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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
July 30, 2019, Washington, D.C. – Four representatives of the Adrian Dominican Congregation participated in a campaign by a coalition of Catholic organizations to end the abuse of immigrant children and families at the border of the United States and Mexico.
Phase One – the Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children – was a prayerful direct action in Washington, D.C., on July 18, 2019, in which more than 300 people participated. The event included a rally on the south lawn of the U.S. Capitol with a prayer service and speakers. About 70 people then participated in a public action in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building. In a peaceful protest, five formed a living, human cross on the Rotunda floor while the others prayed before all were arrested.
Representing the Adrian Dominican Congregation were Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation; Sisters Susan Van Baalen, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP; and Lisa Boris, Campus Minister at Regina Dominican High School, an all-girls school in Wilmette, Illinois, sponsored by the Congregation. None of the Adrian Dominican contingent was arrested.
Among the Catholic organizations involved in planning the event were NETWORK, a Catholic Social Justice Lobby; the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an organization of the elected leadership of about 80 percent of the Catholic Sisters in the United States; and Pax Christi, a Catholic organization working toward peace.
Dominican Sisters attending the Catholic Action in Washington, D.C. were: back row, from left, Sisters Susan Van Baalen, OP, and Maurine Barzantni, OP, Adrian; Sisters Quincey Howard, OP, and Peggy Ryan, OP, Sinsinawa; Sister Kathleen Nolan, Adrian; Sister Mary Feigen, OP, Hope; and Sister Ellenrita Purcaro, OP, Blauvelt; and front row, from left, Sisters Reg McKillip, OP, Sinsinawa; Sisters Carol Gilbert, OP, and Ardeth Platte, OP, Grand Rapids; and Sister Didi Madden, OP, Blauvelt.
“The purpose was to take a stand – to be visible and to make public the Catholic social document on immigration, Welcoming the Stranger,” Sister Maurine said.
Sister Susan spoke of making a statement by attending the rally and of being a source of support for those who had chosen to take direct action and be arrested. “It was clear that the people who made that decision couldn’t have done it without support – the support I was able to give by my presence,” she said.
Lisa said many of her friends are first- or second-generation immigrants. “To support my friends and strangers in this way was huge,” she added. “These are real people, and decisions made here in Washington are impacting and ending their lives.”
The prayer service included quotes from immigrant children in the detention centers who spoke of not being able to shower and of being afraid to ask for food. “These were kids who tried to escape a horrible situation [in their home countries] and wound up in a situation as bad or worse,” Lisa said. She hopes that by taking this action, she will inspire the students at Regina Dominican to become involved in justice and peace work.
The three Adrian Dominican Sisters traveled to Washington, D.C., on July 17, 2019, and spent that evening at the Stuart Center, a facility founded by a religious congregation, the Society of the Sacred Heart. There, they met Lisa and other Sisters and lay people who were involved in the event.
“The highlight was having a chance to share with other people who are committed to Catholic social teachings,” Sister Maurine said. They had the opportunity to share their experiences of the immigration issue the day before the event, as well as during a meeting afterwards.
For Sister Susan, the highlight was “the opportunity to share with other people and to hear from them how deep their concerns were and what a global issue it is.” The witnesses of the people who had been to the border and seen the conditions of the detention centers were also impressive, she said.
Lisa commented on how humbling it was to be surrounded by people who care about the immigration issue and allowed themselves to be arrested in their efforts for justice. She said the July 17 action and others that follow are being organized “until they close the detention camps and they’re not holding people without food and water and freedom.” The hope that the practice of detaining immigrants, especially children, “seems like an unrealistic hope, but educating the people and helping them to see what’s going on so they close the camps” is key, she added.
Sister Susan said that “in unity there is strength, and I hope that groups coming together to offer this kind of support will inspire others to join them. The churches, I believe, do have a Gospel mandate to be present and to respond. … It might not be through physical presence but it might be through the ballot box or funding.”
In the meantime, the Catholic organizations plan to continue their efforts on behalf of the immigrant families at the border. Sister Kathleen said the Catholic Action on July 18 is only phase one in the Catholic coalition’s efforts to persuade the government to not detain immigrant children in such inhumane conditions. “The organizers made it clear that there would be at least two more events – maybe one in August and one in September,” she said.
Read more about Catholic Action for Immigrants in recent articles from The Washington Post and The Catholic News Service.