Category Archives: Immigration

NETWORK Lobby Supports the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act

NETWORK Lobby Supports the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act

Giovana Oaxaca
July 24, 2020

The Trump Administration has made several attempts to curb immigration under the guise of public health through rules that are clearly discriminatory amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday, NETWORK Lobby sent a letter to the House of Representatives in support of the No Ban Act and the Access to Counsel Act of 2020.

The letter read, “On behalf of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and our 100,000 members from across the country, we write to express our support for the No Ban Act and the Access to Counsel Act of 2020 (together, H.R. 2486). NETWORK Lobby recognizes that all displaced people deserve access to protection, regardless of the faith they practice our country of origin. Welcoming individuals of all backgrounds is not only an American value enshrined in the U.S Constitution, but also a basic tenet of Catholic Social Justice. Consistent with our values, we call on Congress to pass the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act of 2020 without amendments or changes.”

Please read NETWORK’s letter of support below:

NETWORK Lobby Supports the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act

Dear Representative,

On behalf of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and our 100,000 members from across the country, we write to express our support for the No Ban Act and the Access to Counsel Act of 2020 (together, H.R. 2486). NETWORK Lobby recognizes that all displaced people deserve access to protection, regardless of the faith they practice our country of origin. Welcoming individuals of all backgrounds is not only an American value enshrined in the U.S Constitution, but also a basic tenet of Catholic Social Justice. Consistent with our values, we call on Congress to pass the No Ban Act and Access to Counsel Act of 2020 without amendments or changes.

The NO BAN Act is an effective counter measure against numerous anti-immigrant executive orders and bans that have been issued under the guise of national security in recent months and years. These wide-scale and discriminatory bans have in use since the early days of this Administration, when President Trump issued the Muslim Ban. After a lengthy legal challenge in the courts, a version of the ban stayed in place despite the objection of humanitarian and civil rights advocates, NETWORK Lobby among them. It effectively precludes people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, as well as other countries from entering the country. Like the refugee ban—which specifically targets refugees for extreme vetting—the ban targeting asylum-seekers arriving at the border, the expanded “African” ban on Nigerian, Sudanese, Tanzanian, and Eritrean nationals, and countless other orders promulgated in response to the COVID-19 global health crisis, the travel bans extend the Executive Branch’s authority to restrict or suspend immigrant entry, even when these bans exhibit discrimination on the basis of gender and race—clear violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) nondiscrimination clause.

We stand in solidarity with people of Muslim, African, Arab, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Central American, and South Asian communities impacted by this Administration’s travel bans. President Trump’s promulgations on travel restrictions for countries where a majority of peoples are people of color or religious minorities, defy our nation’s leadership in the cause for religious freedom and racial equality at home and abroad. Passing the No BAN Act is an important step in prohibiting arbitrary discrimination from happening in the future, by imposing stricter requirements before any future ban could be issued, as well as reporting requirements to Congress to create an oversight mechanism once any future ban is in place.

This critical legislation would repeal President Trump’s Muslim ban, asylum ban, and refugee ban, and make necessary reforms to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to prevent future discriminatory bans. During the markup, the bill was amended to rescind the President’s recently expanded Muslim ban, targeting more Africans, and require reporting related to this ban, which was issued on January 31, 2020 and is now in effect. The language in this bill went through numerous negotiations, including during the House Judiciary Committee markup, to ensure that it would continue to provide meaningfully protection for impacted communities.

The Access to Counsel Act of 2020 would allow U.S. citizens or those who otherwise have lawful immigration status in the United States access to legal representation. Since the first Muslim ban, we have seen individuals detained at airports, barred from boarding flights overseas and in some cases forced to relinquish their immigration status without any opportunity to gain legal support. Access to counsel is critical to protect individuals from discriminatory government action.

This landmark bill honors our commitment to religious freedom and protection against discrimination. NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice urges Congress to vote YES to passing the NO BAN Act and Access to Counsel Act of 2020 and vote NO to any amendments.

