BY EILEEN MARKEY | January 31, 2017

I read the New York Times article on my phone as I walked back from parking the car. We’d been at a birthday party for an 8-year-old in New Jersey and now were back home in The Bronx, looking forward to a cozy evening. As I scrolled through the article that reported President Trump’s anti-immigrant and anti-refugee executive order had gone into effect and people were being detained at John F. Kennedy airport, I felt heavy with horror and despair. It’s a quiet-making feeling, despair.

Walking into the house, I found my six-year-old and 13-year-old sons wrestling happily in the living room. I walked upstairs and handed the phone to my husband. “It’s started. There are people being held at JFK,” I said. Already texts were flying between friends. Who was going?

The author’s children create posters before heading to John F. Kennedy airport to protest the immigration-related executive order.

These past few years, we’ve read about the Syrian refugees and migrants with our hearts burning, feeling helpless and impotent as a cruel world became crueler. It was to seek relief from this helplessness that in July my husband and I agreed to host a Syrian student who’d been admitted to a local Catholic college and needed a place to stay for the year. That’s been mostly easy. But the feeling Saturday afternoon was worse than seeing those pictures of the people in the boats. We know what they suffer and we were saying, as a nation: tough luck.”

I’ve never been under illusions about my country. I grew up going to protests against U.S. policy that funded death squads and assassination in Latin America. I observe Good Friday in Stations of the Cross that find Calvary in mass incarceration and U.S. torture. I live in a neighborhood where the effects of structural racism and an economy for the few are evident everywhere. But this was unmooring: a new regime holds power and is remaking American government at a dizzying speed. I didn’t want to cry in front of the kids, so I closed my eyes tight and drew in my breath.

We pulled out the markers and poster board. My older son took the Shepard Farley poster of a woman in an American flag hijab he’d saved from the Women’s March in D.C., and mounted it on a discarded piece of cardboard. We’d go to the airport. It seemed profane to stay home. But we went in horror and mourning.

I invited our house guest to come along, but he demurred. He’s no stranger to authoritarian governments and didn’t want to risk somehow being caught up in a sweep for people like him at the airport. It was quiet in the car as we drove to John F. Kennedy airport. I didn’t want to speak and risk poisoning my children with my despair. “There is a person in our home who is frightened, actually frightened, of our government,” I whispered to my husband. We looked straight ahead and put on a kiddie album, happy, sweet songs about camping and nature.

I’ve been in this airport dozens of times, picking up and flying off, glancing at the list of airlines with a New Yorker’s smug civic pride: the whole world is home here. But, no, the new president had now said with his executive order: Our fear is greater than our faith in even our own laws and immigration systems. It was cold out there in the parking lot of terminal 4. But as the crowd continued to grow, you could find warmth in the pack of bodies.  I know the rest of the country thinks New Yorkers are obnoxious. We kind of are. But we take great pride in this “city of immigrants” idea. Welcoming the stranger is a Venn diagram where who I am as a Catholic, an Irish person, and a New Yorker come together. And here were New Yorkers by the thousands, outraged and entitled and not taking it one bit. “How Dare You” seemed to be the overriding sentiment of the crowd.

We looked for friends for a little while then decided to stand near the fence separating the parking lot from the roadway. Television news vans set up their klieg lights, and more people kept coming. Young women in prayer shawls prepared to pray with the group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. Muslim private car service drivers (the cabbies were already striking) honked and cheered as they drove past. A Protestant minister let us hold the sign he’d made that quoted Exodus (for you were a stranger once). Looking up at the five-story parking garage, I noticed hundreds of people leaning over the railings, waving banners and chanting. The chants moved through the crowd like the wave at a baseball stadium: Let them in”; “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here”; “Tell me what democracy looks like”this one my younger son knew well. “This is what democracy looks like,” he responded, half a beat ahead of those around us, and heads pivoted to see this small citizen.

Build a wall, we’ll tear it down,” the crowd cried in danceable rhythm. Someone passed cough drops and someone else distributed hand warmers. Across the roadway, the median where travelers wait for taxis was filling too – with every manner of New Yorker. Someone passed pizza through the crowd and someone else asked to borrow my phone to text her mother. Friends texted that the AirTrain, the public transportation to the airport, was overflowing. We knew that inside the terminal and at a courthouse a few miles away, lawyers were using their training, their expertise in the Constitution, to apply the law to justice. This was only one of many, many fights large and small for what is right. But I was proud to be a New Yorker that night, crying welcome, still, beside the golden door. And we were here in the mass, loudly shouting our values. It was a mighty and a joyful and a noisy crowd. If despair is quiet making, cold and lonely-making, hope is loud and communal.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network Just Parenting series.

