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As a people of faith, we believe in protecting the inherent dignity of every human being, including those seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. It is not a crime to seek asylum.

BY ISN STAFF | June 22, 2019

When 100 men, women, and children who fled the war-torn African nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo arrived at the Vive Shelter, in Buffalo, New York last week looking for assistance as they seek asylum in the United States, there was a problem. The Vine Shelter, a program of Jericho Road Community Health Center on Buffalo’s East Side, had “no room in the inn.” The influx of asylum seekers had overwhelmed their facilities capacity and they were seeking assistance from the Buffalo metro community to find lodging for new and existing residents.

canisius-college

Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, was founded in 1870 by Jesuits from Germany and is named after St. Peter Canisius.

Those that stepped in to offer assistance include Canisius College, who will provide lodging and meals for 13 asylum seekers in a campus residence hall for three weeks beginning Sunday, June 23.

“As a Jesuit university, [Canisius College] seeks to stand in solidarity with the worldwide Society of Jesus in walking with the poor and the outcasts of the world,” said John Hurley, Canisius College president, in a message to the campus community earlier this week. “This is an opportunity to animate our mission and support the great work of Jericho Road Community Health Center.”

Hurley recently returned from a campus immersion experience to El Salvador and the U.S.-Mexico border coordinated by Christians for Peace in El Salvador (CRISPAZ) and the Kino Border Initiative. In the campus-wide e-mail announcing the initiative to host the asylum seekers he cited the experience he and his wife Maureen had meeting people during the experience, saying, “we were profoundly moved by the stories of migrants trying to escape violence to protect their families and seek a better life.”

“As a Jesuit university, [Canisius College] seeks to stand in solidarity with the worldwide Society of Jesus in walking with the poor and the outcasts of the world.”

The campus guests represent several African countries as well as Sri Lanka. Having left lives in their home countries, there is an attorney, businessmen, an information technology professional, a pastor and some who are students. Those who have work permits will spend their days at their jobs and others will return to the Jericho Road facility to assist with volunteer needs and chores.  

At Hurley’s direction campus administrators developed a plan to respond to his invitation to the guests. The offices of residence life, mission and ministry, and campus ministry are working to coordinate campus facilities and daily meals for the men. Campus volunteers, including students, faculty, and staff are already responding to the invitation to assist in the preparation of a hot meal each evening as well as joining the men for dinner. Volunteers are being encouraged to consider recipes that respond to the range of diets and religious needs of each individual.

“Canisius will use this opportunity to provide hospitality and a respite to our guests,” said Sarah Signorino, the director of Canisius’ mission and identity office. “But, more importantly, we want to use this as an opportunity to build further bridges and educate around issues of migration in our community.”

“We want to use this as an opportunity to build further bridges and educate around issues of migration in our community.”

Buffalo, known as “the City of Good Neighbors,” a self-proclaimed title that represents Buffalonians welcoming spirit to those who visit or come to call the region their home. Said Signorino, “it is the duty of Canisius College to respond to those standing most on the margins.”

Asylum is a protection granted to individuals who have entered into the United States or have presented themselves the border and meet the international law definition of a “refugee.” The United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol define a refugee as a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country, and cannot obtain protection in that country, due to past persecution or a well-founded fear of being persecuted in the future “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” At the end of 2017, there were approximately 3.1 million people around the world waiting for a decision on their asylum claims, according to the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The Trump Administration has sought to limit the ability of people to seek asylum in the U.S., especially those arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from Central America. 

Support for refugee and immigrant communities is not new to Canisius College, an ISN member institution. In 2018, the school became an active member in Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Campaign for Hospitality. Students and staff attend the annual Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, where they advocate for humane migration policies on Capitol Hill. In July, a Canisius student leader will participate in ISN’s Ignatian Justice Summit, a leadership formation program for students interested in advocating on immigration issues. In addition, President Hurley has expressed his support for immigrant populations, joining fellow Jesuit university presidents in signing on to a number of statements in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students since becoming president in 2010.

[American Immigration Council, Canisius College]

BY LENA CHAPIN | January 21, 2019

“Show me the border,” Diego Adame, Community Organizer with Hope Border Institute and our guide that morning, challenged. From high on the mountain, the city of El Paso, Texas was indistinguishable from Juarez, Mexico. We saw one continuous metropolitan area with tall buildings, highways, bridges, homes, and church towers. Even after he pointed it out, the wall was difficult to find and easy to lose track of. So we drove down the mountain into the side streets of Sunland Park, New Mexico, crossed some railroad tracks, and parked in the sand near the tall metal planks reaching skyward. Three border patrol vehicles shifted nearby.

