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March 2, 2018, Washington, D.C. – Four Adrian Dominican Sisters were among about 200 Catholic priests, Sisters, lay leaders, and Dreamers who on February 27 gave public witness to the Catholic call for a clean Dreamers Act that would allow a path to citizenship for young immigrants who had come to the U.S. with their parents.
Sister Elise García, OP, General Councilor, was among about 40 participants who were arrested in a nonviolent act of civil disobedience, staying in the Capitol Rotunda to pray for just and compassionate immigration legislation after the Capitol Police had warned them three times to disband. Standing in solidarity with her and with the other arrested protestors were Adrian Dominican Sisters Attracta Kelly, OP; Corinne Sanders, OP; and Heather Stiverson, OP.
The national Catholic event was organized by Faith in Public Life, Pax Christi International, Pax Christi USA, PICO National Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, NETWORK: Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, and other Catholic organizations. Events included Mass, followed by talks by two Dreamers; a press conference; the civil disobedience action; and the opportunity for participants to meet with their legislators to lobby for the passage of a clean Dream Act to protect the young immigrants from deportation. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program – established under the administration of President Barrack Obama – offered the Dreamers temporary safety from arrest and deportation. President Donald Trump had set March 5 as an expiration date for the program, but the move has been blocked in court.
Sister Elise described her experience of being arrested as very sobering. “As I was being handcuffed and taken away, I knew that I would be free within a couple of hours and could get on with my life,” she said. “But I was also aware that arrest for the Dreamers, without legislation providing them legal status, would have disastrous consequences for them and their families for their entire lives.”
Sister Elise described civil disobedience as a “nonviolent form of action undertaken to draw attention to an injustice.” During her arrest and processing afterward, she said she felt the support of the Adrian Dominican Congregation. “Our three other Sisters participated in solidarity their presence, further symbolizing and giving witness to this action as one that is communal.”
Sisters Corinne, Attracta, and Heather also expressed their solidarity with the Dreamers and their commitment to ensuring that the Dreamer Act is passed. “I wanted to do anything that might help change [the legislators’] minds so they could … take a stand and get the Dream Act passed,” said Sister Attracta. An immigration lawyer and an immigrant from Ireland, she directs the Congregation’s Office of Immigration Assistance.
“The Dreamers didn’t choose to come to this country, but once they got here, they embraced it and it’s now their home,” Sister Heather said. “Those who graduated from college are now working and contributing to our country. They just want to stay here and give back to our country.”
Sister Corinne also recognized the plight of immigrants. “People immigrate not necessarily because they want to, but because of violence, lack of food and water, and justice issues” in their home countries, she said. “I have come more and more into an understanding of immigration and a desire to work more closely on behalf of those who are in our country, and to look for more comprehensive and just immigration reform.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters said the Day of Action gave them a sense of hope and a feeling of solidarity with the Dreamers and other participants. Sister Attracta said she felt hope just from seeing the faith and hope of the people attending the action. “Everyone was there to be of help, and young people were there trusting us older people that we would help them get some safety here in the U.S.”
For more about the action in Washington, D.C., read articles in Spanish by Telemundo and in English in America Magazine, The National Catholic Reporter, and the Catholic News Agency.