Millennial Catholics Mobilize against Trump’s Refugee Ban

Teresa Donnellan at America reports:

“All are welcome in this place,” a crowd of people sang in Lafayette Square outside of the White House this afternoon. More that 550 people gathered to attend a Mass organized by young Catholics and celebrated by Father Quinn Conners in Washington, D.C., to express their solidarity with refugees and immigrants.

The event was a result of grass-roots organization and social media promotion. After President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order banning immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, Emily Conron and her friend Christopher Hale decided to coordinate a Mass to show a Catholic response to this form of religious discrimination.

“As Catholics we understand what religious persecution is,” said Ms. Conron. “It’s part of our history. We’ve seen it in so many Catholic communities in so many countries, and we’re not willing to let history repeat itself. So we felt it was important for specifically Catholics to come together and show solidarity. And what better way to do that than in the Mass?”

At Crux, Inés San Martín writes:

“It was clear that people were aching for a way to gather and reflect and discern a path forward during these troubling times, and we were so happy that they were willing to jump into the boat with us and make this happen!” Conron said.

“Jesus was a refugee – and He was with us as we sang Be Not Afraid in front of the White House, doing our small part to show that people of faith will not be silent in the face of injustice,” she said.

Christopher Hale, from Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, was also among the organizers. He told Crux that after Sunday’s Mass, they were expecting some 1,000 people from “this organic group” to contact Speaker Paul Ryan, “the most powerful Catholic in the government.”

What Alexander Hamilton and Pope Francis Share on Immigration

Millennial writer Christopher White has a new article at Crux. He writes:

Today Europe faces a crisis on a scale never before seen—and the latest numbers reveal the situation to be getting worse. The month before Pope Francis traveled to Lesbos, almost 9,600 migrants attempted to cross the Mediterranean into Italy, more than four times as many as March of 2015.

Over the past year, over one million refugees have flooded into Europe. These displaced families are fleeing war-torn countries, persecution, and seeking greater opportunities on a continent that has been hesitant to accept them.

Moments before leaving Rome for to Greece, Pope Francis tweeted: “Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such.”…

The story of Hamilton, both in biography and on the Broadway stage, has softened the hearts of many to rediscover a life almost forgotten. By turning the attention of the world to the millions of migrants with similar stories, Francis is aiming for a related outcome.

“History has its eyes on you,” echoes one of the final refrains of Hamilton. This is not merely a statement about the show’s leading man; it’s one that turns us toward the present.

You can read the full article here.


Blessings From the Border: A Sojourners Q+A with Christopher Hale

Millennial co-founder Christopher Hale was recently interviewed by Sojourners:

Hammill: You mentioned earlier the social mission of the Catholic Church and how you want to lift that up. Would you mind going into a little detail about that?

Hale: The social mission of the Catholic Church can be reduced to the following: God became poor in Jesus Christ to save humanity, and we must do likewise. The social mission of the Catholic Church is about becoming poor for the poor. It communicates who God is, who Jesus is, who we’re called to be. For politics, it reverses things. It turns the world upside down.

Politics is inside out often — those closest to power get the most, those furthest away get the least. The Catholic social mission says that the last should be first, that God has a bias for the bottom. So our political policies should most benefit those who are on the fringes. It’s about turning our politics upside-down….

Hammill: Do you foresee any direct consequences from Pope Francis’ trip?

Hale: I think this trip will once again challenge the politicians of the United States to take action on immigration reform. While this trip is thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C., the only appropriate way to respond to this trip is in Washington, D.C. — what’s happening here at the border will hopefully translate into increased action and movement on immigration reform in the nation’s capital.

You can read the full interview here.


In Defense of the Human Rights of Emigration and Asylum

When the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore near a Turkish resort, the world was horrified.  The image sparked a debate worldwide about countries’ immigration policies and led to a swelling demand to accept Syrian refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War.  The sentiment is clear: Alan should have been allowed to go somewhere safe, in a safe vessel – not in the vain hope of reaching Greece and, eventually, Canada, in a flimsy, inflatable raft that capsized five minutes after leaving shore.

Alan’s body reflected the gruesome reality of the global refugee crisis.  The number of displaced persons is at the highest level ever recorded by the United Nations, a staggering 59.5 million as of June 2015. To cope with the growing number of families fleeing to Europe, the international community has called for a reform in asylum practices.  Pope Francis called on European families to accept Syrian refugees into their homes.  His words, consistent with his pastoral approach of acceptance and kindness, were a loving implementation of a longstanding social and pastoral tradition of the Church. Read More

A Very Catholic Week: The March for Life, Selma, and Immigration Reform

There are three things I heard over the past week that are stuck in my head.