DACA Decision Looms during the COVID-19 Pandemic

DACA Decision Looms during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Giovana Oaxaca
May 14, 2020

The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision over whether the President acted unlawfully in 2017 in abruptly terminating Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) hangs over our nation against the backdrop of an unprecedented global pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic introduces a host of new variables to consider, like the devastation of death to COVID-19, job losses, and ensuing economic, housing, and food insecurity being felt across the nation. Financial hardship is already more likely to strike those with limited access to paid sick leave, health care, and safety net programs like low-income people; immigrants; people of color; LGBTQ communities; and incarcerated and detained people. However, since the start of the outbreak, more than 40% of Latinx, and nearly a half of Black adults have said they won’t be able to pay some of their bills, compared to about a third of all Americans.

Yet, in the midst of a pandemic, the Supreme Court is still expected to issue a decision which could lead to a loss of work permits and protections from deportation for an estimated 650,000 DACA recipients living in the United States. The economic and social wellbeing of millions would fall precipitously as 650,000 DACA recipients reckon with the loss of their status and jobs during this time of uncertainty. About 254,000 U.S.-born children have at least one parent who holds DACA and in total, 1.5 million people live with a DACA recipient. Some DACA recipients, like Luz Chavez Gonzalez, have had to step up as sole providers for their families during widespread lay-offs — both of Luz’s parents, and her two siblings have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The pandemic spotlights Latinx families vulnerability to economic insecurity during emergencies.

Impact of COVID-19 on DACA Recipients and their Families

Nationwide, immigrant are overrepresented in nearly every industry supplying essential jobs and services. An estimated six million immigrant workers, including more than 200,000 DACA recipients, are working to keep U.S supermarkets stocked and residents healthy. Many states extended broad authority for many businesses considered essential to keep operating, but few have done enough to enforce state and federal workplace protections. As a result, thousands are getting sick on the job. Farmworkers, workers in the meat packing industry, and domestic workers who are immigrants have been some of the hardest hit. More and more evidence has emerged that Latinx COVID-19 health disparities stem from systemic inequities. Latinx people are more likely to have low-paying service jobs that require them to work through the pandemic; have limited access to health care; live in close quarters; and as a result, are less likely to call out of work or seek treatment when they fall ill.

This is, in no small part, the consequence of systematic and ongoing efforts to deny workplace protections and services to low-income and people of color based on immigration status. The implementation of the Trump administration’s public charge rule that went into effect on February 24, 2020 is a case in point. Researchers found that the rule would lead to a decline in the health and financial stability because of immigrant families’ fears over how their use of public benefits would affect their adjustment of status petitions. Now, the very worst possible outcomes of excluding immigrants from federal programs are playing out at the worst time.

Despite the pressing need for greater COVID-19 medical attention, immigrants were mostly left out of Congress’ COVID-19 relief packages. Immigrants were also left out of the CARES Act economic impact payments due to language prohibiting payments for households with ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number) filers, a detail not gone unnoticed. An Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy analysis found that 4.3 million adults and 3.5 million children were denied this benefit through the ITIN exclusion. Future payments should remedy this exclusion.

For all these destabilizing factors raised, a SCOTUS decision on DACA in favor of the Trump administration would be catastrophic not just for DACA recipients, but the families they provide for and the broader immigrant community in the U.S.

DACA Recipients Urge Sensitivity

On March 27, plaintiffs from one of the three DACA cases up for consideration, Wolf, et al., v. Batalla Vidal, et al, appealed to the Supreme Court that Justices consider the full breadth of consequences stemming from a decision during the pandemic. They also flagged Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Matthew Albence’s alarming threats of imminent deportation: “If they get ordered removed, and DACA is done away with by the Supreme Court, we can actually effectuate those removal orders.” The Supreme Court accepted this filing by plaintiffs and it was entered into the official record in a small victory for DACA recipients.

In the lead up to a decision, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by immigrant’s rights activist also produced more evidence of a credible fear of DACA recipient’s information being used in immigration enforcement. Namely, the FOIA uncovered edited congressional testimony and a trail of emails showing that ICE had been dishonest about its unobstructed access to DACA information, like addresses and last known filing date. Thus, even as it appears that the country is entering in a protracted recession, DACA recipients now also have to navigate around this landmine decision with possible deportation attached.

