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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.
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.”