The U.S.-Mexico border from Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Here was this wall. The wall that I had come to see. The wall that is creating so much pain and discourse across the U.S. That wall, those slabs of metal are the division… right?

Soon, two men approached on the other side of the fence. We started exchanging morning pleasantries, talking about how cold it was outside, joking about the displeasure of having to go to work. They wished us well on our journey to learn more about the border and headed off to start their days. It struck me as we circled up for prayer how typical the conversation was. It would have been almost the exact conversation had we been in line at the grocery store, but instead, there was an 18-foot steel wall constructed between us.

Immersion participants chatting with local residents through the border wall.

Later that day we would drive over the bridges into Juarez and visit with people living in the neighborhood of Anapra, feeling welcome, hospitality, and warmth. We came back across, joking with street vendors and tallying up the different license plates going through the border checks fairly easily. Throughout the week, everyone we spoke with living in the tri-state area (Chihuahua, New Mexico, and Texas) had similar sentiments: “ I was born in ________, but I live in _____________ and I work in ______________.” The cities were almost interchangeable. Many people travel frequently—sometimes even daily— between these three states and two countries. And everyone we met was working to improve their community.

Returning to the U.S. from Ciudad, Juarez.

As the week continued, the wall moved into the background of my thoughts. Even as the President was declaring a national crisis and continuing to use it as a divisive measure within the interior, those at the border went about their lives.

On Friday morning we heard a presentation from Dylan Corbett, director of Hope Border Institute, that best embodied the phenomenon I was feeling regarding the wall:

“When I consume the Eucharist, I am not consuming anything. Rather, I am being consumed. Christ is bringing me into a relationship with everybody. St. Paul said ‘Once I am brought in I can no longer say to the foot, I can no longer say to a person, I do not care about you.’ If it’s true that Christ, that God, is bringing us into deeper relationship with everybody, that He is creating something, He is acting through history, He is bringing about the birth of something new, the body of Christ—and the Eucharist is about that, feeding that, nourishing that, growing that— then you have to ask the question at the end of the day: what is really real? Is that wall really real?”

It certainly didn’t feel real later that day as we celebrated Mass at a detention center, sharing in the Eucharist with hundreds of men and women from around the world. As we entered into communion with these men and women and shared signs of peace and brief conversations, internal and external borders faded into the background. We were Christians, family, one body of Christ.

I had the same feeling at the shelter for folks seeking asylum who had been released by ICE. There weren’t divisions just because they had passed through the wall or crossed a borderline. There was no “us” and “them.” There were simply parents sharing understanding glances as children made messes out of cookies and juice. There were weary travelers appreciative of clean sheets and the promise of a good night sleep.

The whole concept of borders was challenged as I learned more about the history of the area; the trade routes, how these Native lands became part of Mexico, then the U.S., and even then, borders shifted between New Mexico and Texas.

But the wall is real. Structurally, destructively. This wall that doesn’t seem real even after seeing it and touching it is being used as a pawn to actively oppose the work of the Eucharist, the work of God. It is dividing the U.S. internally through opinions and beliefs. It has caused thousands of people in the interior of the U.S. to go without paychecks, which means many of them are going without food. And it is continuing to be a physical representation of the idea that some deserve to have the freedoms that the United States offers and that others do not.  

It’s been said by many advocates for justice that problems at the margins are because of exploitation and lack of knowledge from those in positions of privilege. Faith leaders for centuries have called us “to go to the margins.” There seems to be a pattern here…it is only through encounter that walls fall away. I know mine did.

BY KEVIN TUERFF | October 18, 2018

Imagine if someone kidnapped you, and then threatened to murder you. You escape, but you have no support from police to protect you. Wouldn’t you flee to save your own life?

If this happened to you, and you managed to get a visa to the U.S., and you declared asylum at JFK airport—you are then shackled and handcuffed. Your luggage is taken from you and you are forced to wear a blue prison jumpsuit. You are taken to corporate-run jail for at least six months while you await a hearing from an immigration judge. Inside, you are offered food which is often inedible. You have little access to medical care. If you are lucky, you have volunteers from a church who accompany you in detention, coming weekly for a one-hour visit. If you are lucky, you have help from a pro-bono attorney, otherwise you will likely be deported, sent back into harm’s way.

