Category Archives: Immigration

How Will We Answer the Summons?

How Will We Answer the Summons?

Rebecca Eastwood
May 9, 2018

Although I have lived in Washington, DC for the past four years and have grown and learned so much in our nation’s capital, I will always be a proud Iowan.

Often confused with places like Ohio or Idaho, Iowa is known for things like corn and caucuses. The events of May 12, 2008, however, permanently marked Iowa on the map for a different reason.

Headlines in the weeks that followed read:

Immigration Raid Jars Small Town

Immigration Raid at Meat Processing Plant in Iowa Largest Ever in US

I was 16 at the time and attended high school in Decorah, IA. When the news reached our classrooms that day of helicopters and federal agents surrounding the meatpacking plant in Postville, the town next door, I was confronted with the reality of our broken immigration system that, because of my privileged background, I never before had to consider.

We would soon learn in the hours and days following that what transpired was the largest worksite immigration raid (at that time) in U.S. history. As I reflect on the events that day ten years ago I recognize it as the moment that truly summoned me to social justice work.

For a town of approximately 2,400, Postville was one of the most diverse communities in Northeast Iowa. In addition to a number of other distinct communities, Postville was home to a large Latino/a population. Drawn by the promise of opportunity, education, and safety, families set down roots in Postville.

The raid tore these roots apart. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested almost 400 people working at the kosher meatpacking plant, AgriProcessors, in the span of a few hours. Agents descended on the plant, chased, shackled, and carted away mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.

Children came home from school to empty houses. Community members took refuge at St. Bridget’s, the local Catholic church, terrified they would be next or that they would never see their family members again. The raid upended the schools, economy, and families of this small community.

In the chaotic weeks following, the local community stepped up to attempt to repair what our federal government had ripped apart. Centered in St. Bridget’s, volunteers helped people find their family members, the majority of whom were detained in the Cattle Congress buildings, prosecuted en masse, and eventually deported.

Through this response effort, I spent some time volunteering, mostly using my high school Spanish to entertain children while their family members did all they could to pull their lives back together.

This experience would never leave me. I could not forget the child asking when they would see their dad again or the mother trying to keep her family fed while wearing an ankle monitor. I was shaken out of my complacency and forced to answer the question: who am I summoned to be in the face of this injustice? Answering that question led me to Washington, DC to advocate for policies that would keep families together and uphold the dignity of migrants- attempting to prevent other communities from experiencing the same trauma as Postville.

The raid seared into our collective memory the devastating impact of inhumane immigration policies. We no longer need to look back a decade, however, to remember the suffering caused by immigration raids.

Only one month ago, ICE conducted the largest worksite raid of the Trump administration. The circumstances were all too familiar: agents surrounded a meatpacking plant in Tennessee. They arrested nearly 100 people. Terrified families gathered at the local Catholic church for support.

In the past year, the federal government has targeted thousands for detention and deportation, including those who have lived here for decades. They have systematically rescinded legal status for those with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). They are separating families seeking safety at our southern border.

Who are we as a nation summoned to be in the face of these injustices? Will we challenge harsh, anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy? Will we demand a system that recognizes migrants as whole persons worthy of dignity? As people around the country observe the ten-year anniversary of the raid we pray that in answering this summons we will never mark another anniversary like this.

Postville is everywhere. How will we respond?

Becca is the Advocacy Coordinator for the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach in Washington, DC. The Columban Center is the national advocacy office for the Columban fathers, a Catholic order of priests and lay missionaries living and serving in 15 countries. Her advocacy work focuses on immigration, environmental, and economic policy.

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Immigrant Families

The Trump Administration’s Attacks on Immigrant Families

Sana Rizvi
May 2, 2018

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Trump administration has anti-immigrant policies, considering our current president won an entire campaign on an explicitly anti-immigrant platform. Yet, I am still outraged by the horrific nature of these policies and how they have attacked the very foundation of our society: families.

How can we not be outraged? When did our political leaders forget the value and sacredness of family?

