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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.
March 2, 2018, Chicago – Adrian Dominican Sisters JoAnn Fleischaker, OP, and Dorothy (Dot) Dempsey, OP, were part of a group of Catholic clergy and religious from Chicago who took part in a recent press conference announcing a Lenten fast in solidarity with Dreamers.
Dreamers are U.S. residents who had immigrated to the United States as children with their undocumented parents. Advocates for these Dreamers are working to pass legislation that would protect the Dreamers, who had applied for temporary safety from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Many of the estimated 800,000 Dreamers had never known any nation other than the United States.
Both Sisters JoAnn and Dot are members of the Adrian Dominican Congregation’s Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter, based in Chicago. For years, Sisters and Associates in the Dominican Midwest have focused on their Chapter’s Immigration Initiative, which calls on them to walk with immigrants and to work toward a just and compassionate immigration reform.
Sister JoAnn is one of several Adrian Dominicans who volunteer to spend two hours for two weekends a month at the Marie Joseph House of Hospitality, a center in Chicago for women and children immigrants. Before the monthly meetings of Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants, Sister JoAnn and others take part in an hour of public witness in support of immigrants.
As an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher, Sister JoAnn has heard first-hand of the fears of deportation faced by many adult learners. “When you meet people who are in that situation and you hear them speak about their experience, it helps you understand tie issue so much better,” Sister JoAnn said.
Sister Dot spoke of her own experiences as a literacy tutor with immigrants and as a court watcher in immigration court, ensuring the immigrants who are represented in court that what happens to them is noticed by the community. “I listen to the struggles that they have while they’re incarcerated,” she said. Hearing their experiences gives her special motivation for being involved with the immigrant population.
Sister Dot is also among a group of Sisters who gather for interfaith prayer every Friday morning at Broadview, the detention center for immigrants. She explained that, in the past, immigrants detained at Broadview were often deported from there on Friday mornings, and the group was there to give them moral support.
“It’s a witness,” Sister Dot said of the Broadview gathering, noting that students on spring break often join them in their prayer. In addition, she said, law students from DePaul University often come to learn more about the experience of the immigrants.
Sisters in the Dominican Midwest Chapter and other concerned citizens in the Chicago area have an opportunity almost every other day to participate in an action on behalf of immigrants, Sister Dot said. “We all do what we can: calling, marching, being a presence. It helps to know what they must go through, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. It’s all for the Dreamers and our immigrants.”