If you are granted asylum, and you are freed from this nightmare, would you return to the detention center soon thereafter to join a prayer vigil and visit other detainees? Sam, a new refugee from West Africa did just that on Sunday, September 16 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. He shared his stories of the terrible conditions in detention, and also led the group in a prayer for the 400 detainees inside who are seeking freedom in the United States.

Sam, a new American who was granted asylum after spending 7 months inside the Elizabeth, NJ immigration detention center, joined the group to pray for his former detainees who remained inside the corporate-run jail. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

Sam told those gathered, “For seven months, inside this detention center, I never saw the sun, or breathed fresh air. I was forced to flee from my home, but I never thought I would be treated like a criminal when I came to America, seeking asylum. It was torture.”

When one of the guards at the Center came outside to dissuade the group from getting close, Sam went and shook hands with his former captor. It was a powerful moment.  

More than 100 Catholics walked the 30-minute journey through a Newark, NJ warehouse district, from the nearest bus stop to Elizabeth Detention Center. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

More than 100 parishioners of the New York City Churches of St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius participated in the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Light in the Darkness pilgrimage. They stood in solidarity with immigrants facing deportation, and with refugees seeking asylum, offering prayers and songs. Other groups participated, including the Migrant Center at St. Francis of Assisi, Catholic Worker, and Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth.

The group walked two-by-two for more than 30 minutes in the heat from the nearest transit stop, past a maze of distribution warehouses, to the corporate-run detention center. When detainees are granted asylum there, they are usually set free in the middle of the night with no assistance to find public transportation to a refugee shelter.

Teresa Carino, pastoral associate at St. Ignatius Church in New York City spoke outside Elizabeth Detention Center. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

Fr. Dan Carrou, S.J., acting pastor at Church of St. Francis Xavier, led the group in prayer, saying, “We gather in this sea of warehouses to remember that no humans should be treated as commodities.  All humans possess dignity and a violation of the dignity of one of our companions is a violation of the dignity of all.”

Fr. Daniel Corrou, S.J., acting pastor of Church of St. Francis Xavier (New York City) led the pilgrims in prayers for the hundreds of women and men inside the immigration detention center. [Photo by Donald Kennedy]

Immigrants detained by ICE are held under civil, not criminal, law. According to the International Detention Coalition, dozens of countries only use detention as a last resort for migrants seeking refuge. They require weekly check-ins with immigration court officers or wearing of ankle bracelets.

Recent news reports have shed light on the horrific plight of migrant children also being held in detention, separated from their parents. Christ calls us to pray, and advocate for humane policy changes with Immigration Customs Enforcement.

BY VINCE HERBERHOLT | September 19, 2018 | EN ESPAÑOL

Two Jesuit parishes in the Pacific Northwest, St. Joseph Seattle and St. Leo Tacoma, joined together to coordinate a pilgrimage and Mass at the GEO-run Northwest Immigrant Detention Center on Saturday, August 25, 2018.  More than 500 faith-filled pilgrims prayed and sang for 1.6 miles from St. Leo to the Center where over 1,500 detainees are imprisoned while waiting for immigration hearings or deportation.

St. Joseph Parish members participate in the pilgrimage.

Frs. John Whitney, S.J., and Matt Holland S.J., pastors of St. Joseph and St. Leo respectively, concelebrated the Mass. Fr. Scott Santarosa, S.J., the provincial of the Jesuit West province delivered the homily, exhorting the pilgrims to “bridge all divides, and foster understanding among diverse peoples and cultures, and make people feel in the most real way at home.”  

(L-R) Fr. Scott Santarosa, S.J., Fr. John Whitney, S.J., and Fr. Matt Holland, S.J. celebrate Mass outside of the Northwest Immigrant Detention Center on Saturday, August 25, 2018.

During the event, signatures were collected on a petition for the reform of immigration policies in the United States, which will be delivered to local congressional offices. The event renewed energy for continuing work on behalf of immigrants and refugees.

Mass and pilgrimage participants share a meal after the event.

However, even more inspiring were the connections made with the help of the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Over 18 Jesuit parishes and works across the U.S. joined in the group of pilgrims in prayer or with their own activities. In the Jesuits West province that included St. Aloysius in Spokane, St. Ignatius in Portland, St. Ignatius in Sacramento and San Francisco, St. Agnes in San Francisco, Dolores Mission in Los Angeles, St. Francis Xavier in Missoula, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center in Seattle, the Ignatian Spirituality Center in Seattle, and the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.