I have heard my entire life that our nation is a nation of immigrants. If that is (at least partially) true, why do we treat immigrants in this country today as second-class citizens? Why do we allow our government to tear immigrant families—people who came to this country for safety and security—apart?

Over the past few months, as advocates fought to keep DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in the news cycle, the Administration took action to uproot our immigrant communities by ramping up detentions and intentionally separating children from their parents.

Here are just a few examples:

On October 24, 2017, Rosa Maria Hernandez, a 10-year-old undocumented girl with cerebral palsy, was arrested by border agents while being taken into surgery. National outrage came swiftly, and it was a rare moment of national spotlight, which led Rosa Maria to be released on November 3, 2017.

A few weeks later, 1-year-old Mateo was separated from his father, who was applying for asylum as a family unit at the same time as several other families. Onlookers who resisted the separation of father and son were forcibly told by the arresting officer that doing so would hurt their own claims for asylum. The four children taken during that encounter were then processed as unaccompanied minors and sent to foster care in separate states.[i]

In March, a Congolese woman was finally reunited with her 7-year-old daughter after being separated from her for several months by almost 2,000 miles, a situation DHS Secretary Nielsen herself could not rationalize.[ii]

These are just a few recent examples, but the everyday reality is that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is systematically seeking to separate parents from their children. [iii]

In Islam, heaven is under your mother’s feet and looking at your parents with love is considered a form of worship. Woe to those who tear children away from heaven.

As a person of faith, I am deeply troubled by the leniency our collective conscience has allowed to those who tear families apart in the name of national security. Family separation has gone from a once-abhorred policy to being a common state-sanctioned practice.

Two recent ICE directives have made this possible: The first instructed agents on how to separate children from their parents, removing key elements of earlier policies that allowed prosecutorial discretion to provide assistance to parents who need help retaining their parental rights in immigration courts. The second changed an ICE policy to begin long-term detainment of pregnant women, despite multiple lawsuits and reports of miscarriages occurring from the conditions of detention.[iv]

One of the most memorable verses in the Quran asks “Was not the earth of God spacious enough for you to flee for refuge?” (Quran 4:97) Every time I read it, I am reminded that we erected strict borders, even though God asked us to never turn away people who come to your door in need.

What excuses will we make in front of God when asked why we treated our neighbors as criminals and increased their suffering when they came to us for help? What will we say when we are shown the children who fled to a country they did not know and were torn from their mothers?

[i] “Five Outrageous ways ICE Separates Families” Amnesty International USA. Dec. 18, 2017. https://medium.com/@amnestyusa/five-outrageous-ways-ice-separates-families-fe0452653272

[ii] “Durbin says Homeland Security admits separating Congolese mother and child ‘a mistake’” Chicago Tribune. March 7, 2018. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/huppke/ct-met-congo-family-separated-immigration-huppke-20180307-story.html

[iii] Our friends at Hope Border Institute recently published a report of asylum seekers at the El Paso Sector of the border being deterred from entry through cases of family separation and the horrific conditions of detention, find that report and more resources here: https://www.hopeborder.org/sealing-the-border

[iv]  “Detained  Women Suffering Miscarriages Due to ICE Negligence, Activists Say” NETA February 12, 2018 https://netargv.com/2018/02/12/detained-women-suffering-miscarriages-due-ice-negligence-activists-say/

Arrest a Nun, Not a Dreamer

“Arrest a Nun, Not a Dreamer”

Mary Cunningham
April 25, 2018

Catholic sisters held these signs as they gathered with around 200 other advocates during the National Catholic Day of Action with Dreamers on February 27, 2018. Members of the Catholic community met on Capitol Hill to demand a legislative solution from Congress for the nearly 800,000 DACA recipients who face uncertainty about their legal status in the United States. PICO National Network organized the day of events along with Catholic organizations including: Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., Franciscan Action Network, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pax Christi USA, and NETWORK.

