Friars Rally for Immigration Reform

Stephen DeWitt, OFM In the Headlines

As part of a continuing effort to display the support they have for immigrants, three friars based in Silver Spring, Md., not far from the nation’s capital, participated in a recent rally at the White House. Their involvement was meant to demonstrate the Franciscan tradition of reaching out and embracing the marginalized and to put into action the teachings of the Church. Pope Benedict XVI has written, “The Church must not remain on the sidelines in the struggle for justice.”

Information about other immigration reform efforts around Holy Name Province can be found on the Justice and Peace page of the HNP website. 

WASHINGTON — On July 26, Jacek Orzechowski, OFM, Erick López, OFM, and I joined hundreds of others to support the rights of immigrants at a rally in Lafayette Park, in front of the White House.

The rally was sponsored by the Latino advocacy group CASA de Maryland and focused on ending the deportation of undocumented immigrants by the Obama Administration. I led one of two opening prayers asking God to bless the efforts of those present and praying for the conversion of political leaders, especially President Barack Obama, to hear and respond to the plight of immigrants in the United States. The rally continued with a number of speeches by various immigration activists and several women affected by the administration’s deportation policies.

Speeches by Immigrants
One woman, named Florinda, spoke of how she was facing deportation after being arrested for selling phone cards out of her apartment without a license — work she was doing to support her three children, two of whom are U.S. citizens. Another woman by the name of Maria, a mother of two, was arrested after she called police to intervene in an act of domestic violence. When the police officers arrived at her apartment, they noticed a stack of phone cards in her apartment.

Later, they sent her an arrest warrant for operating a business without a license (allegedly selling phone cards). When she went into the police station, she was arrested and her fingerprints were sent to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, which in turn ordered her detained. The struggles of Florinda and Maria are the result of a controversial Department of Homeland Security initiative known as the Secure Communities Program.

Problems with Government Programs
The SCP is designed to identify immigrants in U.S. jails who are eligible for deportation under immigration law. According to the SCP’s guidelines, the program is supposed to focus on violent, “Level One” criminals who have been convicted of aggravated felonies. However, according to Fiscal Year 2010 figures from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, or ICE, 85 percent of those identified by the program were charged or convicted of “Level Two” or “Level Three” misdemeanors, and other minor crimes. The program also makes it more difficult for local police to work in immigrant communities. When police are seen as an extension of ICE, then immigrants will be less likely to call or cooperate with the police.

Other problems with the SCP program include the danger of police profiling and pretextual arrests (when someone is arrested for a minor infraction so their fingerprints will be run through the SCP database), the lack of complaint and appeal procedures for those tagged under the program, and the lack of oversight and transparency of the program in general.

Speakers at the rally highlighted the problems with a joint DHS and Social Security Administration program known as E-Verify, which allows employers to check the employment eligibility of employees against online database maintained by DHS and the SSA. The program has been criticized for using an inaccurate and outdated database that often reports eligible, legal workers as being ineligible for employment. An independent federal government analysis of the program also found that employers often abused the program’s rules by pre-screening applicants and checking the data of employees hired before the program took effect, both of which are forbidden by E-Verify rules.

The rally ended with a march in front of the White House and an intentional act of civil disobedience by 10 participants in the rally. Those arrested included Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland. Through a spokesperson, Rep. Gutierrez expressed support for ending deportations and for passing the DREAM Act. Jacek offered a blessing over the arrestees prior to their being taken into custody.

— Br. Stephen, a resident of Holy Name College in Silver Spring, will be professing final vows as a Franciscan on Aug. 27.