BY ISN STAFF January 30, 2017

Last week President Trump issued an executive order that banned indefinitely Syrian refugees from entering the U.S., suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, and blocked citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, refugees or otherwise, from entering the United States for 90 days: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

Community and faith leaders across the country have made public statements about these actions, expressing concerns for the dignified treatment of vulnerable populations and offering assurances of protection and respect for individuals who may be affected in some way. In particular, leaders expressed support for community members who are Muslim and were specifically targeted by the refugee and immigration announcements made on Friday.

Presidents of Jesuit colleges and universities were some of the many higher education leaders who spoke out in support of these communities with statements shared via e-mail and social media over the past few days.

Citing the executive order focused on Muslim-majority countries, Fr. Bill Leahy, S.J. and fellow administrators at Boston College, in a statement published on the college’s website, said “the order is also contrary to American understandings of this nation’s role as a refuge and its place as a society that does not discriminate on the basis of religion or national origin.” Fr. Leahy also said that Boston College is committed to ensuring that all community members feel “safe and valued.”

Jack DeGioia, Ph.D., president of Georgetown University, noted that the university places special emphasis on “interreligious dialogue” and an “openness to different faith traditions and cultures” in a statement published on the university website and shared via his university Facebook account. He also noted Georgetown’s desire to support a “diverse and vibrant Muslim community,” on the university campus.  Dr. DeGioia closed the statement with the following message: “In this moment of challenge and uncertainty, we have an ever more urgent responsibility to care for one another, to empathize with those in need, to dedicate our knowledge to service, and to place above all the betterment of humankind,” and challenged the community to be animated by the call to action.

“We find enrichment and strength in our diversity,” noted Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., president of Seattle University, in a statement made available on the university website. Citing the Jesuit mission of the university, he stated declaratively that the university “strongly opposes the discriminatory and misguided executive order issued by the Trump administration on non-U.S. citizens from select countries.”

Writing a message while attending a series of higher education network meetings in Washington, D.C., Fred Pestello, Ph.D., president of Saint Louis University, issued a statement in which he spoke decisively about those who could be impacted by the executive action, saying the university “will take every action within the law to protect all members of our community, including Muslim students and faculty” who are in the U.S. on visas.

Muslim female students at John Carroll University participate in a “Living the Mission” panel in March of 2014. [John Carroll University]

In a statement addressed to the John Carroll University community, Fr. Robert Niehoff, S.J., the school’s president, noted that the university stands with a number of higher education networks, including the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU), and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) in advocating for “sensible immigration policies that do not discriminate against our students, faculty, and staff, while still protecting national security.”

Citing the ideals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Rev. Brian F. Linnane, S.J., president of Loyola University Maryland affirmed in a statement “that diversity in the Loyola community includes individuals and their families who are refugees, immigrants, or not U.S. citizens.” He went on to further state that “because the seven nations included in the executive order are predominantly Muslim countries, I also want to assure those members of our community who are Muslim that they remain most welcome and valued members of our community.”

Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., president of Creighton University stated concern surrounding the diminishment of the strength of American universities’ research and education if the numbers of international students and faculty are sharply limited, and went on to affirm the commitment of the university, guided by Jesuit ideals, to “reach out in support of immigrants and refugees.”

As interim president at Fairfield University, Lynn Babington referenced in a statement then-President, Jeffrey P. von Arx S.J.’s December signature of both the statement in support of the retention of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), as well as the AJCU’s statement of ongoing support for undocumented immigrant students. Babington, with the rest of the administration at Fairfield, commits to “uphold and advocate for the rights of international students, faculty and staff to continue their education, research and other work.”

“Though we do not know the ultimate outcome of the president’s order (nor subsequent orders and legislation),” stated Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham University, “please be assured that Fordham University stands with the tens of thousands of refugees and would-be immigrants affected by these laws. We have a long history as a University of and for immigrants, in a city and a nation built by immigrants.”

Gonzaga University President Thayne M. McCulloh in a statement affirmed the university’s fundamental commitments, reflected in the Mission Statement, to “. . . (the) dignity of the human person, social justice, diversity, intercultural competence, global engagement, solidarity with the poor and vulnerable, and care for the planet,” particularly in relation to immigrant and “undocumented” students. 

In a statement, Linda LeMura, president of LeMoyne College affirmed the school’s commitment to immigrants and refugees, and suggested action to be taken, including: “Donate to or volunteer at local agencies such as Catholic Charities and Interfaith Works, which support the resettlement of refugees to Syracuse; donate to the ACLU; and attend campus lectures and programs coordinated by the Muslim Student Association, Multicultural Affairs, and faculty on topics of inclusion.”