The event highlighted Dreamers’ precarious position and called on advocates and people of faith to move towards action. Sister Quincy Howard, OP, a Government Relations Fellow at NETWORK, attended and reflected on the way we are treating Dreamers in this country: “I hope that people’s eyes and hearts can be opened to the suffering of these young people who have done nothing wrong. Dreamers are our teachers, our students, and our neighbors, and our government is currently threatening them with exile from the only home they know.”

The day began with a press conference outside the Capitol building with speeches from Sister JoAnn Persch, RSM, Father Tom Reese, SJ, and others. After the speeches, the attendees recited the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary together. The crowd then moved into the Russell Senate Office Building and those who chose to participate in the civil disobedience formed a circle, singing and praying together in the center of the rotunda. After issuing several warnings, Capitol police arrested around 40 Catholic leaders, many of them women religious.

Sisters participated in the act of civil disobedience because they felt it was a moral imperative and a small sacrifice compared to the lived experience of the Dreamers. Sister Diane Roche, RSCJ, Director of the Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation at the Stuart Center in Washington, D.C. said “If there is an issue worth getting arrested for, this is it. This is my first time ever, and I can’t think of anything I’d rather do to stand in solidarity. It is a small enough thing compared to what they are going through.”

The action was a stark reminder that although Dreamers and supporters are organizing and advocating tirelessly, Congress has still failed to pass a legislative solution that will protect them from deportation. Each day that goes by, Dreamers face more uncertainty about their future.

As Sister Ann Scholz, SSND,  LCWR Associate Director for Social Mission and NETWORK Board member, said: “Our mission as Christians is to welcome those who are in need as we would welcome Jesus. So really, we can do no other than be here today to stand with Dreamers and ask our elected officials to provide the welcome that is theirs because they are created in the image of God just as we are.

Originally published in Connection Magazine. Read the full issue here.

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What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

What Are Members of Congress Saying on Public Charge?

NETWORK will be updating this page with the latest statements.

“Such a rule would essentially force families, including those with U.S. citizen children, to choose between getting the help they need to prosper — from crucial programs that provide medical care, food assistance, housing assistance, and early childhood education — and reuniting with those they love. These are not the ideals of our country and we urge the Department to reconsider this ill-advised proposal.”-Letter to Kirstjen M. Nielsen and Mick Mulvaney signed by 85 Members of Congress.

The original letter can be found here.

“What will the Trump Administration do next? Since day one, we have witnessed a series of attacks by the administration targeting immigrant communities around our nation. This latest back-door attempt to leverage public health and efforts to deny legal immigration benefits, seeks to circumvent Congress and ultimately restrict family reunification. This ill-advised proposal will make it difficult for individuals seeking legal entry or permanent residency in the United States to care for their family through the use of social services that they are legally entitled to use. This rule fails to uphold the values of our nation and will force individuals to choose between putting food on the table for their children and being granted legal status.” –Rep. Adriano Espaillat (NY-13).

“Let’s be clear— current law already prevents the vast majority of immigrants from accessing Federal means-tested public benefits. That’s not what this proposed rule is about. This is about denying immigration benefits and keeping families apart. It would essentially force families, including citizen children, to choose between getting the help they need—like medical care or Head Start—and reuniting with loved ones.  This rule will not only harm immigrant families, it will undermine decades-long efforts to improve the health and well-being of our communities and our nation.” –Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19).

“The Trump administration’s proposed ‘public charge’ rule is a dangerous attack on immigrant families. For centuries, immigrants fleeing economic hardship, persecution, and violence have found opportunity in our country to do what is best for their families. This proposal imperils that ability and forces immigrant families to make the tragic decision between basic necessities and their future in our country. I urge the Trump administration to rescind this heartless proposal, cease its baseless attacks on immigrant communities, and stop inserting nativist principles into policies that directly contradict American values.” – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03). 

Original post with statements can be found here.

What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

Mary Cunningham
April 11, 2018

At the heart of the American experience lays the dazzling idea of the American Dream. We profess the dream proudly, holding it as a symbol of our nation’s deepest values: acceptance, equal opportunity, and prosperity achieved through hard work. Yet, how can we profess this to be true if not everyone is given an equal chance to prosper and if we penalize people for utilizing the very programs that are designed to help them get ahead?