A Campaign for Hospitality banner outside the Northwest Immigrant Detention Center. St. Joseph Parish is a Campaign for Hospitality member institution.

Parishes in other parts of the country include St. Francis Xavier in St. Louis, Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Church of the Gesu in University Heights, OH, St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius in New York City, St. Ignatius in Chestnut Hill, MA, Holy Trinity in Washington D.C., St. Ignatius in Baltimore, and St. Thomas More in Atlanta.

Five of these parishes will be leading their own pilgrimage and Mass or prayer service at detention centers in their area: St. Ignatius in  Chestnut Hill, MA, Holy Trinity in Washington D.C. and St. Ignatius in Baltimore, and St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius in New York City.

All the Jesuit parishes and works that have joined in this endeavor have expressed interest in continuing collaborations related to immigration reform. Knowing that there is more important work to be done, an ongoing discussion will continue through the Jesuit Parish Collaboration Framework. The Ignatian Solidarity Network designed the initiative to deepen Jesuit parish connection to the Ignatian network by engaging in discernment, action, and advocacy as a parish network.

BY LIZZIE HUDSON | September 19, 2018

When I was in fourth grade, I learned about immigration for the first time. I remember my teacher telling us about Ellis Island and all the people that came into our country looking for a better life.

She spoke about European immigrants as a simple matter of fact. Then she used a term that I will never forget: illegal alien. She used it to describe people who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. My ten-year-old self didn’t understand why she would use positive sounding words for one group of immigrants but not for the other.

An 18-foot border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, built near the end of the Obama Administration.

Fast forward to this past summer, to the days leading up to my border awareness trip with the Columban Mission Center in El Paso, as I was trying to figure out how I felt about going.

Was I nervous? No.

Was I excited? That didn’t quite describe my feelings.

I was just ready—ready to start the journey. This would be my first time on the border. I had only seen what it was like through the news and textbooks. I knew that I would be meeting immigrants who had just made it to the United States. While listening to their stories, I expected I would have to hold back tears. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

During one of the days, my group was asked to cook a meal for the guests staying at Annunciation House, a local shelter for migrants. We decided to make enough eggplant and chicken parmesan (and watermelon for dessert) for forty people. We chopped vegetables, tenderized chicken, and sliced bread for hours.

At the El Paso courthouse protesting family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Even with my whole group working on this task, I was tired when we finished. But then our guests started to arrive. We greeted everyone in broken Spanish. Once everyone got their food and sat down, I was immediately drawn to a table with children.

I love kids, and I have a niece back home who I was missing. Sitting at the table was their mother, a teenage girl, and Jorge, who is the same age as me. I don’t speak much Spanish and they didn’t speak much English. But instead awkward silences I expected, the girls and I ended up making goofy faces at each other.

We went back and forth seeing who could cross their eyes and touch their tongue to their nose. They were very good at crossing their eyes! I noticed that one of the girls had the Disney princess Anna on her shirt. I showed them the Disney emoji app on my phone, and then we started imitating all of the silly faces the emojis were making.

At the farm workers center in El Paso, learning about the harsh working conditions experienced by farm workers on a daily basis.

While the girls were occupied with the Disney app, Fr. Bob (a Columban priest and the Director of the Columban Mission Center) came over to the table and started talking to their mother in Spanish. I tried to listen to their conversation but the youngest girl kept tapping my face so I would pay attention to her. I gladly obliged. We continued to make faces and laugh together until they left to return to Annunciation House.

Now it was just me, Fr. Bob, and Jorge at the table. As Fr. Bob and Jorge started talking, he shared with us why he left his home in El Salvador. Jorge is an openly gay man. When he came out to his father, his father disowned him. His father literally removed his last name from Jorge’s name.

Without his family anymore, it was just Jorge and his boyfriend. They received death threats and were victims of violence, just for being in a relationship. One of their gay friends was beheaded. So they made the decision to flee together.

When they arrived at the U.S. border, they applied for asylum and were put in detention. In the detention center, the other migrants harassed Jorge and his boyfriend. They asked the guards for help but they turned a blind eye. He told us that he had thoughts of taking his own life because of all the pain he’d suffered.

After eight months in detention, Jorge was granted asylum. Unfortunately, his boyfriend is still inside.

