U.S. Provincials Greet Immigration Changes with Hope, Caution

Jocelyn Thomas In the Headlines

US OFM logos -- largeThe leaders of the OFM provinces in the United States sent a letter to President Barack Obama this week thanking him for his recent action on immigration and recommending further reform to achieve justice for all.

The Dec. 1 letter, signed by the seven U.S. provincial ministers, told the president that “it is a just and good thing that as many as 5 million persons may take advantage of the executive relief you have signed. Our caution stems from the fact that this action is temporary and incomplete.

“We persist in our concern for the more than 6 million persons who will remain in the shadows, those who are not able to take advantage of the administrative relief,” the provincials continued. “They and their families endure under the danger of separation through deportation and detention. As you know, and as we have asked you and Congress before, the best solution is comprehensive and just immigration reform. Until that day arrives, justice will elude our immigrant sisters and brothers.

“We urge you and the Congress to provide a safe haven for these refugees and to take action that can remove the factors of violence and economic misery that drive people from their homes.”

The letter was also sent to the speaker of the House, along with the Senate leaders.

Call for Continuing Reform
The text was written in collaboration with the OFM Commission on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, based in New York City. Provincial Minister Kevin Mullen OFM, was among the friars who signed the letter.

“Often, the moral dimensions of national issues are overshadowed by economic and political concerns,” he said. “It is vitally important that people who are religious leaders highlight the ethical side of issues. A letter like this correctly identifies the importance of standing with the marginalized and the alienated to affirm their fundamental dignity and goodness in belonging to communities.”

The provincials have made immigration reform one of their primary issues because it affects many ministries in which the friars serve. In the letter, the provincials stated that they are encouraging ministries that serve immigrant populations to distribute and promote information about how to take advantage of the temporary relief.

“With the unlikelihood that Congress would pass any legislation to provide relief to families and individuals who are forced to live under the fear of deportation and separation, the provincial ministers believe that President Obama’s executive relief is the next best option to keep families intact,” said Russell Testa, director of HNP’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation. “Full comprehensive immigration reform would be preferred, but this relief is the best they believed was possible. This is Franciscan realism in action: we want full reform, but will work with the best possible outcome under the current circumstances.”

The friars are thankful and hopeful, added Testa, who has guided many Franciscan ministries as they advocate for justice for immigrants. Last summer, the Franciscan friars released a statement recommending assistance and expressing concern for the thousands of unaccompanied minors entering the United States.

Christopher Posch, OFM, director of the Hispanic Ministry Office of the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., said, “This is just a beginning that will help so many immigrants and families. But so much more needs to done. The Franciscans will continue to walk closely with immigrants and advocate fiercely for comprehensive immigration reform.”

He continued: “As Pope Francis says, the Church ‘is a mother without limits and without borders… [where] no one is a stranger and, therefore, everyone is worthy of being welcomed and supported.’”

Perspectives and Resources
President Obama’s executive action is not the only news on the immigration front that is generating discussion.

Brian Jordan, OFM, of Brooklyn, N.Y., would like friars and their ministries to be aware of several additional developments that may help immigrants in their communities.

The first is the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s announcement of temporary protected status designations for three African countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Brian said he talked with the DHS and was informed “they will likely extend TPS again after it expires in 18 months.”

The second is the announcement of other executive actions that will “crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritizing the deportation of felons and requiring certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay taxes in order to stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.” Information is available on the website of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“Anyone with felony convictions is still subject to deportation,” said Brian.

Similar to the perspective of many friars, Brian is concerned that President Obama’s plan does not include a pathway to citizenship.

“A pathway to citizenship has already been approved in the Senate but not yet in the House of Representatives,” said Brian. “With a newly-elected U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, it appears that immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship is highly unlikely, although not entirely impossible,” Brian added. “I am optimistic that God still acts in strange places.”

Julian Jagudilla, OFM, director of the Migrant Center of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in New York City, has organized a conference on Dec. 13, International Human Rights Day, about the connections between environmental justice and human trafficking. The program, “Looking Beyond Our Borders,” is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at San Damiano Hall. Scholars, experts and community organizations will address the effects of these issues through presentations. Participants will hear the testimony of survivors of human trafficking and environmental disasters, and will participate in workshops and activities to inform them about these issues and to develop skills and share ideas.

Since its opening last fall, the Migrant Center has helped hundreds of immigrants through group programs and individual counseling.

More information about immigration reform can be found on the Justice and Peace section of the HNP website.

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