First, “We are the pro-life generation!” Thousands of young people chanted this refrain at last Thursday’s March for Life in Washington.

Then, “We’re not asking – we’re demanding! Give us the vote!” This was a masterful Daniel Oyelowo portraying Martin Luther King, Jr., in the film Selma, which I saw on Saturday. In the scene, the minister and civil rights leader is speaking to a church congregation of African Americans who had systematically been blocked from registering to vote in Selma, Alabama.

Finally, “La iglesia está con ustedes,” or “The Church stands with you.” This was the message delivered by Bishop Sullivan and pastor Fr. Vince Guest at an information session on President Obama’s immigration executive action at the Parish of the Holy Cross in Bridgeton on Sunday. At the gathering, which drew over 500 people, experts from the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice described the president’s order, which could make thousands of undocumented South Jersey residents eligible for a type of temporary permission to stay in the United States.

Taken together, these lines and the events where I heard them offer some interesting points about discipleship. Here are three:

1) God takes sides; we should, too.

I once heard a conference speaker tell the story of an older brother, a younger sister, and a dad. The brother often picked on his sister, she would call out for Dad’s help, and he would intervene on her behalf. The son complained, “You always take her side! You love her more than me!” The father replied, “It’s because I love you both the same that I take her side. If someone ever picks on you, I’ll take your side.”

This anecdote gets at something crucial about God’s love. Of course He loves all his children the same amount. But like the dad in the story, that doesn’t mean he remains neutral in all conflicts. Instead, as we see over and over again in Scripture, he sides with the oppressed and suffering. Think of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt who Moses leads to freedom, the exiles in Babylon who God’s prophet Isaiah comforts, and the woman caught in adultery who Jesus defends from the angry, judgmental mob. To imitate God’s love in our own lives, we must be on the look-out for similar instances of the powerful targeting certain groups of people, and raise our voices with and for those in harm’s way. What incredible examples of this sort of faith in action I witnessed on the National Mall, at the movie theater, and at Holy Cross.

2) As we do our best to take the side of the poor and vulnerable consistently, we will find that we don’t fit neatly into the American political left/right binary.

I love the consistency of the message woven through my recent experiences: pro-life, pro-racial justice, pro-immigrant family. It reminded me of something Cardinal Timothy Dolan said during a speech a couple years ago. We are called to be comprehensive in our care for “the uns,” he said: “the un-employed; the un-insured; the un-wanted; the un-wed mother, and her innocent, fragile un-born baby in her womb; the un-documented; the un-housed; the un-healthy; the un-fed; the under-educated.”

I imagine a Catholic advocate phoning her Congressman four times in a given week, calling about various issues that the Catholic Church in the US is speaking up about. On Monday, she urges the representative to work toward the legal recognition of the unborn as human beings. On Tuesday, she asks him to protect social safety net programs like food stamps and Medicaid. On Wednesday, she voices opposition to physician-assisted suicide. On Thursday, she calls for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the US. And on Friday, the congressman’s receptionist wonders aloud, “What party does that woman belong to, anyway?”

If we truly let our faith inform our politics, then that’s the question people might be asking themselves about us.

3) Siding with those who are vulnerable is risky.

In Selma, King gives a sermon in response to the racially motivated murder of a teenager in the town. “Those who have gone before us say, No more! No more!” he says. “That means protest! That means march! That means disturb the peace! That means jail! That means risk! That is hard!”

I think of the hundreds of parishioners who gathered at Holy Cross on Sunday – many of whom, who, despite the risk of deportation, keep working to provide for their families and secure civil rights. I feel for the young pro-life marchers whose peers look at them with suspicion or condescension. Selma invited me to remember those in who were beaten and killed because of their race, and to lift up those who continue the ongoing hard work of racial reconciliation across the country.

After the March for Life, I made it to Lindenwold just in time for our diocesan Respect Life Mass, hosted at the Parish Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The Gospel passage selected for the Mass was Matthew’s Beatitudes: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me,” Jesus tells his followers. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

As risky as faith can be, Christ reminds us that he is with us always. There’s no finer solace – and no finer call to action – than that.

This post is also featured on the website The Ampersand for the Diocese of Camden Life & Justice Ministries.

