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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.