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Adrian Dominican Sisters Expand Initiative on Immigration Outreach
Sisters Charlotte Anne Swift, OP, left, and Lois Paha, OP, right, present a check from the Adrian Dominican Sisters Ministry Trust to Marguerite Harmon, CEO of Casa Alitas.

November 18, 2022, Adrian, Michigan – Immigrants and asylum seekers in Tacoma, Washington, and in Tucson, Arizona who are released after being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can find places of welcome and hospitality. Programs that welcome people seeking a new place to call home are now supported by both Adrian Dominican Sister and Associate volunteers and the newly expanded initiative to minister to immigrants.

Sisters and Associates in the former Dominican Midwest Mission Chapter – based in Chicago – since 2013 have supported many efforts to serve immigrants through grants from the Congregation’s Ministry Trust. The Ministry Trust offers grants to community organizations in which individual Sisters minister or volunteer as well as broader ministries organized by Mission Chapters. 

Now that the Dominican Midwest Chapter and three other U.S.-based Mission Chapters merged, the newly formed Catherine of Siena Mission Chapter has received funding from the Ministry Trust to expand existing programs to include Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest, based in Tacoma, Washington, and the Casa Alitas program for migrant families, based in Tucson, Arizona.

Sister Julie Flynn, OP, a member of the former Dominican Midwest Chapter, serves as the project director. 


Sister Julian Flynn, OP
Sister Julie Flynn, OP

Sister Julie recalled the active involvement of Adrian Dominican Sisters in immigration outreach and advocacy even before 2013. “When we started out, almost every Sister in the Chicago area was involved,” either through prayer or through active service in support of immigrants, she said. Involvement included tutoring English as a Second Language (ESL) students at Aquinas Literacy Center, serving at the Bethany House of Hospitality for young women immigrants, ages 18 to 22, who have aged out of the housing system for unaccompanied child immigrants; and praying the rosary every Friday morning in front of the McHenry Detention Center. 

The Ministry Trust grant to the Dominican Midwest Chapter provided rent to houses of hospitality such as Bethany House and recently expanded support to include the Chicago Immigrant Transit Assistance Program (CITA), a program of the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants (ICDI). Sister Julie said volunteers greet asylum seekers as they get off their buses from the detention center and help them to meet their immediate needs. Volunteers assisted more than 1,000 people through this program in the past year, she added.   

Also supported by the grant is the Pastoral Migratoria, which provides printed materials to help immigrants and asylum seekers to apply for citizenship; the National Immigrant Justice Center, which provides legal assistance for immigrants; and the Holy Family Migrant Ministry in Adrian, Michigan. 

Community housing has also been a major effort in the Chicago area, Sister Julie said. Through the ICDI’s Housing and Case Management program, asylum seekers are placed in independent, community-based housing and receive help from trained mentors, she explained.

Sister Julie has been involved in Court Watch, a program in which volunteers sit silently in Immigration Court for three-hour shifts. “I went every Monday morning and was present in the court room,” she said. Volunteers send their reports to the ICDI to give them a “sense of what was happening in the court room with immigrants: how many were released, how many went into detention, and how many were deported and for what reasons,” she explained.

“It definitely affects the court system if people are there,” Sister Julie said. “Americans care. [The system] better be just.” The presence of witnesses could spur a judge, for example, to ask for the lowest possible amount for a bond for an immigrant defendant. 

She also found meaning in incidents such as the case of an 18-year-old woman who appeared in court and had a place to go outside of detention – housing provided by the ICDI. “She was saved from [returning to] detention because of that housing, Sister Julie added. “I’m glad our community invested money in it so we can help,” she said.

Along with her own weekly witness at the immigration court, Sister Julie trained other volunteers and explained the system to groups of students who came to the court. She said it gave her hope to meet other people who are concerned about the plight of immigrants and who care about others. 

Tacoma, Washington

Sister Iva Gregory, OP
Sister Iva Gregory, OP

Before her recent move to Adrian, Sister Iva Gregory, OP, was active with Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest (AIMNW). The organization – largely volunteer – provides volunteer visitation to immigrants while they are in the 1,500-bed detention center in Tacoma. In addition, it offers a variety of services to immigrants once they are released: a welcome center; the Post-Detention Accompaniment Network, which offers services and support to immigrants; and the Hospitality House, which offers temporary housing for those in need.   

Sister Iva said the welcome center is open from noon to 7:00 p.m., the hours when detainees are typically released. “There’s always someone to greet them and make them feel we’re a welcoming country,” she said. “We offer snacks and provide clothing – especially if they’re not prepared for cooler weather,” she said, adding that volunteers also take immigrants to the bus stop or airport to travel to their families.

Her ministry at AIDNW was a moving experience for Sister Iva, offering her the opportunity to meet immigrants from Latin America and, increasingly, from Africa. “Here were people who already suffered a lot in getting across the border and sent to a place [in the United States] that they didn’t know about,” she said. “Each person had a story that would tear your heart.” 

Sister Iva was especially saddened by the stories of immigrants who had been detained twice – released from detention and again picked up by ICE agents. “I thought, how much suffering can we inflict on people?”  

Her ministry with AIDNW was essential and inspirational work for Sister Iva. “I appreciated meeting the immigrants and hearing their stories, but I also loved meeting the volunteers and hearing their stories,” she said. “Each had special gifts and talents for the whole welcoming house. You quickly become a community.”

Tucson, Arizona

Sister Charlotte Anne Swift, OP, as a resident of Tucson, Arizona, has a special vantage point in her ministry to asylum seekers. “We live practically on the border, so we live with all the issues of people being picked up, even here in town, and families being split up,” she said.

Sister Charlotte volunteers at Casa Alitas, a program of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, the Diocese of Tucson. Typically, 200 to 250 go through the center every day once they’re released from detention, she said. “It’s a safe place to stay for awhile to get water, clothes, food, and medical provisions as needed.” 

For the most part, Sister Charlotte said, people who come through Casa Alitas are seeking asylum from a dangerous situation in their home country. ICE provides them with documentation and an order for an asylum hearing. Legal aid workers make sure that they show up for their court date to discuss asylum, she explained.  

The grant from the Ministry Trust provides the asylum seekers with travel bags containing food, water, toiletries, items for children and other items that can keep the asylum seekers going during flights or bus rides – often two to three days – to family members in the United States, Sister Charlotte explained. 

“Living this close to the border, we live with the reality of this every single day,” Sister Charlotte said. “We can’t fix it or change anything too much, but I think about Mother Teresa. If you can’t change the system, you at least have to help the people in front of you. We need to work at both at the same time, but you can’t ignore the immediate needs of so many people from so many nations who have taken that terrible journey even to get here.”

Sisters Charlotte Anne Swift, OP, left, and Lois Paha, OP, right, present a check from the Adrian Dominican Sisters Ministry Trust to Marguerite Harmon, CEO of Casa Alitas.

Sisters Charlotte Anne Swift, OP, left, and Lois Paha, OP, right, present a check from the Adrian Dominican Sisters Ministry Trust to Marguerite Harmon, CEO of Casa Alitas.

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