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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.
July 17, 2019, Laredo, Texas – Two Adrian Dominican Sisters have spent weeks on the border of the United States and Mexico this summer, volunteering their services to migrant families who come to La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas.
Sisters Patricia Erickson, OP, and Sharon Spanbauer, OP – along with other Adrian Dominican Sisters – have been serving at the shelter at the invitation and encouragement of the General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, as well as the invitation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Sister Sharon served at La Frontera from May 31, 2019, through June 22, 2019. Sister Pat arrived at the shelter on June 23, 2019, and will serve through July 20, 2019. Sisters have also volunteered their time at similar hospitality houses in El Paso and McAllen, Texas.
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Laredo recently opened La Frontera when the Border Patrol announced that it would be releasing immigrants from detention centers to the streets. Twice a day, Border Patrol buses drop off migrant families who have been in detention centers to La Frontera. Up to 250 migrants come to the shelter each day.
Sister Sharon explained that the migrants who are released to La Frontera all have host families in the United States. New arrivals at La Frontera go through an intake and assessment process and then receive clean clothes, a shower, a meal, and help in getting to their host families.
“Mostly they were young families and some came in with vacant eyes, they were so exhausted,” Sister Sharon said. “Once people have had a shower, clean clothes, and a meal, they’re looking a lot better.”
Typically, the migrants arrive at La Frontera after traveling for weeks from their homes in Central America to the border and after spending time being processed in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. “The resilience of the people coming to the shelter is amazing,” Sister Pat said. She recalled a young father who had traveled for three months with an 8-month-old infant. There were many similar stories and Sister Pat the “sheer determination” needed for families to make that journey.
“Walking into the shelter, some of the people are smiling and some are apprehensive about what they will experience in yet another facility,” Sister Pat wrote in a reflection on her experience. “We greet them with smiles and say ‘Welcome,’ hoping to alleviate their fears and say that this is a safe place.”
Volunteers at La Frontera serve in a variety of ways: preparing mattresses for the guests who will spend the night in the bedrooms on the second floor of the shelter; monitoring the men’s and women’s showers; organizing donations; preparing meals; making bag lunches for migrants to take when they leave; and helping guests select new clothes from a room full of donated clothing. Spanish-speaking volunteers can also help the migrants make arrangements to get to their host families – either arranging for a time for the host families to pick them up or for transportation of the migrants to their new homes.
Both Sister Pat and Sister Sharon – a nurse practitioner – used their skills to provide some medical care for the migrants. Sister Pat handed out over-the-counter medicine for minor aches and pains and colds. Sister Sharon served for part of the time in the health clinic at the shelter. “I could see patients and assess them and give them over-the-counter medicines,” Sister Sharon said. “I was able to be a resource and use some of my skills.”
Sister Sharon also spent much of her time changing sheets after one group of migrants left, preparing for the arrival of the next group. “It felt so appropriate that I was making their beds,” she said, adding that many immigrants make the beds in hotels and motels in the United States. “It touched me that I was cleaning for them, but that’s the way it should be.”
Both Sisters Pat and Sharon were impressed and inspired by the migrant families who came to La Frontera. “The people in the shelter are so grateful for everything they receive, saying ‘Gracias’ after being given a bottle of water, after each meal, after getting clean clothes, a shower, even when told that we don’t have a certain item,” Sister Pat wrote. “As people leave to go to the bus station, there are smiles on their faces and again ‘gracias por todo’ – thank you for everything. There are hugs and even tears as they leave to continue their journey.”
Sister Sharon described her experience in June as three weeks of payback. “I’ve been given so many things in my life,” she said. “This has just been an opportunity to pay it forward, not expecting anything in return.” She said her experience at La Frontera “put a face” on the issue of immigration. “Personally, I’ve always felt that each immigrant who comes improves the United States – anyone who has the gumption to get up and leave their home and get here brings a blessing.”
Both Sister Sharon and Sister Pat encouraged people to volunteer at La Frontera or other shelters or hospitality houses for immigrants – especially if they speak Spanish. “You can do anything there – whatever the gift is, and whenever you see that something needs to be done, you just do it,” Sister Sharon said. “You have to be willing to pitch in wherever you’re needed.”
Sister Pat, after a previous experience at McAllen Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, gave similar advice. “It’s a great experience,” she said. “Go without any expectations and be open to whatever comes your way. … You’re just there to be with people and to do whatever you can to help.”
While not everybody can travel to Texas to serve as volunteers at the hospitality centers and shelters, Sister Sharon noted that La Frontera is looking for donations of children’s, women’s, and men’s slacks, shirts, socks, and undergarments in sizes small and medium; practical shoes but no heels; and socks and belts for men. Donations can be sent to La Frontera Migrant Shelter, 1616 Callaghan Street, Laredo, Texas 78040. For information or to volunteer, contact Benjamin De la Garza at 956-220-3785.
Feature photo (top): Bishop James A. Tamayo of the Diocese of Laredo blesses plaques, made by a volunteer. The plaques hang in the guest rooms of La Frontera Migrant Shelter in Laredo, Texas.
Sister Patricia Erickson, OP, fourth from left, enjoys dinner at Rochas, a Mexican restaurant in Laredo, with other volunteers, Sparkill Dominican Sisters, and the coordinator of La Frontera Migrant Shelter.