On March 28, 2018 the Washington Post relayed the latest update on the proposed public charge rule, which could change the process for immigrants seeking legal residency. The draft of this change has not been formally published and is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget for approval. This proposed public charge rule demonstrates another attempt by the Trump administration to restrict family-based immigration and cut off access to public benefits that help families meet their basic human needs. Yes, this rule, if it comes to pass, would apply to families who have come to the United States legally in search of a better life. These are the people who have gone through the system and as our Republican friends like to say patiently “waited their turn in line” to obtain green cards. These are the families and individuals who would be penalized if this proposed rule comes to fruition.

So what exactly does public charge entail?  Under the proposed draft, individuals would be required to indicate their reliance – and for the first time any family members’ reliance – on public aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and even refundable tax income credits obtained through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). People who depend on these programs, or who have children who rely on them, could potentially be derailed on their path to a green card or even deported. The draft regulation penalizes those applying for lawful permanent resident status if they have big families and if they have limited income. This would be particularly harmful to mixed-status families with U.S. citizen children where parents will have to decide whether their child should use programs like Medicaid or school lunches if such use could lead to deportation of a family member seeking a green card.

So basically, individuals would be forced to choose between catering to their basic human needs or protecting their immigration status. If this rule passes it will have a deleterious effect on families. It would separate families who rely on public aid and increase the risk of falling into poverty for those who do not enroll in public aid programs for fear of being forced to abandon family reunification. An article in the Huffington Post estimates that this proposal puts 670,000 children at risk of falling into poverty. While there is bipartisan consensus that our nation’s children should have access to food, healthcare, and other basic necessities, this rule threatens to upset the balance completely.

The argument in favor of instituting a public charge rule is that those applying for a green card should be “self-sufficient.” However, it is estimated that around the same percentage of native-born Americans use public assistance as foreign-born individuals. Will our brothers and sisters not be able to achieve the American Dream solely because they need health insurance, food or housing for their families? I surely hope not.

We expect more information on the public charge rule soon and will keep you updated with analysis and ways to engage

Undocumented Immigrants Deserve Mercy

Undocumented Immigrants Deserve Mercy

David D. Porter
March 28, 2018

Next time you hear the President whipping crowds into a frenzy by promising to build The Wall or attacking “illegal immigrants” there are a few facts you need to know.

Last weekend I got a real education on the topic of undocumented immigrants while visiting my daughter in Cincinnati. We attended a presentation by Nuns on the Bus, a progressive group of Catholic nuns who are social-justice warriors, (I have a soft spot for nuns because I was educated by Dominican sisters.)

Justice and humane treatment of undocumented immigrants are among the causes the sisters and their supporters fight for.

During this Lenten season it’s worth remembering that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were undocumented immigrants.

Here are a few questions for you to consider:

What would you do if every other night death squads swept through your town randomly kidnapping and killing people?

What if there were no jobs and your children were starving?

What would you do?

I don’t know about you, but if those dangerous situations dominated my home country, I would do everything within my power to escape.

Those are the conditions and choices people in many places around the world face. Their only hope for survival is to leave and become refugees. And yes, some of them come to the United States without documentation because, frankly, getting legal long-term or permanent residency in the United States is next to impossible — unless you’re wealthy or white.

What happens to many of these undocumented immigrants in the United States is heartbreaking.

First, here are a few facts provided by the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center:

  • There are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.
  • 8 million are currently in the workforce (Think they’re stealing jobs from hard-working Americans? Well why don’t you go down to Plant City, Florida, and pick tomatoes from sun up to sun down.)
  • 10.2 million have never been convicted of a crime (that’s 92.5% of undocumented immigrants.

Here’s the real kicker.

These undocumented immigrants, who include children, are being hunted day and night by federal agents.

