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September 26, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters was among a number of immigration and faith-based organizations to sign on to a formal letter to President Joseph Biden, calling on him to end the implementation of Title 42 that aims to keep migrants out of the United States. The plan was to deliver the letter in the days leading up to September 26, 2021, declared by the Vatican as the World Day for Migrants and Refugees.
Enacted under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, Title 42 gives the executive branch the authority to close U.S. borders to migrants when the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) deems that the United States faces a “serious danger to the introduction of [a communicable] disease” into the nation.
Title 42 was implemented by then-President Donald Trump in March 2020 in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the presidential campaign, candidate Joseph Biden promised to create a more humane immigration policy.
The letter to President Biden – co-written by Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) and NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice – outlined four reasons that Title 42 should be rescinded.
Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Immigration Assistance, pointed to Title 42 as one example of the nation’s broken immigration system. When people come to the border seeking asylum, they have already traveled far in “horrendous conditions” and are ready to tell an Immigration official about their need for asylum, Sister Attracta said. “The humane response was always that if people could say why they wanted asylum, they were allowed to come in, given a court date, and allowed to find an attorney to work with them.”
Sister Attracta noted that most people would not leave their homeland unless they felt compelled by a sense of desperation. “More often than not, people who leave home are doing so because they are in fear for their lives, in fear for the lives of their families and they’re trying to find a safe place to live,” she said.
Typically, asylum seekers come to the U.S. border with no resources, having sold their possessions to travel to the United States, Sister Attracta said. If they are deported, they return to their native country with nothing. “Many times they’re running from people who have threatened their lives and there’s no doubt that if they go back, for many of them it means that they will be killed,” she said.
“The problem is our immigration laws desperately need to be changed and nobody wants to take it on because politics has divided us totally,” Sister Attracta said. She spoke of her experience with clients who, as U.S. citizens, had tried to sponsor family members to come to the United States. Her clients and others like them are facing a years-long backlog. Currently, she said, immigration agents are working on cases from Argentina that were filed in 2003. Visas for family members from Mexico that were filed in 1999 are just now being processed, she added.
Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation, spoke of the plight of people who sought asylum during the years of the President Trump administration. Asylum seekers from throughout Latin America were made to stay in Mexico until their court date.
“This creates a whole different danger,” Sister Kathleen said. “They are subjected to violence. They’re robbed. The women are raped. They have nothing. It’s totally, totally unjust and it creates greater danger for the asylum seeker.”
Sister Kathleen noted that the current immigration system is “criminalizing migration into this country.” Migrants are put into detention centers and jails. “Why are we criminalizing people when all they are looking for is to be safe, to have a safe and secure life?”
While the situations of migrants are tragic, Sister Kathleen also pointed to the larger tragedy. “The real crisis is that there are so many people who are having to leave their homes because of famine, because of the climate, because of wars and oppression,” she said. She pointed to the thousands of Haitians who are encamped at the border town of Del Rio, Texas – many of whom have been deported back to Haiti – and of the thousands of Afghan refugees who fled their country.
Sister Kathleen said the letter to President Biden is an important step, adding that the World Day for Migrants and Refugees would be an appropriate day for him to rescind Title 42.
August 23, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sister Elise García, OP, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), opened the organization’s August 11-13, 2021, annual assembly – held virtually this year – with a presidential address that outlined the history of racism in the United States and noted the complicity in racism of the Catholic Church, as well as among women religious.
“We, as Americans, have cheated ourselves of the full truth of our history, ignoring or eliding the painful stories that inextricably interweave and form the full fabric of our lives as African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Euro Americans, and Latinx Americans,” Sister Elise said in her Presidential Address, Creating Space for the Future: Cutting Deeper Grooves of Transforming Love into Evolution.
The issues of systemic racism and white privilege became especially clear in May 2020 with the murder of George Floyd and the killing of other African Americans by white police officers.
Sister Elise challenged the women religious to do the work of identifying racism and white supremacy, “acting to dismantle them in our personal lives, institutes, Conference, and ministries.” She encouraged all Christians to follow Jesus and to take on the way of the cross, a “giving over of oneself to the radical love and solidarity that Jesus lived, extending ourselves as kin to all who are marginalized, excluded, disinherited.”
Finally, Sister Else spoke of the inspiration of African American slaves, whose mysticism and faith were described by Dr. Shawn Copeland in her book, Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Spiritual Experience. “Dr. Copeland has gleaned insights into what she calls the ‘dark and hidden wisdom’ of the enslaved by drawing on their narratives, their stories, and their spirituals.”
Sister Elise’s address was followed by a ritual asking forgiveness for the way in which women religious participated in racism and white privilege. Sister Elise was joined by Sisters Jane Herb, IHM, President-elect; Jayne Helmlinger, CSJ, Past President; and Carol Zinn, SSJ, Executive Director.
During the prayer, each woman formally delivered an apology. “Before God and all who have been grievously harmed through the generations by our complicity as women religious in the enslavement of children, women and men, I – on behalf of our Conference and members – acknowledge these sinful acts by our congregations, offer a profound apology, and pray for forgiveness.”
Read Dan Stockman’s article about the opening of the LCWR Assembly in the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report.
Feature photo: Sisters Elise García, OP, left, President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Jane Herb, IHM, President-elect, take part in a ritual marking the sorrow of women religious for their complicity in racism.