When Jorge told us all this, I asked Fr. Bob to translate for me: “I’m glad you’re still here.” Fr. Bob asked him how is it that he’s able to share his story with such courage and openness. Jorge said that it’s simply by the grace of God, and that whenever he feels like crying he dances instead. Fr. Bob asked him what his favorite type of dance music is (bachata), then put some on. Jorge asked me if I would dance with him. Everyone else from my group joined in the dancing too.

Speaking with residents of the neighborhood of Duranguito about their efforts to combat neighborhood destruction to build a brand new baseball stadium.

As an advocate, it’s easy for me to get caught up in the process of passing bills or organizing rallies in order to make a systemic change. But being immersed in a border community like El Paso and forming relationships with individuals made me realize that I can forget about how there are people who need help right now.

Though I like to focus my energies on working for social justice, during my time at the border I was able to focus on charitable works. I met a lot of people there who weren’t as focused on systemic change as I am. They just want to be looked at as a human being, to have somewhere to eat and sleep.

El Paso opened my eyes to the importance of balance, that social justice and charitable works go together. Many people call this the “two feet of love in action.” So my goal for this fall semester back in Omaha is to make sure I’m walking with two feet, not one.

To learn more about the border and how you can stand in solidarity with your sisters and brothers who live there, consider signing up to receive a free copy of the Columban Center’s “Border Solidarity Toolkit.” It includes a number of activities for prayer, education, and action then can help you walk with both feet of love.

BY ISN STAFF | August 30, 2018 | EN ESPAÑOL

This summer, three Jesuits in formation arrived in El Paso at an unexpectedly crucial time.  

From July 17-26, Nazareth Shelter, one of several church-based, all-volunteer temporary shelters coordinated by Annunciation House, a forty-year-old organization committed to serving recent arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, took on a temporary mission—receiving reunited parents and children who had been separated by the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy.

Rafael Garcia, S.J., associate pastor at Sacred Heart, the Jesuit parish in El Paso, with Conan Rainwater, S.J., Matt Cortese, S.J., and Matthew Baugh, S.J.

Conan Rainwater, S.J. (Jesuits Midwest Province), who served as temporary shelter director, coordinating volunteer shifts and meal groups, among other logistics, was joined by Matthew Baugh, S.J. (Jesuits Central and Southern Province) and Matt Cortese, S.J. (Jesuits Northeast Province).

They joined an extensive network of volunteers tasked with providing food, shelter, and basic material needs, in addition to helping families connect with family members in the U.S., coordinating travel plans, and providing transportation and accompaniment into the airport or bus station for families who were dropped off unannounced through the day and nighttime hours.

A reunified father and his nine-year-old daughter at Nazareth Shelter. The two were separated for 2 months, during which time she had a birthday. While in detention, he painted a birthday card for her. He gave her the painting on the day of reunification.

“Rather than coming in [to shelters] all at one time in a bus or two, as is the typical case for parents and minor children who are processed and released with ankle bracelets on the parents, the families came in small numbers in vans throughout the day and night,” shared Rafael Garcia, S.J., who serves migrant and refugee persons and is Associate Pastor at Sacred Heart, a Jesuit parish in El Paso, which is a member of the Campaign for Hospitality.

“This created chaos and stress for volunteers who don’t have information to plan in advance for the number of meals or volunteers needed at any given time. Conan, Matthew, and Matt were an invaluable support at Nazareth Shelter during this critical time.”

BY ISN STAFF | August 22, 2018

Throughout the upcoming year, Jesuit parishes across the U.S. are participating in a host of actions in support of immigrants and refugees in the U.S.

These efforts were, in part, an outcome of the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s 2018 Jesuit Parish Justice Summit, and of continued networking between Jesuit parishes following the Summit. Actions center around immigration detention center vigils and pilgrimages, an idea initially proposed at the Summit by Vince Herberholt, a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Seattle.

St. Joseph will gather with parishioners from St. Leo, a Jesuit parish in Tacoma, Washington, on August 25 for a Mass and pilgrimage to Northwest Detention Center in Washington, where 1,600 individuals are presently incarcerated.

St. Joseph Parish has also drafted an immigration statement for sign-on by parishioners and has begun hosting immigration forums, including featured speaker U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) discussing detention center legislation. The parish is working to increase advocacy efforts around this issue.

