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Recognizing the Plight of the Undocumented
Western Dominicans Host Forum On Immigration Issues


Western ProvinceBERKLEY, CA -- March 21, 2009 --Dominican sisters, priests, laity, and other religious attended a forum on immigration at St. Mary Magdalen Parish Hall, the second in a series highlighting justice issues being collaboratively produced by the Western Dominican Justice Promoters.

The day began with a moving presentation by a family with ties to Mexico, as well as testimonies from immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador.  Here is Yvette’s story:  Sixteen-year-old Yvette, an American citizen, flanked by her five U.S.-born siblings and undocumented mother related the events of a terrifying night in their home last December that was the beginning of months of worry and anxiety.  Yvette was awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of loud, heavy boots pounding the floors of their home.  When she went to investigate she found her mother collapsed in tears; Yvette’s father had been arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and her mother was told to report to San Francisco ICE office the following day.  Yvette’s father was quickly deported because he had reentered after a previous deportation.  Her mother was placed in Removal Proceedings (i.e. deportation). 

The story was a poignant lesson that spoke clearly to the inhumanity of the raids and to the fragility of family unity in these mixed-status situations.  Even after twenty years in the U.S. and with six U.S.-born children, an immigrant who has not completed a legalization process faces the disruption of the family, separation and instability.  The children certainly have the right to live without fear.  The outcome of this case is still to be determined and the family needs our prayers.

Colin Rajah
Colin Rajah

The first featured speaker of the day was Colin Rajah, Program Director for International Migrant Rights and Global Justice at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. Mr. Rajah reminded us that Global economic policies, particularly around trade, have long been recognized as causing the displacement and forced migration of communities. The current global economic crisis will surely deepen this relationship and heighten migration flows.  Global economic policies treat human labor as a commodity to be exploited to maximize “profitability.” While some labor has been mechanized or outsourced, other work (healthcare, household, construction, agriculture, landscaping, care for the elderly and home care) cannot be moved due to the nature of the product or service. Employers in such sectors turn to immigrants to fill these labor needs, significantly impacting migrant labor policies.

Jayne fleming
Jayne Fleming

The second featured speaker was Jayne Fleming, who has achieved excellence in the field of international human rights law in her role as full time Pro Bono counsel and Human Rights Team Leader at Reed Smith, LLP.  She has earned an international reputation for successfully representing refugees facing deportation and other individuals in high-stakes asylum and human rights cases.  In addition to assisting women fleeing gender-based violence, Jayne has represented torture survivors from several countries. This year, she is launching a program on behalf of Central American children fleeing violence.  Ms. Fleming spoke about the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international treaties and conventions. 

Panel Presentations
In the afternoon we had an opportunity to hear presentations from representatives of four local organizations serving immigrants as social workers, human rights advocates and leaders of outreach services to undocumented persons.   The speakers presented ways in which they are responding to the plight of immigrants and encouraged those in the audience to join their voices to this multifaceted call to justice. 

Ann Fagan Ginger, is a Lawyer / Professor and Founder and Director of Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, which seeks to promote progressive social change through the education of citizens and agencies of government in the use and observance of U.S. Constitutional law and international treaties concerning peace and human rights, and by encouraging new paths for action.   Ann led us through a brief summary of United Nations Human Rights reports; the Convention on Torture, international treaties with human rights components and a list of treaties and conventions regarding the rights of children and women as well as economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights.  She strongly advocated for adherence to human rights legislation already in place and the repeal of current laws that violate human rights.

Judy Lu McDonnell, OP, is an immigration legal case worker currently working with undocumented immigrant victims of domestic violence, abuse and sexual assault at El Concilio, The Council for the Spanish Speaking, in Stockton.  Judy told the story of an immigrant victim of domestic violence and her painful and lengthy journey for freedom from abuse and lawful immigrant status.  Her legal process is possible through the “Violence Against Women Act.”

Maureen Duignan, OSF, is the Director of The East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, which is dedicated to the support, protection, and advocacy of the rights of immigrants and refugees.  Maureen spoke of the many people who have been assisted through her agency.  She painted a picture of immigrants as young, vibrant, people of faith, who are hardworking tax-paying, culturally enriching members of our society. 

Franklin Fong, OFM, is currently Coordinator of the Franciscan Program of Justice Peace, and Integrity of Creation.  Franklin presented a summary of a document he has produced for the Franciscans.  It is a resource packet to help the friars to understand the plight of the immigrant; study Church teaching on immigration; reflect on Scripture references to migration and migrants, and finally, to take action to respond to the needs of the faith community and help towards building a more just and welcoming society.

Questions and Answers
Although the panelists had been asked to prepare responses to four questions, time allowed for only one question:  “What are your choices for timey, effective action leading to comprehensive immigration reform?”  Some of the responses are as follows:

Give a name and face to the undocumented person, the so called “illegal”; educate the general public on the unjust treatment of immigrants; educate the general public on the contributions immigrants have made and are making to US ( History verifies that we are almost all immigrants or descendants of immigrants);  declare a moratorium on workplace raids; put an end to the use of local law enforcement in identifying  and arresting undocumented persons; i.e., enforcing immigration law; reduce the backlog of available visas; pass the DREAM ACT for students and young people who have graduated from high school in the US; mend some of the harsher articles in the 1996 Immigration Law; abolish the Immigration and Nationality Act.

We ended the day with a beautiful prayer service of Guatemalan dancing. Resources of all types were made available to the participants.  We are all looking forward to the next social justice program on Human Trafficking

Judy Lu McDonnell, OP
Dominican Sisters of San Rafael

Even after twenty years in the U.S. and with six U.S.-born children, an immigrant who has not completed a legalization process faces the disruption of the family, separation and instability.