Hundreds Feared Dead After Sinking of Ship near Malta

Awful news off the coast of Malta:

Hundreds of migrants may have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in recent days, bringing the number of victims so far this year to more than four times last year’s total, the International Organization of Migration said Monday.

About 500 people, mainly from Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Sudan, are feared dead after their vessel was allegedly sunk by human traffickers off Malta’s coast last week. Another 200 may have drowned off the coast of Libya over the weekend, an IOM spokesman said.

The vessel off Malta appeared to have been rammed by human traffickers after the passengers refused to board another ship that was considered not seaworthy, the IOM spokesman said. Details weren’t yet clear, the spokesman added.

Pope Francis has done a great service by bringing this issue into the limelight. More must be done to avert these humanitarian catastrophes.

Crisis at the Border: A Personal Story and Practical Solutions

This month, as I have been hearing of the thousands of children fleeing Central America, the story of one mother and her murdered son keeps coming to my mind. About ten years ago, when I worked as an immigration paralegal while serving as a Jesuit Volunteer in Los Angeles, I met with a Salvadoran woman—I’ll call her María—whose son had just been killed in El Salvador. I wasn’t able to help her, but I promised that I would tell her story when I could.

Around 1985, Maria, a new mother, fled the civil war raging in her country. She fled carrying her baby Isaac with her and, after a treacherous journey, she reached Los Angeles. She had no choice but to live in the shadows, finding whatever work she could. She couldn’t apply for asylum because she knew that at that time, the US government was systematically rejecting the asylum claims of Salvadorans and Guatemalans (while routinely granting the asylum claims of Cubans and Nicaraguans for ideological reasons). At the time, our government supported the Salvadoran and Guatemalan regimes, while opposing the Cuban and Nicaraguan regimes. This prevented people like Maria from getting a fair day in court. Over the course of the wars in El Salvador and Guatemala, about 75,000 Salvadorans, mostly civilians, were killed by their government, and about 200,000 Guatemalans, mostly civilian indigenous Mayans, were killed or disappeared by their government. In Guatemala, the military admitted to razing 500 villages, purposely burning fields to cause widespread starvation. In El Salvador, a generation grew up finding tortured bodies of men, women, and children killed by the death squads on the streets each morning.

So, like countless Central American mothers, she survived in the undocumented world. She worked several jobs at a time, hoping to make a better life for herself and, most importantly, her children. Although she was able to bring in enough money to keep a roof over her family’s head and put food on the table, she didn’t have the capacity to protect them. When these child refugees were alone in their neighborhoods after school, the African-American and Chicano gangs started to attack the Central American kids. So the Central American kids began to band together to protect themselves, and quite soon, these groups morphed into more violent gangs that in turn preyed on their neighbors– the most well-known being the Mara Salvatrucha 13 and 18th Street gangs.

During this time, religious organizations were stepping up to demand that refugees not be deported to their deaths. In 1991, this resulted in the American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh settlement, which gave Salvadorans and Guatemalans a real chance for their asylum claims to be heard. Maria was able to get a work permit and start emerging from the shadows. However, the process was so slow that claims didn’t start being seriously adjudicated until around 2000, through another law, the Nicaraguan and Central American Adjustment Act (NACARA).        But before NACARA could have its intended effect of providing legal status to the Central Americans who fled their governments, white supremacist Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building. Taking advantage of this national tragedy, Congress slipped in draconian changes to the immigration system that had very little to do with the real threats of domestic terrorism. It stripped away most of the discretion judges had to decide whether a person deserved to stay in the United States and made a whole class of non-serious crimes for which probation and fines were the normal punishment into automatically deportable defenses.

Concretely, this meant that the same crime had a radically different punishment depending on if you were a citizen or not. A US citizen would be monitored by the criminal justice system for a little while. For the exact same crime, a non-citizen would be deported. Imagine two brothers, the older one who fled on his mom’s back as a baby, and the younger, born a year after she arrived in Los Angeles. Both are convicted of joyriding together. The younger kid might do a few months in jail, get a slap on the wrist, complete probation, and get on with his life. The older kid who fled on his mom’s back before he had any memories of El Salvador would be sent back to a country of which he had no knowledge. Quite possibly, all his relatives would be dead or gone, and he might not be able to speak Spanish. Very often, kids with no gang involvement whatsoever found themselves in San Salvador without the slightest clue as to how to survive. Many connected with the gangs because, again, the gangs gave them protection in their new environment. Now, gangs started to spread throughout Central America and Mexico as deportees started their own gang outposts, still centrally managed by gang leadership in Los Angeles. But unlike in the United States, law enforcement in Central America is essentially non-existent. While gangs in the US make life horrible for countless neighborhoods, they do not compete against the government for power and control. In Central America, they do.

