The Social Action Department of the Pedro Arrupe Jesuit Institute and its Commitment to Dreamers

In December 2016, the Pedro Arrupe Jesuit Institute (IJPA by its acronym in Spanish) held its annual meeting, headed by its Spiritual Director, Father Emilio Travieso, S.J.  During that meeting, a decision was made to support Dreamers, anticipating that their situation would deteriorate under the new administration which would assume power in January 2017. Since that time, the Social Action Department has been actively searching for ways to help this group of young men and women.

Who are the Dreamers? The Dreamers are about 700,000 young men and women who were brought to this country by their parents when they had no say on the decision.  Many of them arrived with tourists visas and remained permanently; others crossed the border.  They went to school here, they learned English and consider themselves Americans. Most of them do not remember their native country and many have forgotten their mother tongue.  They were unaware that they were undocumented until, upon their high school graduation, they found out they could not request economic aid; thus, many were prevented from going to college.

Why do we help undocumented people?  We follow Jesus’ and the Church’s teachings.  The Church’s Social Doctrine based on the Gospels and tradition is crystal clear on this subject.  It is not a problem of parties, it is a human problem. Immigrants do not leave their country because they want to, but because they have no choice.  Some of us Cubans left our country for political reasons; others flee from extreme poverty; others from violence that threatens their lives and those of their children and loved ones.  Today we are seeing the exodus of Venezuelans running away from violence, lack of freedom and hunger, escaping from a chaotic situation.  Many request asylum, most are rejected.

Matthew’s Gospel clearly states that at the end of our lives we will be judged by how we treated the needy and mentions among them, the immigrant: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the word. Because I … was a stranger and you welcomed me…’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you …a stranger and welcome you?’  And the king will say to them in reply: ‘Truly, I tell you whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” (Mt. 25, 34-40)  In his Encyclical Pacem in Terris(1963), St. John XXIII tells us: “And among man’s personal rights we must include his right to enter a country in which he hopes to be able to provide more fittingly for himself and his dependents. It is therefore the duty of State officials to accept such immigrants”(PT 108). Unfortunately, immigration laws in this country have been broken for many years and congress has not been able to fix them; therefore, thousands of immigrants suffer the consequences today.  Pope Paul VI also speaks about helping the immigrant in his Octagesima adveniensApostolic Letter (1971) indicating that it is everyone’s obligation, especially that of Christians, to welcome and help all those that “to find work, or to escape a disaster or a hostile climate, leave their regions and find themselves without roots among other people” (OA17).

 

 

What have we been doing?Even though our priority is still the Dreamers, it was hard to connect with them at the beginning. We prepared, together with the Research Department, a survey to see what their needs were and how IJPA could help them. The survey was a failure because the kids did not reply even though many of them were the children of the DREAMers’ Moms with which we had an established relationship since 2014. On February 17, 2017 we testified before the Miami-Dade County Commission in favor of a Sanctuary County, where undocumented persons arrested for minor violations such as driving without a license, are not reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  That day we met many people from different organizations, religions and countries, but all had the same desire, declare Miami-Dade a Sanctuary. Unfortunately, that initiative was not approved by the commissioners but we were able to create bonds of friendship and communication among all those present on that day.

From that encounter the “Circle of Protection” was born, where different groups gather every Wednesday in front of the ICE offices in Miramar, FL to protest the abuses committed there against immigrants.  That place is where immigrants who do not yet have permanent status in this country have to check-in periodically.  Normally, once inside, the process is brief; their documents are stamped and they are ordered to return in a year or in a few months. The wait outside is an abuse to human dignity.  People wait for hours on end in line in the open, sunny or raining, excessive cold or heat, without a place to sit, or take refuge from the weather, without even access to rest rooms.  No cell phones are allowed inside or any liquid containers, so mothers with babies have problems with their milk bottles.  There are handicapped people, breastfeeding mothers, some pregnant, it doesn’t matter; they have to wait their turn for hours and if time runs short, they are told to return the next day.  There are people there from many countries, mostly Hispanics, but also from Somalia, Jamaica, Romania and Haiti. There are also some Cubans who, in general, have been found guilty of some crime committed years ago, and have completed their sentences, but immigration law condemns them to spend the rest of their life without legal status in this country.  Some of these immigrants go into the ICE office and never come out; they are detained and sent to the Krome Detention Center to be deported. Others leave with an electronic ankle monitor.  The treatment is humiliating.

What started as a simple demonstration has become a morning of fellowship.  Now we distribute water, coffee, donuts, fruits, juices for the children and everything that volunteers can come up with.  Guards do not allow us to mix with the immigrants waiting in line, but they can come to us and there they find, in addition to some light refreshments, shade, chairs to rest for a while and someone to listen.  All those who approach us also receive information about immigration clinics, their rights, etc.  Their gratitude, in addition to the smile from the children when they get some candy, keeps us firm in our mission.

What else do we do?We have joined United We Dream in their fight for the Dreamers.  We have participated in protests before senators and representatives, visiting their offices and begging them to work in Congress to pass a law in favor of these young men and women.  We have also participated in demonstrations in Washington D.C. asking the same thing. The last one was held on March 5, 2018, date in which the six month term given to the legislators by President Trump to solve this problem expired.

We work together with Catholic Legal Services and Americans for Immigrant Justice serving as volunteers in immigration clinics, where immigrants receive orientation, totally free, by pro-bono immigration lawyers who evaluate each case in order to determine the possibility of obtaining a permit for the immigrant to stay in the country legally.  The sad stories we have witnessed can break your heart. Everyone should volunteer in one of these clinics to see the reality of so many of our undocumented brothers and sisters.

In the Ignatian Spirituality Center we have offered, jointly with the DREAMer’s Moms, “Know your Rights” workshops and conferences about immigration law, presented by lawyers specialized in the field.

What now? We continue fighting for the Dreamers and for all undocumented aliens.  Those who have Temporary Protected Status (TPS) are losing it; Haitians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and many others are trying to determine how they can legally remain in this country after many years living here, working and paying taxes, having had children that are US citizens.  They also need our help.

You can help too.  If you have a free Wednesday, come to be with us across from the ICE offices (2805 SW 145 Ave., Miramar, FL 33027) from 8:30 to 10:30 AM (another group Rise Up Florida, goes from 10:30 to 12:30).  You can also form your own group for another day of the week.  Volunteer at an immigration clinic, you only have to have good will and know how to write in English.  You can register by copying this address onto your browser: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScJZnuXqKBAYUO8EVvxLHJXk9QUqVX954MZBIa0M0hsDqazWQ/viewform

You can also write letters to your congressman/woman and to newspapers requesting just and humane laws.  Keep informed about what is happening with these problems.  Look for information in publications such as the National Catholic Reporter or America, both are Catholic publications that give the news just as it is in the light of the Gospel.  Pray for a change of heart from our government.

Keep in mind that as Christians we are called to help those most in need and at this time, immigrants need our support, understanding and love.  Ask yourself: What is the Lord asking me to do, what would Jesus do in my situation? Then go and do the same.

 

Silvia Muñoz

Director of Social Action

Pedro Arrupe Jesuit Institute

 

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