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Supporting the Stranger in Our Midst

While many referred to President Barack Obama as the deporter-in-chief, President Trump has promised to continue deportations, with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) undertaking new strategies that have increased the anxiety among immigrants living in the U.S.

Holy Name Province ministries continue to work to welcome and support immigrants who are an integral part of so many communities. In response to the current political climate, many have offered “Know Your Rights” programs and created opportunities for immigrants to meet with lawyers to have legal questions addressed.

In northern Virginia, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Triangle sponsored a community forum for immigrants on March 26 focused specifically on “Know Your Rights.” Packets of information were prepared for attendees, and lawyers were present to answer questions. Members of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE) helped with the event. Of the 100 who attended the forum, John O’Connor, OFM, said, “We would have had even more but some folks told us that they were afraid of being at any public event other than Mass because of the administration’s new deportation policies.”

Earlier in March, a group of more than 50 lawyers spent their entire Sunday afternoon at St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md., conducting legal screenings for 150 vulnerable members of the parish’s immigrant community. The event, organized by Catholic Charities with the help of the St. Camillus Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation ministries, enabled participants to determine their eligibility for some form of immigration relief. In addition, in the past few months, hundreds of parishioners have received copies of the “Know Your Rights” booklet created by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., known as CLINIC.

The image used on informational flyers publicizing immigration forums (Photo courtesy of CLINIC)

In Wilmington, Del., Todd Carpenter, OFM, pastor at St. Paul Church, said the parish’s focus has been on its immigrant population, especially since the election. “About a third of our parishioners are undocumented and, needless to say, they are very anxious.” The election and justice and peace issues are frequently addressed in homilies, and, in January, the parish hosted a forum with immigration lawyers on hand to offer counsel. The church participated in another immigration forum, sponsored by a local community group, in February, demonstrating the ongoing need.

Immaculate Conception Parish in Durham, N.C., hosted a March immigration gathering that brought together 1300 immigrants and their supporters to affirm Durham as a city of inclusion. Community leaders, including Durham’s school superintendent, chief of police, a representative from the sheriff’s office, and members of the city council pledged not to collaborate with ICE voluntarily. Those in attendance also were given information on upcoming legal clinics and “Know Your Rights” workshops. Immaculate Conception has held three programs, and has at least one more planned. The March 5 gathering was organized by the North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations (NCCOLO) and Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham C.A.N.).

In New York City, The Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi, in collaboration with faith and immigrant rights advocate organizations, is launching a campaign called “Stand Up Immigrants, Build the Network.” This initiative aims to build a network of information, support and basic protection for immigrants in their local communities.  The basic component of this network is the creation of small clusters of protection. The KYR workshop is an essential part of the campaign because it arms immigrants with facts regarding their rights regardless of their status. In addition, in light of the current climate, all immigrants are encouraged to create safety plans (e.g., determining guardians for their children, executing powers of attorney, etc.). These planning steps should put members of the immigrant community in a better position in the days ahead. For more information on the campaign, email migrantcenter@stfrancisnyc.org

John spoke of the importance of this type of ministry outreach,” We at St Francis of Assisi Parish in Triangle have a large and growing Hispanic population. It had become clear to us that the new government guidelines for deportation were being carried out indiscriminately. Our Hispanic parishioners have become very concerned. One of the greatest fears is that parents will be separated from their children.  We felt that we had to help in any way we could, most especially by helping people know their rights and legal resources. ”

“Building connections of solidarity and support with our immigrant sisters and brothers is the first step in striving for the justice they deserve.  This is why the JPIC Office and Directorate encourage other HNP ministries to offer “Know Your Rights”/Immigration Forums in their communities if they have not yet done so,” said Russ Testa, JPIC animator, who recommends contacting local Catholic Charities offices for help.  In addition, a number of immigration resources are available on the JPIC Now section of the Justice and Peace page of the HNP website.

– Fran Eskin-Royer is senior staff associate in the HNP Justice, Peace and Integrity for Creation Office in Silver Spring, Md.

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