“Members of our LMU family are persons for and with others; affiliating them with terrorists violates their dignity, along with what has made and continues to make America great,” stated Loyola Marymount University President Timothy Law Snyder.

Loyola University Chicago President Jo Ann Rooney issued the following words to the university community, responding to the fear and uncertainty expressed by many: “I want you to know that the University continues to advocate on a multitude of fronts, including local, regional, and national levels. Our focus is on ensuring the protection and dignity of all of the members of our community and society. For those feeling frightened or vulnerable in light of recent events, I hope to offer some solace as you do not stand alone in facing the future. Loyola University Chicago stands with you in solidarity and with moral clarity. We will never stop advocating to fashion a peaceful and just society that our faith calls us to build.”

Kevin Wm. Wildes, S.J., president of Loyola University New Orleans in a statement offered affirmation of Jesuit, Catholic values in relation to acceptance of refugees, and offered words of prayer: “Give comfort to the more than 30,000 people worldwide who are forcibly displaced from their homes every day because of violence that is an affront to you. And heal the wounds of national, racial, and religious division so that we may always choose compassion over fear, hospitality over indifference, and human dignity over political expedience.”

“We are steadfast in our commitment to serve all as a welcoming learning community that is open to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives and national origins,” stated Marquette University President Michael R. Lovell. “Let’s remember the larger American story. We are a nation of immigrants.”

In statement from Rockhurst University President Rev. Thomas B Curran, S.J., the words of Pope Francis were quoted in relation to U.S. Immigration Policy: “Remember that authentic hospitality is a profound gospel value that nurtures love and is our greatest security against hateful acts of terrorism.”

In a statement emailed to the university community, Saint Peter’s University President Dr. Eugene Cornacchia stated the following: “We are a nation of immigrants. My father was an immigrant. I am the grandson of immigrants. My mother-in-law was an immigrant. In my time teaching at Saint Peter’s University I have taught students from a wide variety of faith traditions and nationalities. They have greatly enriched the classroom experience for everyone and have also contributed to a richer social and cultural environment on campus, and in our nation and world. I am a better teacher, administrator, father and grandfather – a better human being – because I have come to know people of many different backgrounds.”

“This executive order lies in sharp contrast to our mission to care for the most marginalized among us, and to cultivate the cross-cultural understanding that is necessary to address the tremendous problems facing our divided world,” explained Fr. Michael E. Engh, S.J., president of Santa Clara University. “The actions of the White House have caused fear and anxiety among many of our international students, and we are committed to caring for them so they may continue their studies and pursue their dreams.”

Donald Heller, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at the University of San Francisco, strongly asserted in a statement to the campus community: “You are not alone. Yet the uncertainty of what lies ahead makes us all anxious and fearful. We are fortunate at USF and in the city of San Francisco that resources are available to assist, advise, and counsel. Neither is USF alone. We have joined with Jesuit institutions and academic associations nationally and internationally to build strength and advocacy.”

A statement from University of Scranton President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J. affirmed Jesuit and Catholic solidarity with immigrants and refugees, and asserted that “welcoming neighbors from distant shores aligns with our American ideals and is a bedrock of our history in Northeastern Pennsylvania as well.”

“Xavier prepares students for a world that is increasingly diverse, complex and interdependent,” stated Xavier University President Fr. Mike Graham, S.J.  “Furthermore, our Jesuit tradition compels us to be people for and with others. Driven by these commitments, I want to be clear that Xavier will remain steadfastly committed to being a diverse and inclusive community. All are welcome here regardless of faith, national origin or immigration status.”

These statements by Jesuit college and university leaders come less than two months after twenty-seven Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities presidents signed a statement in support of undocumented students and called for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to be sustained in some capacity. Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump suggested that he would end the DACA program but has not yet issued an executive order to do so. Congressional leaders have initiated a legislative response known as the BRIDGE Act which would sustain the opportunities for undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children, offering benefits similar to those currently received by DACA recipients. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and Ignatian Solidarity Network have all publicly supported the passage of the BRIDGE Act if President Trump does take action to eliminate DACA.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network News From the Network series.

BY FR. RAFAEL GARCIA, S.J. | January 26, 2017

Sacred Heart Parish in El Paso, TX, because of its location and founding mission to serve impoverished immigrant persons, has long had an outward focus on social ministry.

The parish, founded in 1893, has supported initiatives to address the long list of challenges faced by the community: struggling public education, irresponsibly maintained rental housing, unemployment and low wages, vulnerability of the youth and elderly, violence in various forms, and irregular immigration status.

Situated just blocks from the U.S.-Mexico border, the parish is witness to about 120 migrants and refugees–families with minor children–arriving daily from Central America’s northern triangle. They are processed at the border, “paroled”, adults fitted with an ankle bracelet, and then permitted to travel to stay with family members or friends. Upon arrival, they are required to report to the nearest ICE office and continue the immigration process (often seeking asylum). Most families and individuals stay in El Paso for only a day or two, but the need is great during that time.

