Dialogue on immigration brings understanding
Many states are enacting or considering strict laws against those living in this country illegally.
To make clear the Catholic bishops’ position on immigration and to open conversations between faith communities in the New Orleans community, Catholic Relief Services, the Archdiocese of New Orleans’ Catholic Charities’ Office of Justice and Peace, the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University and St. Anthony of Padua Church joined forces Jan. 17 for a “Catholic Dialogue on Immigration” at St. Anthony.
Catholic Relief Services took the lead in facilitating the evening session and also trained facilitators to guide the different perspectives on immigration that might emerge at breakout sessions at each table.
“Our guiding belief is what is going to transform our world – that we are all part of the human family,” CRS’ education organizer Joe Hastings said. “Wherever we are, solidarity begins at home.”
Need reflection and action
Hastings said, too often, individuals watch others talk about major societal issues such as immigration but don’t get engaged in the conversation.
“We all play a role in it,” he said.
More than 80 people from a variety of economic, social and ethnic groups took part. Teachers, social workers, those in Spanish ministry, deacons, nuns, graduates of JustFaith in New Orleans and others shared experiences they’ve had with immigrants, their views on what’s at the heart of immigration and any areas of uncertainty and conflict they wanted to discuss.
“We know just how important a subject this is, and how it is impacting our city,” Dominican Father John Restrepo, pastor at St. Anthony of Padua, told the crowd. “We want to approach it with a spirit of understanding, openness, dialogue and love.”
He said St. Anthony is multi-cultural, and he wanted to give people a chance to hear each other’s opinions on immigration.
“This is the first step to understand one another, appreciate each other’s experiences, and it adds so much to the life of the church,” he said.
“I think it would be good to hear what people’s opinions are,” said Mary Helen Grabbe of Folsom, a JustFaith graduate who has worked for 14 years with the Latino population in the Glenmary Home Missions at a Catholic parish in north Mississippi. That parish became 60 percent Latino over 10 years.
She mentioned how she worked with youth and saw many drop out of school. She desires to see young Latinos have more opportunity to attend college.
Several at her table shared how they’ve met Latino arrivals in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina through home rebuilding. They noticed the quality and diligence of their work yet later learned they may have been deported because they were here illegally.
When they discussed why they think people come here illegally, responses of survival and improving lives came up.
“I don’t think we understand the difficulties of why people want to come to this country,” one said. “I don’t think people really want to leave their native county. I don’t think we grasp this.”
Some discussed the recent Dream Act before Congress, which offers a chance to allow conditional permanent residency to illegal aliens.
“I’d like to see it pass before I die,” said Maria Reyes, who attended the session with her husband Domingo.
Another participant said immigrants are people with families and responsibilities. “People come here for a better life,” she said. “Families are families wherever they are. Parents come here to the U.S. to feed their families.”
Social worker Harrell Weathersby of Amite, La., said immigrants are more than pieces of paper.
“They have real lives and have gifts to give us, especially the young people,” he said. “When you look at things only through the legal lens, you can only go so far. You try to win the political argument and don’t think about the individual human beings. It’s about justice.”
Attendees were given a copy of the pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” written by Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico. This letter outlines their position on immigration reform and includes global anti-poverty efforts, expanded opportunities to reunify families, a temporary worker program, broad-based legalization and restoration of due process and response to those seeking asylum fleeing from persecution.
“I’m excited to see the bishops in the U.S. and Mexico collaborate on something,” said Sidney Garmon, who is earning a master of social work degree at Tulane. “It’s a beautiful mirror of how we should respond to immigrants. We should understand what they experience when they are coming here.”
Unlock the secret
Matt DeBoer, a middle school religion and social studies teacher at the Good Shepherd Nativity Mission School, wondered out loud how Catholics could get the church’s social teachings out to a wider audience, knowing well that most people won’t take time to learn the church’s position on immigration.
“If we as a Catholic community could get together and say this is our issue, I don’t see how it could be defeated,” he told members at his table.
Opportunities to do more than discuss immigration were presented at the end of the evening and included receiving the Jesuit Social Research Institute newsletter, immigration advocacy alerts from Catholic Charities, helping organize another Catholic immigration dialogue in church parishes and being trained to facilitate a dialogue.
“Only through dialogue can we come to a better conclusion,” Garmon said. “By coming together, we all gave something and are empowered to share it with other people.”