While the NACARA application for her and Isaac was pending, and the gangs were spreading throughout the continent, Maria continued raising her son in a rough part of LA. He was friendly with the neighborhood boys who had joined a gang, but he never got involved. Isaac, 17 at the time, did something stupid—I forget the details, but it was something like simple theft or joyriding—and ended up in jail. While serving his sentence, he took advantage of the available programs and completed his GED. The facility allowed a graduation ceremony, complete with a rented satin blue cap and gown.

While a US citizen would have been released after those few months, as an immigrant, this conviction meant nearly automatic deportation. He was transferred to an immigration prison and was housed with members of the same gang that controlled his neighborhood. Representing himself without the assistance of a lawyer, like the majority of immigrants in detention, he pled with the judge for his life, telling him that he would certainly be killed if he were returned to El Salvador. The judge told him that he didn’t believe him, that he wasn’t credible. He was deported. When he landed in the airport, he made his way to his grandmother’s place–to family who were, more than anything, strangers to him. Members from a local gang were informed by their California contacts that Isaac was associated with a rival gang. Less than two days after arriving, he was fatally shot.

A few months before Isaac was deported and killed, Maria had finally received her permanent residency, her green card. This meant that for the first time in nearly 20 years, she could finally travel to El Salvador. So she traveled to the country she had fled in order to bury the son she had carried on her back so many years ago. She brought photos of her son along with his immigration papers, including the transcript of his deportation hearing. When returning to the US through Texas, because of these papers, she was detained for three days by immigration officials before finally being released.

As an American citizen who believes strongly in our Constitution and rule of law, I have never felt more powerless than I felt listening to her. She wanted to hold the government accountable for refusing to listen to the pleas of her son. I could offer her nothing. I sat in silence and grief with her as we looked at a picture of her son celebrating his GED, and then the pictures of this young man in his casket.

We can do better now. We can listen to the children fleeing for their lives, who are terrified by the prospect of returning. We can believe their accounts of the dangers they face in their home countries. The policy changes under consideration by President Obama and many Republicans and Democrats in Congress seek to fix the problem of this influx by limiting access to the courts and, in one proposal, allowing Customs and Border Patrol Agents to screen Central American children for possible refugee status. Imagine if you are a 10-year old Salvadoran girl who has been raped by the police in her country; are you going to immediately reveal your trauma to a police officer, or will you be too scared to show that you may have a claim for relief? If our country makes changes like this, we will be returning to the dark strategies of the 1980s, when we deported Central Americans not by giving them their day in court, but by refusing to hear them out.

To fix the immediate problem in a way that is consistent with our values of equal protection under the law, the government should do three things. First, it should significantly increase the number of immigration judges. Right now, 250 immigration judges each have an average of more than 10,000 cases. Increasing the number of judges will give them the time they need to consider all their cases, and processing time will be cut down by years.

Second, all children should have access to a lawyer. The current process is that an unrepresented child, sometimes as young as four, is called up to the judge, who tries to explain the law to the child, listens to the child, and then, in consultation with the government attorney, tries to decide what to do. On July 15, TRAC Immigration published a report analyzing data on unaccompanied children in immigration court, underscoring the need for representation. These statistics show that many children, for lack of an attorney who can tell their story, are being denied relief to which they may be entitled:

  • In almost half (47%) of the cases in which the child was represented, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States. The child was ordered removed in slightly more than one in four (28%) of these cases. And in the remaining quarter (26%) the judge entered a “voluntary departure” (VD) order.
  • Where the child appeared alone without representation, nine out of ten children were ordered deported — 77 percent through the entry of a removal order, and 13 percent with a VD order. One in ten (10%) were allowed to remain in the country.

Third, for Guatemalan children, many of whom seem to be coming from indigenous Mayan regions of the country, competent indigenous interpreters and legal assistants need to be available. Many of these children have a basic understanding of market Spanish, but cannot articulate the basis of their need for protection in Spanish. They need to have Mam, Quiché, Ixil, and other interpreters.

Ultimately, the answer to the new refugee crisis on the border is to support efforts for peace in these countries. But in the meantime, we need not further destroy our Constitutional principle of due process under the law.

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent revolt of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980)