When caught they are put in prison as though they are murderers and held pending deportation hearings. Some have been held for as long as four years. Many don’t have access to lawyers or anyone to help them.

  • More than 350,000 of them are currently being held behind bars.
  • More than 260,000 of them are being held in private, for profit jails and prisons. (Most of them didn’t steal anything or hurt anyone.)

You see, it’s not really about homeland security, or protecting our borders. It’s about keeping jail beds full, especially in the for-profit jails and prisons.

The private-prison industry has donated millions to Congressional candidates. One private prison company donated $250,000 for Trump’s inaugural celebration festivities.

Ultimately, it’s the taxpayers who take the weight. We’re paying an average of $20,000 a year per undocumented immigrant to keep them locked up.

Nationally the annual detention budget for undocumented immigrants is $2.6 billion of taxpayer dollars.

It’s a money thing. People are getting rich off imprisoning desperate refugees. Don’t take my word for it, click here to read an article reported by National Public Radio.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Emma Lazarus had in mind when she wrote the poem inscribed on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Shame on us!

David D. Porter is an Orlando-based writer and the son of an immigrant.

Congress Finally Passes a FY2018 Budget

Congress Finally Passes a FY 2018 Budget

NETWORK Government Relations Team
March 22, 2018

At long last, Congress will pass a bipartisan FY 2018 spending bill that will send communities across the country much anticipated resources. This legislation is six months overdue, and Congress should be ashamed. That being said, while it is not perfect, the FY 2018 consolidated appropriations measure contains robust investments in vital safety net programs.

Many of NETWORK’s Mend the Gap issues were among the programs that fared well. The spending measure significantly boosts funding for the 2020 Census, low-income housing, as well as healthcare for seniors, children, and people who are disabled. Investing in safety-net programs is paramount to ensuring the common good.

We are disappointed that Congress did not muster the courage to include a permanent fix for more than 800,000 DACA recipients. That being said, we know the Trump Administration wanted – and failed – to expand their mass deportation agenda. NETWORK continues to support our champions in the House and Senate for their unwavering commitment to protect Dreamers and their families from harmful attempts to tear apart families.

All of us at NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice look forward to working with Congress throughout the FY 2019 appropriations process to ensure passage of a Faithful Budget.  It’s our hope that Congress will turn a new leaf and set aside petty partisanship in order to complete its work on time.

Below is a detailed look at how the omnibus bill affects NETWORK’s Mend the Gap priorities:

Department of Agriculture

  • Decreases funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $4.5 billion primarily due to declining enrollments

Department of Commerce

  • Fully funds the 2020 Decennial Census at $2.814 billion, an increase of $1.344 billion above the FY 2017 enacted level

Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

  • Increases the HUD budget by $4.6 billion in additional program funding compared to FY 2017, and more than $12 billion above the president’s FY 2018 request
  • Renews all Housing Choice Vouchers and provides new vouchers to veterans and people with disabilities—the president’s budget request proposed to eliminate 250,000 Housing Choice Vouchers
  • Allocates nearly $1 billion in additional funding to repair and operate public housing
  • Boosts funding for the HOME Investment Partnerships program to the highest level in seven years
  • Does not include any of the rent increases proposed by the president in his FY 2018 budget request

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

  • HHS would receive approximately $98.7 billion, an $11.6 billion increase above the FY 2017 enacted level, including $2.6 billion in new funding
  • Tweaks Medicare reimbursement status of several prescription drugs
  • Increases the Child Care Development Block Grant from $2.9 billion in FY 2017 to $5.2 billion in 2018
  • Raises funding for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program by $250 million to $3.6 billion, although the Trump administration requested elimination of the program for the second year in a row
  • Fails to stabilize the health insurance market by providing subsidy payments to insurers and allowing states to develop more flexible insurance requirements

Department of Homeland Security

  • $1.6 billion as down payment for border wall construction and to make repairs of existing fencing structure
  • Scales back on detention beds: includes 40,520 beds with a glide path down to 39,324 by the end of the fiscal year, a decrease of 12,055 from the FY 2017 enacted level.
  • Freezes number of ICE agents at FY 2017 level
  • Cuts Homeland Security Investigations agents from 150 down to 65

