Advocating for Immigration Reform

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

Representatives from the Province’s ministries were among the thousands who gathered in the nation’s capital this month to rally for immigration reform. They voiced their support for immigrants, emphasizing the Franciscan value of meeting and welcoming the stranger.

Among the goals of the immigration advocates are an earned pathway to citizenship, worker rights, and protection of families.

Comprehensive reform is imperative on both a practical and individual level, said Russell Testa, director of the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “The current immigration system,” he said, “keeps 11 million persons living in the shadows and susceptible to labor or other abuses since they do not feel able to have the protection of law. It also keeps wages down, and stresses social systems, including health and schools, all because people are not able to live in the open with legal status.”

“If we pass comprehensive immigration reform, then we have the prospect for a more stable economy and labor force,” said Testa. “More importantly, we can celebrate the gifts that all these 11 million persons are to the world.”

National Participation
The April 10 rally, which attracted roughly 100,000 participants, “featured speeches from immigrant rights advocates, labor leaders, faith organizations, and members of Congress working on immigrant legislation,” said Christopher Posch, OFM, in an article he wrote for Tiempo Hispano, published in both Spanish and English. Christopher, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry for the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., said, “Many waved American flags and called for Congress to move quickly, and demanded a direct path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants without documents.”

“Families cannot continue to be torn apart,” Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland, event co-sponsor, told the crowd. “Anything less than citizenship undermines American democracy.”

“Demonstrators filled the large lawns that sweep down from the Capitol, and overflowed into lawns on either side,” wrote Chris. “Demonstrators came from as far as Hawaii, Oregon, and Nebraska.”

The rally and morning Mass, sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, were together “a powerful and uplifting experience of good music, preaching and public support,” said Testa. “The day itself was beautiful. It’s always exhilarating to be with so many allies and friends.”

Among friars who attended were Erick López, OFM, (shown in photo) of St. Camillus Parish, Silver Spring, Md., who led a group of 500 St. Camillus parishioners at the rally. “Erick’s leadership, along with an active engagement of our partners-in-ministry and their collaboration with CASA de Maryland, made possible the mobilization of such a huge number of people from our parish,” said Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, guardian of St. Camillus Friary.

Parishioners of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Triangle, Va., also participated in the Mass and rally.

Senate Bill #744: the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act was recently submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Testa, who hopes that the bill, “with some improvements,” will be passed by the Judiciary Committee by Memorial Day and then be considered by the entire Senate, urges Franciscan-minded people to contact their legislators. “Those who support immigration reform should strongly ecourage their representatives to support comprehensive immigration reform. Without our support and voice — and the voices of so many others — immigration reform will be defeated again.”

Regional Efforts
Friars and their partners-in-ministry have been visiting local government offices. Last week, Daniel Kenna, OFM,Charles Miller, OFM, and Michael Tyson, OFM, of New York City, along with eight lay people of various ethnic backgrounds, discussed immigration reform with a staff member of Sen. Charles Schumer, N.Y.-D, a lead author of the bill.

The group, comprised mainly of people from Holy Name Parish on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, offered to help encourage support for the legislation, said Michael of the April 17 meeting. “During the conversation, it came up that each person emigrating must pay an initial $500 in order to do so. Other fees would follow, such as naturalization fees. Sydney Renwick, community outreach coordinator in Senator Schumer’s office, suggested that a way our organization could help would be to assist in the payment of these fees.”

Earlier in April, Robert Menard, OFM, campus minster at Clemson University in South Carolina, presented a letter on immigration to South Carolina Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham. The document represented the views of many interfaith people in the state, including 42 clergy and lay leaders of seven denominations, said Robert.

The goals of the group — listed in the Letter on Immigration to S.C. Reps published April 19 in the Columbia Star — are to create an earned path to citizenship for immigrants, as well as to protect family unity, to clear backlogs and allow for future legal workers, to protect worker rights, and ensure that humanitarian principles and oversight are included in interior and border security implementation.

Earlier this year, friars and ministry leaders met with legislators in other states, including Connecticut, Delaware, North Carolina and New York. Ongoing grassroots advocacy for immigration reform is vital, according to JPIC Office staff member Fran Eskin-Royer in a March 27 story in HNP Today titled “Welcoming Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters.”

Testa emphasizes the importance of immigration reform. “The Franciscans’ role in issues of immigration grows from our call from St. Francis to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by being ‘pilgrims and strangers’ — people of prayer who are always migrating, always on the move. At our core, the Franciscan sensibility is drawn to immigrants, to welcome them with hospitality and without question or judgment. This response cannot be one of just service. Rather, it requires public conversion, a change of the public heart and action.”

The Province’s JPIC Office is distributing resources to “help mobilize our HNP advocacy in coordination with others or moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform,” said Testa.

While the bill is being finalized, the Franciscan Action Network released a statement saying that it welcomes the bill, “which offers hope that Congress can reach an agreement that respects the human dignity of immigrants in our country,” according to FAN’s April 22 e-letter.

— Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.