Where applicable, DACA recipients are still encouraged to submit renewals. Catholic Legal Immigration Network  (CLINIC) has a stepped up to provide up to date information for DACA recipients needing to renew. Inquiries about whether to renew should always be made to legal practitioners. CLINIC’s legal resources are available here.

Act in Solidarity with Immigrant Communities

This administration has been very blunt about its prejudice against the poor, brown, and Black immigrants, therefore, it very unlikely it will do right by recognizing the contributions of immigrants during the pandemic. It falls our elected representatives to support COVID-19 relief for immigrants and protect DACA recipients through legislation.

The Supreme Court decision could come at any time between now and the end of June. Please sign our petition asking the Senate to pass legislation protecting Dreamers: #Faith4DACA petition. Help us show that justice-seekers support DACA recipients in this time of hardship for them and for the country that we share.

Dreamers Brace for SCOTUS Decision

Dreamers Brace for SCOTUS Decision

Giovana Oaxaca
March 19, 2020

The executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has withstood a number of legal challenges over the years. In a few months, however, the delicate future of more than 700,000 DACA recipients will face yet another test. Let the Senate know that immigrants are welcome in our nation by signing our petition.

On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the DACA cases that the Supreme Court considered for review in the fall 2019 term. Although there exist legislative solutions, such as the Dream and Promise Act which passed the House and the Dream Act and SECURE Act (introduced in the Senate), Congress has so far failed to pass meaningful protections for undocumented immigrants eligible for deferred action and temporary protected status. This has deferred the DACA matter to court cases, which have put a halt to the Trump administration’s decision to terminate DACA in September 2017. The Supreme Court’s decision will have far-reaching effects by deciding the fate of the program for the near future.

Watch interfaith leaders pray for the protection of immigrants, refugees, and DACA recipients in the #Faith4DACA vigil.

The stakes have never been higher. In a recent survey, over fifty percent of DACA recipients reported that they fear being detained or deported from the United States at least once a day. An even greater share of DACA recipients surveyed reported that they feared being separated from their children. The Supreme Court’s decision will alter the reality for the millions of DACA recipients living and working in the U.S. If the Supreme Court rules with the Trump Administration, this would leave thousands stranded with few recourses, in the very place they call home.

Brief Overview

On September 5, 2017, the Trump administration announced that it was terminating DACA, a decision that was been met with instant legal pushback. More than ten cases were filed challenging the administration’s decision. After a number of judges issued preliminary injunctions protecting the program, the administration appealed to the Supreme Court.  Late last year, the Supreme Court granted the administration’s petition, agreeing to hear arguments for three cases on November 12th, 2019. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the DACA cases and an array of other high-profile cases are expected in June 2020.

Speculated Outcomes

Legal advocates, allies, and organizations are bracing for the court’s ruling.

  • The court may conclude it may review the administration’s decision. It may then rule that the termination is unlawful or lawful. A ruling stating that the action was unlawful would be good for DACA recipients because it would mean that the administration should not have terminated DACA under its reasoning at the time. The court may rule that the administration’s decision was lawful. This would be bad for DACA recipients because it would mean the administration could begin rolling back the program. It is also possible that the court could find DACA itself unlawful at this time. This would mean that the government could stop accepting renewals of applications.
  • The Supreme Court may decide not to review the administration’s decision to terminate. A ruling along these lines would mean that the administration could commence rolling back the program; it could also mean that a future administration could reinstate it.

High-profile businesseshigher education institutions, former national security officials, and religious organizations have joined a litany of amicus briefs in support of DACA recipients. The plight of Dreamers clearly resonates with the majority of Americans. As it stands, an overwhelming majority of Americans support a pathway to citizenship. For now, the decision to stay DACA rests in the hands of the Supreme Court.