Vince Herberholt, a parishioner at St. Joseph, a Jesuit parish in Seattle, speaks with fellow attendees at the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s 2018 Jesuit Parish Justice Summit.

As a part of a coordinated effort amongst Jesuit parishes following the Summit, a number of additional faith communities are planning a variety of events—in the form of a vigil, Mass, pilgrimage, parish education effort, or prayerful solidarity with other parish efforts across the country—in support of those held in immigration detention.

St. Ignatius San Francisco, St. Ignatius Sacramento, and Most Holy Trinity in San Jose are planning a pilgrimage and Mass at a detention center in their area. St. Ignatius in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts is planning a pilgrimage and Mass at Suffolk County Jail and Detention Center near Boston.  

Later this fall, Holy Trinity in Washington, D.C. and St. Ignatius in Baltimore, MD are planning a pilgrimage and Mass at the Broward County Jail in Maryland.

Joined by the Undocumented Student Center at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, NJ and local Sisters of Charity, St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius in New York, NY are also planning a pilgrimage and Mass at the Elizabeth, New Jersey Detention Center.

Church of St. Ignatius Loyola parishioners at the Families Belong Together Rally in New York City [Teresa Cariño via Twitter]

St. Francis Xavier in Missoula, MT is participating in prayer vigils at the immigration detention center in Missoula, as well as providing information and training sessions to parishioners and facilitating advocacy efforts directed towards their members of Congress.  

Standing in solidarity with undocumented newcomers and protesting the inhumane policies that split up families, St. Ignatius in Portland, OR joined an ecumenical gathering protesting at the Federal Detention Center at Sheridan, OR.

Other parishes are engaging the JustFaith Exploring Migration group model, including St. Ignatius in Sacramento, Bellarmine Chapel at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH, and St. Aloysius in Spokane, WA.

St. Ignatius in Portland, OR joined an ecumenical gathering protesting at the Federal Detention Center at Sheridan, OR—standing in solidarity with undocumented newcomers and protesting the inhumane policies that split up families.  

Parishes including St. Ignatius Portland, Bellarmine Chapel in Cincinnati, OH, and Church of the Gesu in University Heights, OH, are considering additional actions later in the year.

Chris Weekly, S.J. (Jesuits West), Caroline Earnest and Tyler Wagner from St. Ignatius in Portland, OR, and Dan Corrou, S.J. and Kevin Tuerff from St. Francis Xavier in New York City discuss collaboration at the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s 2018 Jesuit Parish Justice Summit.

“The powerful connections formed at the Jesuit Parish Justice Summit this summer have created a stronger network for coordinating efforts in support of the most vulnerable in our country,” shares Kim Miller, ISN program director and Summit facilitator. “These efforts to stand with immigrants and refugees is the first step in deepening justice-centered collaboration between Jesuit parishes.”

For more information about these events or for media inquiries, please contact Ignatian Solidarity Network communications director, Kelly Swan.

BY KIM MILLER | June 12, 2018

“The work that we’re doing, even if we don’t see it every day, we see it in specific moments.”

Hicham Khanafer is project manager for Le Centre social d’aide aux Immigrants (CSAI), a refugee resettlement agency in Montreal, Canada. His sentiment was a common thread throughout the Canadian Migration Immersion Experience, which gathered 10 partners in Jesuit mission from May 22-25.

The immersion—co-organized by Norbert Piche of Jesuit Refugee Service/Canada and the Ignatian Solidarity Network—examined the Canadian approach to welcoming refugee claimants—a term equivalent in the U.S. to refugee or asylum seeker. Participants brought a broad understanding of refugee issues, representing organizations including Jesuit Refugee Service in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico; Migration and Refugee Services; Creighton University; and the Jesuits of Canada and the United States.

Outside Le Pont, a residence and place of refuge in Montreal for up to 30 refugee claimants on any given day.
(top) Kim Miller (Ignatian Solidarity Network), Joan Rosenhauer (executive director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA), Eduardo Soto Parra, S.J. (Quixote House, Winnipeg), Laura Heinemann (Creighton University), Ken Gavin, S.J. (Brooklyn Jesuit Community; former executive director, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
(bottom) Ashley Feasley (USCCB Migration and Refugee Services), Ambroise Dorino Gabriel, S.J. (Jesuits in Haiti), Andrea Villaseñor (project director, Jesuit Refugee Service/Mexico)

The experience covered policies both promising and problematic.

