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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.
September 19, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – City of Adrian Commissioners spoke loud and clear during their meeting September 18, passing by a vote of 6-1 a resolution showing support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Dreamers – the young immigrants who are affected.
Initiated by President Barack Obama in 2012, DACA offered a delay in deportation of immigrants who had come into the United States as children with their parents but without official papers. The program offers protection to more than 800,000 young people who arrived in the United States at an early age – many of whom have known this country as home. In early September, the Trump administration announced the program would phase out in six months.
The termination of DACA is “cruel and deeply unfair to hundreds of thousands of young people who are citizens of this country in every way except on paper,” the Adrian City Commission’s resolution states. “Deporting the Dreamers to countries they have no ties to and may not even remember is a travesty of justice.” The resolution calls on Congress to “act immediately to pass the Dream Act and to use the next six months to work on comprehensive immigration reform.” The resolution will be presented to U.S. Representative Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) and Senators Debbie Stabinow and Gary Peters, both Democrats from Michigan.
Mayor Jim Berryman presented the proposal, opening the floor to comments. The first to speak was Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Immigration Assistance Office. An immigration attorney, Sister Attracta “laid out the background, explained the 20-year failure of Congress to come up with immigration reform, and expressed the need to support this resolution,” Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP, Director of Formation, wrote in an email reporting on the event to Adrian Dominican Sisters, Associates, and Co-workers. The six speakers who followed Sister Attracta all spoke in favor of the resolution, Sister Lorraine noted.
Others with ties to the Adrian Dominican Sisters who attended the meeting in solidarity with the Dreamers were Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP, and Elaine Johnson, a Co-worker in the Congregation’s Permaculture Office.
In her report, Sister Lorraine noted a profound insight she gained from Laura Parra, of the local Sunnyside Center for Peace and Justice. She said that, while politicians might expect such resolutions from large cities, “a message like this from a small Midwestern city is not expected and could have a bigger impact!”
Adrian Dominican Sisters have long supported DACA, Dreamers, and a just immigration system. In response to President Trump’s decision to phase out DACA, the General Council issued a statement, grieving for the “pain and hardship” that the action would cause Dreamers and their families and decrying the President’s decision, which “runs counter to our national and economic interests, as well as to the basic American values of decency in how we treat others, especially the young.” Several Adrian Dominican Sisters were among a group who gathered at the Adrian Courthouse shortly after President Trump’s decision to show their support for the Dreamers.
Sisters and Associates in the Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago, have acted on their Chapter Initiative on Immigration. Through the initiative, they support immigrants and immigration reform through prayer, advocacy on behalf of immigrants, weekly prayer vigils at a deportation center in Chicago, and volunteer ministry at immigration courts and shelters for immigrants. The Congregation’s seven literacy centers work directly with immigrants, helping them to learn English as a second language and gain other skills.
Feature photo: In this file photo from 2013, Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, then Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, blesses a banner proclaiming the Congregation’s stance in favor of just immigration reform. Sister Attracta is now Director of the Adrian Dominican Sisters Immigration Assistance Office.