President Trump’s Budget Fails to Mend the Gaps… Again

President Trump’s Budget Fails to Mend the Gaps… Again

NETWORK Government Relations Team
February 14, 2020

We believe the budget is a faithful, moral document that should reflect our values as a nation. Unfortunately, the President’s FY2021 budget that came out earlier this week does not do this. President Trump’s budget proposes$4.8 trillion in drastic cuts to non-defense discretionary spending for vital federal agencies, including a 37% spending cut for the Department of Commerce and a 15% cut for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This will increase the gaps between the wealthy and the impoverished in our nation.

President Trump’s budget abandons the most vulnerable in our nation by reducing funding for fundamental social safety net programs. The budget would increase the number of uninsured people in the United States, cut desperately needed assistance for low-income families, and invest almost nothing into our nation’s dilapidated infrastructure. It is time to mend the racial and income gaps in our nation. We cannot accept this immoral and divisive budget proposal from President Trump.

Once again, President Trump lays out a budget that provides a preferential option for the rich while gutting critical programs proven to lift people out of poverty. His budget would give an additional 1.4 Trillion dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy paid for by cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs.  This is sinful.  We must heal the wounds of economic and racial injustice with those facing systemic exclusion and oppression. We echo the words of the Prophet Isaiah who warned the corrupt rulers of his time, “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”

The president’s budget proposal lays out another hopeless roadmap that offers no relief or clear pathway to prosperity for disheartened working families. The proposal includes $4.4 trillion in steep cuts to nondefense spending over 10 years, starting with $42 billion for FY2021 to offset increased funding for defense and immigration enforcement. This president fails the moral test of great leaders to care for those with the least among us– the 99% of the country who are over-worked, under-valued, and under-resourced.  We must expect more from our leaders and urge Congress to reject this budget by investing in affordable housing, health care, Medicaid, SNAP, and fair elections.

Here’s how President Trump’s FY2021 budget proposal would negatively impact the Common Good and widen the gaps across our nation:

Endangers the health care of the most vulnerable in our nation by attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and by imposing deep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

  • Proposed cuts of $1 trillion in Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA over the next ten years
  • Implements mandatory work requirements for Medicaid beneficiaries
  • Ends Medicaid expansion for states that have opted to expand coverage. This will eliminate care for the 13 million people who secured care from the expansion
  • No proposals for an ACA replacement plan if it is struck down by the Supreme Court
    • This will lead to elimination of the ACA’s protection against discrimination based on pre-existing conditions and the ACA’s requirement that health plans cover essential health benefits

Implements irresponsible and discriminatory immigration policy.

  • Requests $2 billion to build 82 miles of border wall, plans to divert an additional $7.2 billion from other accounts, and brings the total allocated over Trump’s term to $18 billion.
  • Includes $3.1 billion for 60,000 beds, in ICE detention centers, an increase of 6,000 beds from last year’s budget.
  • Adds $182 million to hire 750 new Border Patrol agents, a quarter more than last year, and $544 million to double Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff.
  • Calls for a 3.2-percent increase in funding for the Department of Homeland Security to carry out immigration enforcement and family separation, but cuts the Department of Justice by 2.3-percent for all federal law enforcement
  • Requires Social Security Number for public benefits
    • Discriminates against non-citizen residents who do not have a Social Security Number

Increases income inequality and racial wealth disparities through more tax cuts for the 1% and drastic cuts to safety net programs.

  • Permanently extends the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for high-income taxpayers
  • This will cost $1.4 trillion through 2030 for tax breaks for the wealthiest in our nation
  • Cuts SNAP by $182 billion (30% of the program) over ten years
  • Cuts basic assistance for those with disabilities through Social Security Disability Insurance
  • Reduces support for families experiencing poverty by cutting the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by $20 billion over ten years
  • Eliminates the Social Services Block Grant

Decreases security in our nation’s elections.

  • Cuts the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that secures our nation’s voting machines, by 14%
  • Diverts $1.1 billion on cybersecurity spending from the Federal Election Commission to the Department of Homeland Security

Inadequately invests in our nation’s dilapidated infrastructure.