Canada’s private sponsorship refugee program allows any group of five or more people or an organization to sponsor a refugee to resettle in their local community. As sponsors, they assist with housing, clothing, food, and social and emotional support for the length of the resettlement process—although the bonds forged last much longer.

The group had the chance to meet with Larissa*, a refugee from Syria, and Michael, who through collaboration with JRS/Canada was able to sponsor her resettlement. Their mutual respect for one another radiated throughout the conversation as they talked about Larissa’s first months in Canada, diving into learning French and securing a new job.

Larissa spoke candidly with the group, noting that she still has a great love for Syria and her family there, and at times questions her decision to move. But, in her words: “When you make the decision to move countries, you make the decision to change your life.” Larissa takes this determined spirit wherever she goes; during the war in Syria, she started working for Jesuit Refugee Service/Syria, which is how she eventually connected with JRS/Canada and Michael. “Even in a war which I could not control,” she explained, “I realized I could make a difference.”

Michael, who described his local community as very conservative, was inspired to take part in the private sponsorship process after watching the news and then hearing a presentation on private sponsorship organized by his local diocese. He noted that when his parish first heard the presentation “nobody was interested, period. Now I think they would think twice, having seen Larissa come to Mass, having had the opportunity to have dinner with Larissa.” It is in these specific moments, when combined, that the tides are turning in Canada.

Another notable difference between Canada and the United States is its approach to refugee claimants or asylum seekers. In the last year, Canada has seen a spike in claimants crossing the U.S. – Canada border at an unofficial border crossing called Roxham Road, two hours south of Montreal and just north of Champlain in upstate New York.

The Roxham Road unofficial U.S.-Canada border entry point.

The reasons for refugee claimants fleeing the United States for Canada was a topic of interest in itself—some reasons include the cancellation of TPS for Haitians and Salvadorans and an increasingly dangerous political climate—but the reason for that specific location for crossing is tied to Canada and the United State’s Third Safe Country Agreement (TSCA). Through this agreement, if an asylum seeker enters Canada from the United States through an official border crossing, Canada has the right to turn them away. The United States is now seeking to establish this agreement with Mexico, allowing it to turn away all asylum seekers who present themselves at official border points between Mexico and the United States.

TSCA does not apply to individuals who cross at unofficial entry points like Roxham Road, which until a year ago was simply a break in a paved road between two small New York and Quebec communities. The entry point is now guarded 24/7 by Canadian Mounted Police and marked by a fence and a security processing facility. Once claimants enter Canada through this crossing, their identities are verified and they are sent to a temporary housing unit a few miles away while their initial screening takes place.

Temporary housing units for recent refugee claimants, who spend just days here before moving on to housing through agencies like the YMCA.

Refugee claimants in Canada are guaranteed housing for 30 days through agencies like the YMCA, as well as healthcare and the right to work for the duration their claim is being processed.

Contrast this to the process in the United States, where asylum seekers receive no such rights, and on average, are kept in limbo for an average of 1,000 days while their case is processed. In many cases, asylum seekers—including children and families—have been held in immigration detention centers for some or all of this time. (American Immigration Council).

Alessandra Santopadre and Andrea Villaseñor at Le Pont.

It is in examining Canada’s approach to refugee claimants that we first encountered Alessandra Santopadre, founder of Le Pont, a residence and place of refuge for up to 30 claimants on any given day. Bolstered by Pope Francis’s declaration that empty convents should be used to house refugees, Alessandra went straight to the Canadian Bishops, declaring over and over again, “I want a place.”

Immersion participants during a refugee simulation developed by JRS/Canada. In small groups, participants were assigned identities of individual refugees and were lead through decisions amongst the group on what should be gathered when fleeing home, who would be able to apply for asylum in another country, and who would be forced to stay in refugee camps or live as urban refugees.

Her fierce determination paid off; in May of 2017, the diocese of Montreal offered to pay the rent for an unused rectory and for the staff’s salaries. By October, Le Pont, which means the bridge, opened its doors. Arthur Drieux, Le Pont house manager, and Alessandra continually stressed that Le Pont is a home, not a shelter. While the YMCA strives to provide the best housing they can, Drieux described it as “cold, sad, and dark.”

During their time at Le Pont, residents receive support in finding work, an apartment, and connecting with the best tools and references to settle into their life in Quebec. But in the moments not filled with paperwork, it mainly serves as a place to “exhale” in the midst of chaos.