Department of Labor

  • Prevents the Trump administration from carrying out a controversial rule that might have resulted in employers of tipped workers restricting how the tips were distributed
  • Increases funding for employment and training services to $3.5 billion, compared to $3.3 billion in FY 2017

The Acute Need for an Accurate Census

The Acute Need for an Accurate Census

Mary Cunningham
March 19, 2018

With the 2020 Census rapidly approaching, it is important to consider exactly what is at stake. Although the census is not a process which typically figures into the public consciousness, the information we obtain from it is vital. Census data is used, among other things, to determine the distribution of federal funds for healthcare, housing, infrastructure programs and more.  An accurate census is sorely needed to ensure communities –particularly marginalized communities–receive their fair share of resources.

There is a plethora of programs that depend on census data to determine funding distribution. During fiscal year 2015, 132 programs used Census Bureau data to allocate $675 billion to communities across the United States. These programs included: Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher, the Section 8 Housing Assistance Payment Program, the School Breakfast Program, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance, Highway Planning and Construction and others.[1] In order to distribute funds, these programs rely on a variety of datasets such as Population Estimates, Poverty Guidelines, Per Capita Income and more. Without an accurate census count, states may not only receive inadequate funds, but they also may experience lower reimbursement rates for expenses accrued from the programs.[2]

If there is an undercount, areas that need funding the most will not get the resources they need. This is now an issue of particular concern due to a new citizenship question introduced by the Department of Justice that is currently under consideration. The Justice Department is requesting the census ask participants to indicate their citizenship status on the questionnaire. This is highly intimidating for immigrants who are already feeling vulnerable in the current political climate. They may fear that an honest answer would expose them or their families to deportation despite the fact that census data is anonymous and protected information.

The decennial census survey has always counted both citizens and noncitizens. In fact, the Constitution calls for a census which accounts for the “whole number of persons in each State” (14th Amendment, Section 2), not just citizens. Adding this question threatens to undermine efforts to gather a fair and accurate count by dissuading immigrants from participating. This could have a severe effect on Latino communities in particular.  This potential citizenship question, along with anti-immigrant language and increased ICE funding by the Trump Administration, together creates an environment of heightened anxiety and mistrust towards the census.[3]

What is there to take away from all of this? That participation in the 2020 census is vital! An accurate census, which includes members of the immigrant community, will ensure proper funding to communities in need and proper apportionment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Everyone counts and everyone should be counted! Let’s make sure everyone gets their fair share for the next 10 years and beyond.

[1] https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial/2020/program-management/working-papers/Uses-of-Census-Bureau-Data-in-Federal-Funds-Distribution.pdf

[2] https://gwipp.gwu.edu/counting-dollars-role-decennial-census-geographic-distribution-federal-funds

[3] https://www.salon.com/2018/02/25/why-the-2020-census-should-not-ask-about-your-citizenship-status_partner/

Finding a New Measure of Winning

Finding a New Measure of Winning

Meg Olson
March 8, 2018

There is no doubt about it: 2017 has been a rough year for justice seekers. As I write this, I am sitting with the devastating reality that before leaving on their holiday vacations, Congress passed a bill that will increase taxes for taxpayers in the lowest brackets, cause 13 million people to lose their health insurance, and exacerbate our nation’s already staggering racial wealth gap. And this is just one example of how Congress and the Trump administration are hurting people living in poverty, people of color, immigrants, labor, women, the earth…

Some days I look at my postcard of Dorothy Day’s famous adage and think, “Dorothy, I DO have the right to sit down and feel hopeless! Nothing is working!”

And yet, I know that I need to pursue Gospel justice with joy and persistence and approach situations with hope and welcome. And, as the lead NETWORK organizer, I am called to model this joy, hope, and welcome for you, our members, who reach out on a daily basis, asking what else you can do to pass the Dream Act or save the Affordable Care Act.

