immigration reform.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters said the Day of Action gave them a sense of hope and a feeling of solidarity with the Dreamers and other participants. Sister Attracta said she felt hope just from seeing the faith and hope of the people attending the action. “Everyone was there to be of help, and young people were there trusting us older people that we would help them get some safety here in the U.S.”
For more about the action in Washington, D.C., read articles in Spanish by Telemundo and in English in America Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, and the Catholic News Agency.