  • Proposes $190 billion in one-time funding for a new infrastructure initiative
    • This investment in our nation’s housing and infrastructure is a short-term fix for a long, expensive problem
    • It will not be enough to adequately address our nation’s housing problem
  • Cuts various infrastructure programs that support highway, mass transit, airport, and port infrastructure through discretionary appropriations
  • Weakens community efforts to enable families to secure housing free from discrimination and fight housing policies that restrict housing access

President Trump continues to promise that he will protect the health care of working families, but his FY2021 budget proposal is just another attack on care for our nation’s most vulnerable. The Trump administration continues to gut the backbone of our nation’s social safety net by slashing funding for Medicare and Medicaid, as well as through continued attempts to enforce Medicaid work requirements. Also, by attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act with no suitable replacement, President Trump continues to jeopardize the lives of millions who rely on the ACA for quality and affordable care.

President Trump’s proposals shown above illustrate his misaligned priorities. Every dollar spent in carrying out punitive immigration policy, is a dollar less in critical human needs programs, serving communities across the country. President Trump is requesting a huge windfall for agencies that police, detain, and separate families, but neglects food security programs, health, and more. President Trump’s FY2021 budget is a statement of values, which show that the president is more concerned with funding his border wall than serving the people of the United States.

SCOTUS Punishes Vulnerable Immigrant Families

SCOTUS Punishes Vulnerable Immigrant Families

Laura Peralta-Schulte
January 27, 2020

A narrowly divided Supreme Court today allowed the Trump administration to begin enforcing a wealth test, called “Public Charge,” for immigrants seeking a green card. Under this rule, immigration officials could deny green cards or visas to legal immigrants seeking permanent residency if they’ve used Medicaid, nutrition assistance, or other safety-net programs, or if they’re considered likely to do so. The justices voted 5-4 along ideological lines. This controversial immigration rule will go into effect now, even as lower courts wrestle with multiple legal challenges against them.

Today’s court decision will increase confusion and fear broadly across immigrant families about using public programs for themselves and their children, regardless of whether they are directly affected by the changes. There have already been significant reports of families who are not affected by the ruling taking themselves or their children off lifesaving programs like the Children’s Health Insurance Program and SNAP.

Public charge is just one of many attacks on low-income families, immigrant families, and communities of color by the Trump Administration.

Read more from Bloomberg News:

“The Trump rule changes what critics say is a longstanding understanding of federal immigration law and its bar on permanent residency for ‘public charges.’ The new rule expands the definition of public charge and gives officials broad power to determine that someone is at risk of falling into that category.

The rule will ‘radically disrupt over a century of settled immigration policy and public-benefits programs,’ New York, Vermont, Connecticut and New York City argued in a filing that urged the court to leave the rule on hold.”

A Report From The Border

A Report from the Border

Ness Perry
December 2, 2019

At the United States Southern Border, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are looking for a place to find safety. They are asking one thing of our nation – to accept them with open arms. While this is a basic request, our policies do not represent what our morals say. Our faith teaches us that all immigrants deserve basic human dignity, and that we should love thy neighbor, despite their country of origin. Trump administration programs like the Migrant Protection Protocol puts people in danger in Mexico while they await their asylum and immigration hearings in the United States, thus stripping them of their dignity. To learn more about this specific administration order, watch these interviews where we spoke to two specialists from the field.

Imelda Maynard is the Senior Staff Attorney at Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico, located in Las Cruces New Mexico. She specializes in immigration and holds her J.D. from The University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Alejandro Olayo-Méndez, S.J. is an Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work where he works on issues surrounding humanitarian aid and migration processes.

Follow @NETWORKlobby on twitter for more updates about MPP and other immigration policies

The Supreme Court Holds Lives of Millions in Their Hands

The Supreme Court Holds Lives of Millions in Their Hands

Joan Neal
November 26, 2019

As the Supreme Court deliberates the fate of more than a million young undocumented immigrants who arrived or were brought to this country as children, it is important to be clear about their real identity and history. Contrary to the prevailing rhetoric in some corners of our country, recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, are educated, hardworking, upstanding, tax paying, individuals who are American in every way except legal citizen status.