If I take a step back from the immediate crisis at hand and look at this past year, I can actually muster up quite a bit of hope. I just have to accept that in these challenging times, I need to adjust my expectations about winning.

In my early days of organizing, I was taught to think of multiple answers to the question, “What does winning look like?” Yes, the ultimate “win” is stopping harmful legislation or passing a bill that supports the common good. However, “winning” also looks like people committing to taking action, strengthening relationships with those who share their values, and building power.

So here’s how I’ve seen NETWORK’s members and activists win in 2017:

  • You’ve committed to taking action by making over 50,000 phone calls to Congress this year; going on more than 40 in-district visits; and attending town halls, rallies, and even protests.
  • You’ve strengthened your relationships with your fellow NETWORK members, with organizations led by Dreamers, and members of other faith based organizations such as Bread for the World and Faith in Indiana.
  • You’re building power in your congressional districts. I know that because our Government Relations team will gleefully tell me when they get back from the Hill, “Congressman Pete King’s Legislative Assistant started our meeting by thanking NETWORK and crediting our members for urging Rep. King to get on Rep. Scott Taylor’s letter to get a solution for Dreamers before the end of the year!” or “Congresswoman Brooks’s staffer said that the Congresswoman told her about the great meeting she had with NETWORK members!”

We’ve got a long road ahead of us to mend the wealth, income, and access gaps in our nation, especially for people living in poverty, women, people of color, and those living in the intersections of those realities. But I have hope that in 2018, NETWORK’s members and activists will commit to taking more action, continuing to deepen their relationships with fellow justice-seekers, and building even more power.

And yes, I believe that we will win!

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

A Year of Protest, Prayer, and Persistence

Laura Peralta-Schulte
March 7, 2018

2017 was a tumultuous year for our nation. Following the election of President Trump and with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, advocates were fearful of what lay ahead for women, people of color, immigrants, and other communities that had been the target of then-candidate Trump’s consistent attacks on the campaign trail.

President Trump began his Inaugural Address talking about “American carnage”, building walls, and making “America first.” The next day, millions of people marched in Washington and around the world to show their opposition to President Trump’s agenda. Sister Simone Campbell addressed the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. asking people of faith to actively engage in the political debate on behalf of the common good. With that historic mobilization, we began the political action of 2017.

Administrative Attacks on our Mend the Gap Agenda

Two areas of NETWORK’s Mend the Gap agenda were under constant attack in 2017:  healthcare and immigration. On both issues, the Trump Administration used all legal means at their disposal to undo the progress of the Obama Administration. For healthcare, the Administration moved immediately to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by changing regulations under the guise of “flexibility” to limit the program. Later in the year, the Administration refused to advertise and engage in ACA enrollment activities, which was an act of sabotage.

On immigration, including in the area of refugee resettlement, the Administration attempted to fundamentally restructure longstanding programs. This began with issuing multiple Muslim travel bans – which were, until recently, stopped by Court challenges – then concluded the year by announcing a historic cut to the number of refugees the U.S. will settle. The Trump Administration also callously rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program created by President Obama that has protected Dreamers from deportation and allowed them legal work authorization since 2012. The Administration is currently working to remove Temporary Protected Status for large communities of immigrants including those from Haiti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere.

Legislative Attacks on Mend the Gap Issues

One of the first and most sustained threats to our agenda came as Republicans in Congress launched their efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Republican members of Congress have campaigned on repealing the ACA since its passage, so it was no surprise when the House moved to repeal the program. Congress also moved to unravel our broader healthcare system by attempting to fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program into a block grant. This proposal would devastate Medicaid and risk the health of millions of Americans who depend on the program.

What was surprising – and inspiring – was that these efforts failed due to the hard work of a diverse coalition of advocates and the engagement of many people all around the country who responded to the attack with determination. The Republicans had planned to repeal the ACA quickly at the beginning of the Congressional session, but ended up fighting to make changes through the spring and summer until they finally failed in July. Network chaired the national faith healthcare table and played an important role in defeating the effort.

