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February 10, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters is among 320 national, state, and local organizations to sign on to a letter calling on President Joseph Biden to restore access to the health insurance benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to young immigrants with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
DACA recipients, often also called Dreamers, are U.S. residents who came to the United States as children with their parents and without legal documentation. Some immigrants who came as children have not received DACA status and are at risk of being deported to their native country. In many cases, the United States is the only home they remember.
The letter calls on President Biden to restore the access to ACA benefits to DACA recipients within the first 100 days of his presidency. Taking this action is critical, the signatories write, “for any additional delay in healthcare access during the COVID pandemic puts the health of DACA recipients, their families, and the wider community and risk.” Without access to those benefits, the signatories argue, the DACA recipients cannot obtain health insurance under Medicaid or CHIP or purchase insurance through the ACA or its health insurance marketplace.
Restoration of this healthcare benefit to DACA recipients is a matter of justice, said Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, an immigration attorney and Director of Office of Immigration Services for the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “So many of our DACA people are out there on the front lines,” Sister Attracta said. “They are the ones doing so much of the work just to keep the country going.”
Sister Attracta said that all people in the United States – citizens, residents, DACA recipients, and immigrants who have no legal status – should be vaccinated to keep the country safe from the COVID-19 virus. Her stance was supported in a recent statement by the Department of Homeland Security. The department said it supports “equal access to the COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine distribution sites for undocumented immigrants. It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine.”
Sister Attracta held up the contributions made by people who live in the United States with no legal status. “We’re relying on them every day to do some of the hard work, [providing us with] food and all the other essentials. We don’t even begin to appreciate what they do.”
Sister Attracta also spoke of the need to reform the immigration system to make it more just, one that “welcomes immigrants and that keeps families together and allows people like those who are newly arrived and other people who have lived here for generations to more fully contribute to the country – which they would do if they felt safe.”
In addition, she spoke of the need to reunite families that were separated at the border. “Some of the parents are back in their home country and their children are here,” she said. “Clearly it is damaging to the parents, but it is way more damaging to the children.”
Sister Attracta spoke on February 2, 2021, hours before President Biden announced further steps to reform immigration in the United States. Among those steps were the creation of a task force to reunify the families separated at the border; development of a strategy to address “irregular immigration across the Southern border”; and re-establishment of a Task Force on New Americans to ensure a “fair and efficient” immigration system.
Immigration reform has long been an issue of concern for the Adrian Dominican Sisters. The Congregation invites all people of good will to speak out for immigration reform and on a number of social justice issues through its Action Alert page.
Feature photo: Sisters Judith Benkert, OP, left, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, speak out for justice at the border of Nogales, Arizona, and Mexico during the 2018 School of the Americas Watch Convergence at the Border. Adrian Dominican Sisters File Photo
February 2, 2021, Detroit – The week of January 18, 2021, was a turning point not only for the United States as its new President and Vice President, Joseph Biden and Kamala Harris, were inaugurated. It was also a turning point for Sister Racquel Rones, OP, who became a new U.S. citizen the next day, January 21, at the Detroit District Office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Sister Racquel took her oath of citizenship with about 25 other people who came from a variety of countries. Because of COVID-19 protocols, she said, the new citizens were encouraged to leave after they received the certificate and could not participate in the tradition of shaking the judge’s hand. Still, she said, she celebrated with her local community from Adrian who had accompanied her to Detroit: Sisters Jo Gaugier, OP, Tarianne DeYonker, OP, and Attracta Kelly, OP.
“I am so happy,” said Sister Racquel, a native of the Philippines and a member of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines. She was inspired by the welcoming words of the judge who presided over her Naturalization ceremony. “He told us, ‘Don’t forget January 21, 2021 – you’re celebrating your second birthday,” she recalled. “He encouraged us, when we’re able to travel, to discover the United States, our new country, with many mountains and beaches.”
Sister Racquel entered the Dominican Congregation of Our Lady of Remedies in 2000 and made her final profession of vows in April 2009. When the Remedies Congregation merged with the Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2011, she said, she was encouraged to consider applying for U.S. citizenship because of her youth and the possibility that one day she might minister in the United States.
Her ministries have included managing the Dominican Religious Store in San Fernando, Pampanga; serving as teacher, librarian, and bookkeeper at Dominican School of Apalit in Apalit, Pampanga; and serving as school treasurer at Holy Rosary College Foundation in Tala, Caloocan, and at Immaculate Conception Academy in Guagua, Pampanga. In addition, she served as pastoral minister at St. Eystein Menighet Parish in BodØ, Norway.
Sister Racquel is no stranger to the United States. Shortly after the two congregations merged, she spent a year with her sister in California.
Before coming to Adrian in January 2020, Sister Racquel received a letter from Sister Attracta, Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Immigration Assistance, listing the documents she would need to prepare to apply for U.S. citizenship. Her application was filed the second week of March.
“The hardest part [of becoming a citizen] was preparing for the interview and the exam,” Sister Racquel said. “Living with the community, watching the news, and being immersed in the culture really helped me, but what was really the hardest part was studying for the civics questions.”
She found support from her local community; from Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, and members of the General Council; and from the Sisters at the Motherhouse, who encouraged her and prayed for her. In addition, Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, helped her to study for the exam and Sister Carleen Maly, OP, Director of the Adrian Rea Literacy Center, helped her improve her pronunciation of English.
In the end, Sister Racquel said, she was surprised by the easiness of the questions. “I didn’t find it hard,” she said. “If you’re open and ready, just challenge yourself. I was expecting the worst [of the exam], but my experience was not bad…. Prayers really work. Trust God.”
The new citizen also received informal education about the U.S. culture from her life with her local community in Adrian and from watching the news. She was particularly struck by the continuing efforts of African Americans – with the help of other Americans – to achieve racial equality through the Black Lives Matter movement. “It’s really enriching my history,” she said. “I’m so touched by their experience and how resilient they are, to be still fighting for their rights in this country.”
Sister Racquel also felt the shock of the Sisters in her community over the insurrection that took place at the Capitol on January 6 – and the excitement at watching the Inauguration. “We watched all day,” she said.
Once she receives her U.S. passport and visits her sister in California, Sister Racquel anticipates resuming ministry in the Philippines or Norway. But, she said, part of her will remain in her new country.
“I’m ready to embrace the future as an Adrian Dominican Sister,” Sister Racquel said. “I am so happy to know our Sisters, to share stories and life with them. … I will look back when I’m in my ministry, wherever that is. Now I have confidence.”
Feature photo: Sister Racquel Rones, OP, proudly displays her citizenship certificate and the U.S. flag on the day she became a naturalized U.S. citizen.