The Center for Migration Studies, a research and think tank organization headquartered in New York, has just released a comprehensive statistical study of this group of more than 1 million people. The report also documents the many ways in which these young immigrants have and continue to contribute to the United States, which for most of them is the only country they have ever known.

CMS’ timely report shows how deeply DACA recipients are embedded in society and the web of ties that bind them to their communities and country. It shows how they are spread out across the United States, how educated they are as compared to the general population, and how extensively they participate in the U.S. labor market. Perhaps some readers will be surprised by these findings. Some may even ignore them, or worse yet, refuse to believe them. But facts are facts, and CMS’ research is comprehensive and verifiable. The report clearly shows that, over time, these undocumented immigrants have made our country stronger, more diverse, and more economically productive. Rather than being a drag on our country, DACA recipients as a group have contributed significantly to American society and prosperity.

It is imperative, therefore, that the Supreme Court avail itself of all of the relevant facts surrounding DACA recipients and those who would be eligible if the program were still in force. And so should we. Read the report at https://cmsny.org/publications/daca-supreme-court-alulema-111119/. Then pass it on. The lives of millions of people, indeed the future of our country, depends on what we do next.

An Open Letter to ICE

An Open Letter to ICE

Sam Murillo
November 22, 2019

To Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the United States:

 

Being young and undocumented is something that is rarely talked about. Many of us were brought here as children and have been raised just like you. We were raised with the same education and we have the same dreams. Yet we grow old and realize that we are not like the rest. We realize that we do not have the same opportunities, but the only difference between me and you is that I am undocumented. While you go out and pursue your dreams for higher education, I will be rejected from the same school you were accepted to because of my legal status. This is the reality for hundreds of thousands of immigrant children, and while some are protected under DACA, there are still a significant amount of children and teenagers that remain unprotected.

Being young and undocumented brings an inexplicable fear. There is a constant fear for your life, and a constant fear of being ripped away from your family and the only country you know. We grow up living in our parents’ fear, we grow up without access to healthcare because our parents are undocumented. We grow up fearing the police and knowing exactly who and what ICE does at a very young age. You rip our families apart, you hold our children hostage at the border, you rape our mothers and sisters, and you send us back to countries we know nothing about. We grow up hoping that when we come home from school, our parents will still be there. We grow up with fear and trauma that we can’t even understand. We are hardworking people that contribute to the economy, our parents are contributing to this country, they dreamt first and until our parents are safe we will not step down. Our parents are the true Dreamers, and we shouldn’t have to grow up in fear of losing them. We shouldn’t have to grow up uninsured. We most certainly don’t deserve to be denied from the same opportunities as everyone else. My parents deserve the chance to become citizens, I deserve to become a citizen, and there are many more like us that deserve that chance. Children are growing up in fear, families are being ripped apart, and as contributing immigrants of this nation we deserve nothing less than an opportunity. It is our duty to fight for our freedom and it is our duty to win!

 

Sam Murillo is a 20 year old student at Trinity Washington University. She is originally from Jeffersonville, Indiana and her family is from Mexico. She is studying to become a doctor and wishes for structural change in the United States judicial system.

Advocating for Justice in El Paso

Advocating for Justice in El Paso

Xorje Olivares
October 29, 2019

During a Saturday session at the ‘Jornada Por La Justicia’ Teach-In earlier this month, the lecturer asked attendees to use a single word to describe their thoughts upon hearing the word ‘border.’ I heard someone say “division,” followed by a “wall” in the back. I believe there was a submission for “political” along with “crisis.” It was at that point that I shouted, “home,” the only positive connotation ascribed to our weekend venue during that particular exercise. Honestly, that fact stunned me, but it also warmed my heart to know it was true.

Because the border has always been home for me. I grew up in Eagle Pass, Texas, roughly an 8-hour drive from the conference in El Paso, but my body knew the area well. I like to say that all border natives speak the same language of biculturalism, so I very much felt in my element. This was the second time I’d been to El Paso, but the first since the arguably safest city in the nation witnessed one of the most devastating events in recent American memory. I was nourished by the presence of #ElPasoStrong at every corner and by the devout folks seeking to use the Teach-In as an opportunity to unite, heal, and evangelize both on a spiritual and political front to make sure that form of violence never happened again. Not to mention empowering the ongoing movement led by border residents, such as those in El Paso, to protect our undocumented brothers and sisters amid this fabricated “national emergency,” many of whom are putting their faith in Christ as they literally wait in a bullpen next door.