It is clear that not everyone in Canada supports welcoming refugees, evidenced by the anti-immigration protests happening at the border while the immersion was taking place. But this has not stopped individuals and organizations from continually inviting long-time and newly resettled community members into reflection, dialogue, and—most importantly—encounter.

During one of the final evenings of the immersion, the group gathered for a dinner with 50+ parishioners from parishes around the diocese that have participated in the private sponsorship program. The dinner opened with a welcome from two women who had prepared an exquisite meal of traditional Syrian foods. These women are members of the newly formed Les Filles Fattoush catering company, which is comprised of 20 women who are fantastic cooks and are newly resettled from Syria. The company’s goal is not only to provide good food but to encounter people in their community through the sharing of food and culture.

Dinner served by Les Filles Fattoush.

While the immersion highlighted policy ideas and approaches for the United States consider, in the end, it illuminated the call to encounter. In working with government-assisted refugees, Khanafer noted that one of the biggest challenges in the resettlement process is an intense feeling of isolation. “You don’t necessarily know anyone in those first days,” he explained. It is through encounters and continued dialogue that a new country can begin to feel like a new home. In ending his conversation with the group, Khanafer relayed one of those specific moments when he felt CSAI had been successful.

Hicham Khanafer, project manager for Le Centre social d’aide aux Immigrants (CSAI), a refugee resettlement agency in Montreal.

Through his organization, Khanafer gathered 100 young adults—a mix of longtime and newly resettled residents, including students and politicians—for an open dialogue where refugees could openly share their experiences of resettlement and the challenges of the process. When everyone around the room shared where they were from, he noticed that everyone was listing off provinces like Manitoba and Québec. When he asked one of the young refugees about why they decided to share which Canadian province they had been resettled in, the answer was simple: “We’re from here now.” Later that night, as the young adults spilled into the streets to return to their homes, a young man who had recently been resettled let out joyful cries of “CA-NA-DA! CA-NA-DA!” Canada was home now.

These are the specific moments that remind us of the power of welcome. Of encounter. Of remembering that we are all children of God, called to walk together toward a more hospitable world.

*Name has been changed to protect the individual’s privacy.

May 31, 2018

Individuals from the Jesuit network engaged in ministry, service, education, and research related to the situations of migrants and refugees in the U.S. and Canada gathered in Washington, D.C. last week for a sub-region meeting of the Jesuit Migration Network of Central and North America. Representing more than fifteen Jesuit and partner institutions, the group of staff and faculty met at Georgetown University Law School for a full day of sharing, networking, and brainstorming. The following day, a number of the participants met with U.S. Senate and House offices on Capitol Hill to share perspectives from the network on concerns including root causes of migration, the separation of children from parents as families seek asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the situation of DACA recipients.

Fr. Rafael Garcia, S.J. (Sacred Heart Parish – El Paso, TX), Christopher Kerr (Ignatian Solidarity Network), Amy Ketner (Saint Mary’s Student Parish – Ann Arbor, MI), and Mike Allison, Ph.D. (The University of Scranton – Scranton, PA) at U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)’s office on Capitol Hill.

The meeting, organized by the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology and the Ignatian Solidarity Network, had three goals: to create space for reflection on the migration realities of the region and beyond; to better understand the ways the Jesuit network is responding to these realities; and to identify ways that U.S. and Canadian institutions can collaborate to support the response taking place in the U.S. and Canada as well as in Mexico and Central America.

The gathering of U.S. and Canadian representatives was part of the broader efforts of the Jesuit Migration Network of Central America and North America (RJM-CANA), which promotes collaboration among Jesuit works in Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada, committed to migrants, displaced people, refugees and their families.

Organizations and institutions represented at the DC meeting included: Gesu Parish (Detroit, MI), Holy Trinity Parish (Washington, DC), Ignatian Solidarity Network, Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology Jesuit Refugee Service Canada, Jesuit Refugee Service USA, Jesuit Schools Network, Jesuit Social Research Institute, Kino Border Initiative Loyola University Chicago, Marquette University, Sacred Heart Parish (El Paso, TX), St. Mary’s Student Parish (Ann Arbor, MI), and The University of Scranton.

U.S. and Canadian delegates participate in the yearly RJM-CANA meeting, which will occur again this October in El Salvador.

Jesuit Migration Network meeting attendees

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on the Ignatian Solidarity Network site on May 22, 2018.