Advocating for Immigrant Rights

Johann Cuervo In the Headlines

Emphasizing the Franciscan value of justice and welcoming the stranger, representatives from the Province’s ministries were among the thousands who gathered around the nation this month to rally in support for immigration rights for those fearing deportation after the Trump Administration terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. An estimated 800,000 people will be required to return to their family’s homeland by early March if Congress does not act, according to published reports.

On Jan. 11, Julian Jagudilla, OFM, director of the Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City, led a public forum on immigration. The program, held at the parish’s Francis Room on West 31st Street, included a discussion of the plight of immigrants and the human and societal costs of detention and deportation of undocumented persons.

Julian, who spoke of the Migrant Center’s work and the detention center visits that he has been organizing, said “For some people detained at the airport on their first trip to the United States, we are the first people they interact with from outside the immigration system. We are representatives from the outside world and a reminder that there is a community that remembers them.”

The event, hosted by St. Francis’ Young Adult Ministry, was featured in an article about immigration published Jan. 13 in Crux, an independent Catholic news site.

In the story, Lawrence Omojola, a Migrant Center volunteer, described the twice-monthly visits to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract detention facility in Elizabeth, N.J., as “a corporal work of mercy and an expression of hope.”

Another volunteer who attended the event, Jennifer Engelhart, said she became active with the Migrant Center and the initiative to visit this immigration detention center through St. Francis’s young adult group.

“It was really powerful to look into the face of someone who was trying his best to remain hopeful and positive in a tough and uncertain situation,” she said of a recent visit. The 37-year-old construction worker she visited was brought from Mexico as a child. His car was pulled over at a traffic stop 15 months ago, and he was detained when he could not produce legal documentation. “You hear about this on the news, but it’s not a reality until you speak with someone who tells you his story,” she said.

“The information we bring people is power,” Julian said. “When you know your rights, you can protect yourself from raids and fraudulent practices.”

Jacek with members of United We Dream. (Photo courtesy of Jacek)

On Jan. 16, at the nation’s capital, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, joined a group of several hundred DREAMers in their advocacy efforts. There, they visited their senators’ and representatives’ offices to discuss legislation dedicated to these young people. Jacek said that the DREAMers had inspired him with their courage and commitment.  

“They organize themselves, overcome fear and act to defend their rights,” said Jacek, who is stationed in nearby Silver Spring, Md. He praised United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network in the country for equipping thousands of young undocumented Americans to carry on the civil rights struggle.

“These are young undocumented people who have been brought to the United States by their parents to escape extreme poverty and chronic violence in their countries of origin,” added Jacek. “The vast majority of these Dreamers have grown up in this country and, for most of them, the United States is the only place they know and regard as their home.”

Jacek created a 3-minute video showing the recent action of the DREAMers on Capitol Hill, presenting it within the framework of our Christian faith. “The previous administration made it possible for them to apply for DACA. Unfortunately, under the new administration, the program has been phased out, leaving these young people in a desperate situation. Consider sharing the video with friars and partners-in-ministry.”

On Jan. 22, Jacek and former parishioners from the community of Langley Park in Silver Spring were quoted in an article titled “An Assult on the Body of the Church” in The Atlantic magazine. The story focuses on the plight of Central Americans who have Temporary Protected Status – popularly referred to as TPS.

Juan being interviewed by ABC/Channel 7 in Chicago.

In Chicago, a group of immigration activists including Juan Turcios, OFM, who lives at Blessed Giles Friary, took part in a march on Jan. 17 in support of immigrant rights. It started at Daley Plaza and ended across the river from Trump Tower.

“We live in a country that is built on immigration,” Juan said in a video posted on ABC Eyewitness News’ website. “We are supposed to embrace our immigrants, especially our young people.”

The group calls on Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. According to the National Immigration Law Center, “a clean Dream Act would create a pathway to U.S. citizenship without using young immigrants as bargaining chips to harm immigrant communities.” The Dream Act was a permanent, bipartisan and bicameral legislative solution for more than 2.1 million immigrant youth and young adults who came to the U.S. as children but have no pathway to citizenship.

The pursuit of justice, peace, and integrity of creation has been one of the chief priorities of Holy Name Province, flowing naturally from the life of St. Francis and the Franciscan movement that he inspired in pursuit of the Gospel life. The Province’s JPIC Office, along with other HNP ministries, provided materials, along with immigration forums that give the opportunity for immigrants to seek legal counsel if needed. Information about immigration and other JPIC initiatives can be found in the Justice and Peace section of

— Johann Cuervo is a communications assistant in the Provincial Office.

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