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November 19, 2019, Chicago – Sister Xiomara Méndez-Hernández, OP, was one of more than 34,000 people to become United States citizens in mid-September during 316 Naturalization Ceremonies nationwide in celebration of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day. She participated in the Naturalization Ceremony at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Field Office in Chicago.
“People were in tears,” Sister Xiomara recalled. “I saw a lot of gratefulness and a lot of accomplishment. For me, it was a commitment.”
Sister Xiomara met the Adrian Dominican Sisters in her home country, the Dominican Republic, and was an Adrian Dominican Associate for three years before she entered the Congregation in 2008. At that time, she had her own fashion design business. She now ministers as a chaplain at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.
Deciding to become a U.S. citizen was a “discernment,” Sister Xiomara said. She had been a resident of the United States for seven years – that was two years beyond her eligibility for citizenship. “For some reason I was comfortable being a resident.”
“Not many people have the blessing and privilege of going to the next step” of citizenship, Sister Xiomara said. “It was a long process,” Sister Xiomara recalled. “The Congregation had to send a letter saying I’m part of the Congregation and a resident in good faith ... and also proof of work, that I was working full-time and was an asset to this country.”
Sister Xiomara had her fingerprints and picture taken in January and was given information on the test she would take in August. “I had to memorize 100 questions – a lot of history of the United States.” She studied for the test while driving, with the help of a CD and an app. “I could recite every answer,” she said. She received word right after taking the test that she had passed and waited to learn the date of the Naturalization Ceremony.
Sister Xiomara recalled the kindness she received from immigration officials during the process of becoming a citizen. “They greeted me with so much dignity and respect,” she said. “It was a very good experience.”
Being a citizen makes it easier for her to travel overseas, Sister Xiomara said. Before, she had to apply for a special visa every time she traveled to Europe. “If you are a North American citizen, you don’t need a visa for so many places,” she added.
But Sister Xiomara sees an even greater advantage to being a U.S. citizen. “Being a citizen gives me a chance to have a full voice in this country.” She recalled being hesitant to speak out as a resident. “Now I have a voice for the voiceless who don’t have a pathway to citizenship,” she said. “I’m praying so hard and consistently so the [immigrants] don’t have to be afraid any more. This is my hope and my dream.”
“I feel a part of all of you – all of my Sisters who are native citizens,” Sister Xiomara added. “We are united for justice, for peace, and for reverence of life. I see more power to do this now as a citizen.”
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.