Vallombrosa 300x100 12.2017

Parishes meet to form pastoral response to immigrant fears

new 02 immigrantLorena Melgarejo, parish organizer for the archdiocesan Office of Human Life and Dignity, speaks Feb. 9 at the archdiocesan Pastoral Center in San Francisco during a clergy gathering on outreach to immigrants. (Photo by Valerie Schmalz/Catholic San Francisco)

February 23, 2017
Christina Gray

Pastors and deacons representing parishes in all three counties of the Archdiocese of San Francisco gathered Feb. 9 to voice outrage over President Donald Trump’s sweeping actions and “divisive” language on immigration, saying immigrant families are confused and fearful of imminent deportation.

The archdiocese’s Office of Human Life and Dignity organized the meeting at the chancery in San Francisco following a Jan. 27 letter sent by Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone to priests and deacons. The archbishop urged parishes to assure immigrant families that the church “will work arduously to protect them” and “to find ways to create a spirit of welcome and solidarity with immigrants in your respective communities.”

The meeting took place on the same day that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco refused to lift a temporary restraining order on the president’s order barring foreign nationals from Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days, and all refugees from Syria indefinitely. The court halted review of the matter Feb. 16, saying the government intends to issue a new executive order.

In a wide-ranging Feb. 16 news conference after announcing his pick for labor secretary, Trump talked about a “crackdown on sanctuary cities,” said a “nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens” had begun, and that he had ordered an end to the “catch and release policy” that allowed unauthorized immigrants caught by officials to go free while they await a hearing. He also announced the creation of “a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, of which there are many,” he said, according to Catholic News Service.

Many of the 50 or so participants that packed the room spoke passionately against the broadly worded order as well as President Trump’s campaign promises to immediately deport undocumented immigrants. Several noted the obvious emotional toll it has taken on immigrants both documented and undocumented within parishes.

Franciscan Father Franklin Fong, pastor of St. Boniface Parish in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, said that tension is thick in his parish where more than half of his parishioners are newly arrived Hispanic immigrants with young children. Like others, he felt said he felt helpless – and angry.

“I am just shocked at what we are trying to do as a nation,” said Father Fong, who believes “the Holy Spirit is presenting a silver platter to us. Ok, you say are Catholic? You say you follow Jesus Christ? What does that mean given the reality of the world today that none of us ever thought would exist?”

Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice said the goal of this first meeting to listen to each other and to put together a formal pastoral plan.

“The whole sense is that we are part of the body of Christ and because of that, those who walk with Jesus are our brothers and sisters,” he said.

Lorena Melgarejo, parish organizer for the archdiocese, said the “divisive” language of the Trump campaign and administration has turned “fear into panic” in immigrant families. She said that a source at San Francisco General Hospital told her that for every 10 medical appointments made for a member of an immigrant family, two show up. Children are living in terror that their parents will not be there when they get home from school.

“There is no minimizing the impact” and anxiety, said Father Ulysses D’Aquila of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Redwood City, adding that 50 percent of his parish is Hispanic. “I was very heartened by the letter from the archbishop.”

Father Daniel Nascimento, pastor of St. Anne Parish in San Francisco, said, “We’re a comfortable, middle-class church” without a large immigrant population “but we want to find ways we can stand with those in need.”

Guest speaker Adam Kruggel, organizing director of PICO California, a Sacramento faith-based community-organizing network, called the archdiocese’s turnout an “incredible sign of hope for the future.”

Kruggel projected a close-up image of President Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”

The order, signed two days before the travel ban, states that interior enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws “is critically important to the national security and public safety of the United States.” It states that “many aliens who illegally enter the United States and those who overstay or otherwise violate the terms of their visas present a significant threat to national security and public safety. This is particularly so for aliens who engage in criminal conduct in the United States.” It adds that sanctuary jurisdictions “willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States ... have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”

Kruggel highlighted a provision in the order that that those who “facilitate” the presence of an undocumented immigrant could also be in violation.

“As a Catholic, the way I interpret this is that you may be punished for practicing the Gospel,” he said. He characterized the climate as “desperate” for immigrants and their supporters, but said “things are changing every day” and “we are struggling to still interpret” the order.

The meeting ended with a promise for continuing meetings at the deanery level.

“Active leadership and engagement of laity and clergy is the only way in which the archdiocese would be able to truly stand in solidarity and embrace immigrant families,” Melgarejo said.

Austin, Texas, Bishop Joe Vasquez, who chairs the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, expressed a similar sentiment in a Feb. 10 statement commenting on the appellate court’s suspension of the travel ban.

“We respect the rule of law and the American judicial process,” he said in a media release. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to resettling refugees and all those fleeing persecution. At this time, we remain particularly dedicated to ensuring that affected refugee and immigrant families are not separated and that they continue to be welcomed to our country. We will continue to welcome the newcomer as it is a vital part of our Catholic faith and an enduring element of our American values and tradition.”

News media reported an immigration enforcement “sweep” in cities including Los Angeles last week. But in a Feb. 11 article, Reuters quoted a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official in Los Angeles as saying the actions were routine. He was quoted as saying false reports of checkpoints and random sweeps are “dangerous and irresponsible.”

In a series of tweets Feb. 15, ICE said reports of ICE checkpoints and sweeps or “roundups” are “false, dangerous and irresponsible. These reports create mass panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. ”

In fiscal year 2016, ICE conducted 240,255 removals nationwide, according to a Feb. 9 press release from the agency on the removal of a Dominican national wanted for murder. Ninety-two percent of individuals removed from the interior of the United States had previously been convicted of a criminal offense, the press release said.

The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward areas were home to 240,000 undocumented immigrants in 2014, according to a Feb. 9 Pew Research Center Report.

Faith in Action Bay Area will hold a training Feb. 23 from 7-9 p.m. at Dominic Church in San Francisco for people who want to be part of a rapid response network to witness, accompany and advocate for immigrants.

A special page, “Immigration: Welcoming the Stranger,” has been created on the Archdiocese of San Francisco website. It includes resources for and from parishes and a calendar of events. Visit sfarch.org/immigration.

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