Mary Kate Durnan knows what it’s like to worry about paperwork and immigration status.
The Temple University junior, who is majoring in genetics and computer science, was born thousands of miles from the Bucks County community she now calls home.
“I’m also an immigrant,” she said. “I came here from China. I was adopted as a baby.”
Durnan, a member of St. Andrew Parish in Newtown, said that she agonized over her college applications since “it’s very easy to miss tiny loopholes, and with those loopholes, you can get in a lot of trouble.”
Drawing on her faith and her own experience, Durnan hopes to help those who are facing immigration detention and deportation. On July 27, she joined some 200 area parishioners, clergy and interested community members for a three-hour training session on how to accompany, or broadly support, migrants and refugees.
Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the session was coordinated by Auxiliary Bishop Edward Deliman, who oversees the archdiocesan Office for Hispanic Catholics, and Mary Laver, Catholic community organizer for POWER Interfaith and a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Philadelphia.
In addition to Laver and Bishop Deliman, speakers included Joseph Fleming, director of Catholic organizing for Faith in Action; Nanci Palacios of Faith in Florida; and Maria Turcios of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia.
Amy Stoner of archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) also addressed the audience at the standing-room-only gathering, which took place at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.
Stoner, who directs CSS’s community-based and housing and homeless service divisions, was joined by Sister of St. Joseph Eileen McNally in describing their recent refugee resettlement work. As part of an arrangement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), CSS has resettled 84 individuals in the Philadelphia area over the past two and a half years.
Stoner described the effort as “a means to bring Catholics of good will, in particular our religious sisters that are already very involved in resettlement ministry,” together in a shared outreach.
(Related: Watch a video featuring Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Deliman on Catholic teaching regarding migrants and refugees.)
She noted that CSS intends to work closely with those attending the July 27 event, which was designed to brief attendees on current immigration statistics and legal developments, while outlining a Catholic response to the immigration crisis based on Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Catholic social teaching.
In particular, the session focused on creating parish-based teams to accompany immigrants to court and to check-in appointments with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In Philadelphia, such proceedings generally take place at ICE’s regional office or at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, both of which are located in the city’s downtown section, as well as at Philadelphia’s Traffic Court and Family Court.
Groups from some 30 parishes were in attendance, including St. Andrew in Newtown, as well as the Philadelphia-based parishes Visitation B.V.M., Old St. Joseph’s, Our Mother of Consolation, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Raymond of Penafort, St. Vincent de Paul, St. William and Holy Innocents.
Members of the Villanova University community were also in the audience, as were congregants from the Germantown Jewish Center, whom Laver thanked for attending during their Shabbat, or Sabbath.
The presentation blended facts and faith reflections, punctuated by short breakout sessions during which participants discussed their reactions to the immigration crisis along with specific ways in which they could assist those in danger of detention and deportation.
Fleming, who participated in the July 18 Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children, observed that “children are still being taken from the border, despite announcements to the contrary” and that “families are still being held in detention at the border longer than the law allows.”
According to media reports, 24 immigrants, including seven children, have died in U.S. custody during the Trump Administration.
The heated rhetoric surrounding immigration debate has also led to the arrest and detention of U.S. citizens of Hispanic descent.
Francisco Galicia, a Dallas-born 18-year-old, was detained for 23 days by border officials, despite presenting his Texas-issued identification, Social Security card and birth certificate at a checkpoint. Released on July 23, Galicia lost 26 pounds and was not permitted to shower during his detention.
An investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that between 2012 and 2018 “ICE [had] released more than 1,480 people after investigating their citizenship claims,” adding that ICE “agents repeatedly target U.S. citizens for deportation by mistake.”
Fleming identified racism as a key factor in such instances, and in anti-immigrant policy and polemic.
His grandparents and their fellow Irish immigrants had once been deemed “dirty, lazy and undesirable” upon their arrival in the U.S., Fleming said, but due to “a strange and perverse alchemy of race in America,” they eventually came to be “part of the in crowd … through their whiteness.”
Fleming added that the current immigration crisis is proof that “we have not gotten through to a place of racial healing and really being able to see one another with … humanity and dignity.”
Doing just that it is essential to the accompaniment process, said Laver.
Throughout her remarks, Laver stressed the need to respect individuals facing immigration action, avoiding judgments regarding history, appearance or situation – and steering clear of adopting a “savior stance.”
The accompaniment ministry benefits those who stand in solidarity, as well as those with whom they stand, said Laver, emphasizing the importance of prayer and group reflection meetings for participants.
Laver also clarified that the parish-based accompaniment teams were not expected to serve as social workers, job counselors, language tutors or lawyers.
At the same time, several attorneys drew applause at the session for volunteering to provide pro bono legal representation at immigration hearings.
“A court proceeding can be an unfamiliar and scary place for anybody, especially for people facing possible deportation,” said Matthew Hindley, a civil litigator who works for a regional firm based in Delaware. “You could go to a public organization, but they’re understaffed and overworked.”
Attorney Denise Saporito, a parishioner at Old St. Joseph’s, said that the cost of such representation averages “at least $5,000 for a proceeding,” a figure well out of reach for immigrants who subsist on minimal wages.
The financial burden compounds what is already a frightening and uncertain prospect, Palacios said.
“You can imagine that in that moment, when you get your announcement to go in for your ICE check-in, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “And so it’s really important not to be alone.”
Speaking in Spanish through an English interpreter, Turcios – a Honduran native and coordinator of family ministry at Visitation BVM Parish — was visibly moved as she shared that in the past 18 months alone, New Sanctuary Movement has accompanied 300 people to ICE proceedings.
A follow-up session for the July 27 event has been scheduled for Sept. 7 at an as-yet undetermined location.
Many participants said they welcomed the opportunity to provide practical, prayerful assistance to area immigrants.
“We have so much, and I feel like it’s a moral and ethical obligation to help these people,” said Saporito. “It is the Gospel; it is the way we’re supposed to live, if we’re Christians and Catholics. It’s a sacrament to help people.”
Jimmy White of Villanova said there is “a gift in being present to someone else” through accompaniment.
“For someone else who doesn’t have that brother in community, that sister in community, who’s in fear and trial, to be with them in that moment is really sacred,” said White, now in formation with the Augustinian Friars of St. Thomas of Villanova. “And if we can at least offer that kind of support and that hand to extend, that’s holding up the kingdom of God.”
For more information about the Ministry of Accompaniment, contact Mary Laver at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about Catholic Social Services’ Refugee Resettlement Program, visit http://welcometherefugee.org/
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