A great effort by churches and individuals provides shelter, food, and help with connection and transportation to family and friends in other parts of the U.S. It is an amazing effort, renewing the diocese and greater community. Women religious from other cities and college students on ‘break’ come to assist.

This migration is rooted in a significant human crisis. Violence in Central America is perpetuated by gangs, drug traffickers, etc. who are outside of government control. They extort, threaten, kidnap and kill individuals and families, with the hope of obtaining their servitude, driving people from their homes.

Mass for men at a US Customs and Border Patrol detention center

Despite the parole process, hundreds are detained in the city at a large facility where Jesuit Refugee Service provides staffing for the chaplaincy program. I am one of the volunteer priests who celebrates Mass and hears confessions at the immigration detention center, and will soon have clearance to provide other religious services at Southwest Key, a network of three immigration residential detention facilities for undocumented, unaccompanied minors. Pope Francis calls us all to go to the margins. The margins and the marginalized look differently throughout the world, and here in El Paso, the Jesuit community makes great efforts to follow this call.

Mass for women at a US Customs and Border Patrol detention center

Earlier in January, more than 650 El Paso residents gathered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral for an interreligious prayer service for the undocumented and migrant community of El Paso, presided by Bishop Mark Seitz and organized by the Hope Border Institute. Two families from Sacred Heart Parish participated, including Efren Loya, an 18 year old senior at a local high school and part time parish employee who came to the U.S. at age six from Cuidad Juarez, El Paso’s neighboring city. As a DACA recipient, Efren was motivated by his experience at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice in 2016, as well as the present uncertainty and fear of many, to speak out about his experience as an immigrant student. Efren hopes to become a pediatrician serving immigrant children, as he has experienced how difficult it is to attain affordable medical care. He is applying to several universities but the cloud of uncertainty gets thickens as questions arise about the future of the DACA program.

Rosa and Rosa Chavez, Fr. Rafael Garcia, and Efren Loya after January interfaith prayer service

The mission of Sacred Heart Church and its strategic location continue to give it relevance, especially when there is an increase in immigrant scapegoating, making them the lightning rod for complex problems in our nation. The mission of the Jesuits in El Paso is an ongoing response to the call of Pope Francis and the Society of Jesus to attend to the migrant, refugee and those on the margins.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network Voices for Justice blog series.

BY KELLY SWAN | January 20, 2017

On the evening of January 19, parishioners gathered at the doors of St. Agnes Church in San Francisco invoking a blessing and making a bold commitment to serve as a sanctuary church for the community.

Give us the courage to open these doors and the doors of our hearts to all who knock and seek refuge.

St. Agnes is the first U.S. Jesuit parish to publicly declare itself a sanctuary church for immigrants who may be impacted by policy changes anticipated under the new presidential administration. Putting faith put into action is not something new for them.

The parish is home to the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center, designed to draw individuals into an authentic relationship with God while exploring the call to live out this relationship in the world.

Parishioners blessing church doors at “Prayers of Light” vigil on January 19

After the November 2016 election, a parishioner who, as a religious sister, was deeply engaged in the sanctuary movement of the 1980s approached parish staff and pastor Fr. Ray Allender, SJ, urging discussion of how St. Agnes might draw from those models of sanctuary to similarly uphold the dignity of immigrants in the current global and U.S. climate.

Parishioners, joined by Fr. Allender and Natalie Terry, Director of the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center, understood the necessity of exploring the new sanctuary movement. “We need to do this,” explains Terry, “to be faithful citizens and good members of our community.”

Public sign welcoming immigrants and refugees at the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center

The decision to declare St. Agnes and the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center a sanctuary was ultimately made by the parish ministry team. “We already call the space in which we gather to break bread a sanctuary,” shares Terry, of the support of the parish. “We are not doing anything radical. We are simply doing the work of being members of a community, as a Catholic church.”

A statement released in anticipation of the vigil on Thursday outlines specific ways in which sanctuary will manifest in the parish community. Involvement will be varied and comprehensive, including: engagement with the San Francisco Rapid Response Network to respond and be present during ICE raids in homes or workplaces, formation of an Accompaniment Team to support families affected by raids, offering the Ignatian Spiritual Life Center as a safe meeting space for organizers and a refuge for families or individuals facing deportation, and listening and responding to and communally praying for immigrant brothers and sisters.

“We state clearly that there are no illegal people…” reads the sanctuary statement. “There are undocumented people and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity just like any person in our community.”

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published as part of the Ignatian Solidarity Network News From the Network series.