Knowing that we were going to address several topics over the course of the conference, I was incredibly honored to have been invited to specifically participate on a panel about harnessing our political power as Latinx Catholics through mobilizing our theological narratives. My narrative, which I talk about regularly on my weekly SiriusXM Satellite Radio show and various online columns, proudly incorporates my queer identity, and it dictates how I view a myriad of issues facing the various communities of which I identify with. I was grateful to the organizers for allowing an ‘out’ gay man to talk about his grievances with the Church and its hierarchy with regards to its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and exclusionary tendencies. Having never attended a Catholic conference before, I was thoroughly moved with just how welcoming the space felt and with how my message was received by its roughly 400 participants. I eventually spoke with three student attendees who shared their own queer struggles, which made everything so worthwhile for me. Belonging never felt so special.

I also love that I engaged with so many progressive-minded folks who use their spirituality as a motivating factor for their advocacy work. Whether with regards to ending the prison industrial complex, assisting asylum seekers, or ensuring that Latinx people aren’t erased from the national discourse, this Teach-In proved that being bold isn’t necessarily a gift, but a shining characteristic that we, as a collective, hold. And I’d like to think we hold onto it pretty tightly.

Xorje Olivares is a radio host/producer and social commentator who specializes in LGBTQ, Latino, and millennial issues. His writing on politics and intersectional identity has appeared in VICE, Playboy, Rolling Stone, them., and Vox, among others. He is the content creator behind HeyXorje.com and has been profiled by ABC News, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, and FOX News.

Spirituality and Advocacy in El Paso

Spirituality and Advocacy in El Paso

A Reflection on Jornada por la Justicia
Melissa Cedillo
October 23, 2019

Right when I landed in El Paso I immediately felt a sense of home. It was refreshing to be back in a place where I could hear Spanish everywhere.

It had been a while since I was in a space that was majority Latinx. Because Jornada por la Justicia was in El Paso, the teach-in focused a lot on the massacre that took place in August. El Paso is also a border city so the themes of borderlands, immigration, and white supremacy were also present. There were various panels and workshops to attend. Everything from ‘Know Your Rights’ to Latinx spirituality were available. Most importantly, the panelists and the workshops were all lead by Latinx folks, which was empowering because the majority of Catholic conferences I have previously attended were not. I didn’t even have to tell someone the correct way to pronounce my last name.

Saturday night, we crossed into Juarez and prayed with a family getting ready to seek asylum. There were tents and families everywhere. The mother I spoke with held a beautiful nine-month-old baby in her arms. They had traveled three weeks to arrive in Juarez. Another two year old climbed across her tired father smothering him with kisses. Seeing the many families was another reminder that militarizing the border against innocent families is in stark contrast of our Catholic identity.

On Sunday, Bishop Mark Seitz introduced his new pastoral letter ‘Night Will Be No More.’ The letter is about these very topics. He signed it into action after Mass. After the massacre on August 3rd, my heart yearned for a homily that would approach the violence that had happen and extend a message of hope to our familia in El Paso. It was never brought up. But on October 13th, Bishop Seitz’s letter provided my heart with consolation. Bishop Seitz called out White Supremacy for what it is. He used his power and privilege to uplift the same people Jesus did. As the Catholic Latinx population continues to grow in the U.S., I hope Catholic communities across the country look towards Hope Border Institute and the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition as leaders.


Melissa Cedillo is a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School. She participated in Jornada por la Justicia, a three-day gathering of a powerful network of Catholic Latino organizers, labor leaders, scholars and activists in El Paso, Texas. The Teach-In 2019: Jornada por la Justicia was co-presented by the HOPE Border Institute and the Latinx Catholic Leadership Coalition. Learn more: https://www.hopeborder.org/jornadaporlajusticia.