Harmful immigration bills became part of the Republican legislative agenda during the first days of the new Congress. Republicans moved swiftly to increase funding for deportations, detention, and border security as well as pass new legislation to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding. Early on, Democrats united and refused to support a bill that included significant funding to build a border wall. This was an early win for our community, and it became apparent that Republicans would have trouble implementing their agenda because of Senate rules (requiring 60 votes to pass legislation) when operating under regular process. That is why the budget reconciliation process (which only requires 51 votes) has been used to try to pass partisan healthcare and tax legislation.

Crisis set in as the Administration rescinded the DACA program in September. Over 800,000 Dreamers who had signed up for protections and who are fully integrated in American communities, schools, and workplaces face the threat of deportation if Congress does not pass legislation that provides protection. Congress failed to pass this critical legislation in 2017 and it remains a key part of NETWORK’s agenda for 2018.

End of the Year: Tax Cuts or Bust

Because of advocates’ success in blocking major portions of the Republican agenda during the first half of the year, when Congress returned after the August recess, the pressure was on Republicans to deliver a win before the end of the year. They moved quickly to a popular issue for the party: tax cuts. Congressional Republicans worked feverishly for the rest of the year to pass a partisan tax bill that gives significant tax cuts to wealthy people and corporations at a loss of $1.5 trillion dollars for our nation. While there were obstacles to passing the bill, in the end Republicans rallied around the tax bill written by and for lobbyists and their rich donors, marketing it as a middle class tax bill that will spur economic growth and raise wages. Unlike earlier debates, there was little Republican opposition to the tax bill and it moved forward at lightning speed. The bill did not receive any Democratic support.

This was a significant loss for NETWORK for two reasons. First, as part of the tax bill, Republicans achieve a year-long goal of destabilizing the Affordable Care Act by including a repeal of the individual mandate. Experts show that this will increase premiums and potentially lead to 13 million people losing healthcare in the near future. Second, the significant loss of national revenue sets the table for Republican leadership to talk about the need to cut the social safety net programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and nutrition programs next year. Already, President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have indicated that Congress will push for “Welfare Reform” next year.

An Uninspiring Federal Budget Process

Congress did not pass a full federal budget for 2018, deciding instead to put all of their political energy into passing tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. Congress adjourned on December 21 after passing a short-term bill to fund the government at current levels through January 19. This sets the stage for further budget action as well as discussions on funding for 2019.

Harmful Neglect of the Common Good

Congress’s single-minded focus on partisan priorities continually got in the way of bipartisan legislation that would have advanced the common good. For much of 2017, NETWORK and partners urged Congress to extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) well before the October 1 deadline. For 20 years, CHIP has been a popular, bipartisan program that brought the rate of uninsured children to the lowest level in our history. Congress failed to renew CHIP funding and only passed a temporary funding for the program until March of 2018 when they will try again to achieve bipartisan consensus.

Overall, there are three important lessons we have learned in the past year. First, Republicans are deeply divided on core Mend the Gap issues like healthcare and immigration; it is possible in certain instances to build bipartisan support to block bad bills and, over time, potentially to develop bipartisan legislation to solve problems. Second, in order to be successful, advocates must organize and engage in Washington and, perhaps more importantly, at home. Third, President Trump and Republicans in Washington are fearful of political losses in 2018 and will prioritize “winning” the political fight and the next election over the common good. As we work to resist against unjust policies and to promote the common good, we continue to find our power in diversity and community.

Read NETWORK’s 2017 Voting Record here.

Family Reunification is the Heart of Immigration

Family Reunification is the Heart of Immigration

Sister Bernadine Karge, OP
February 22, 2018

May I share the immigration story of the Gomez* Family whom I met more than 13 years ago?

Mr. Gomez* had come to the United States in the early 1980’s to work to support his wife, and children in Mexico. When the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) went into effect in 1987, Mr. Gomez applied for temporary resident status during the one year application time. He successfully proved that he had entered the U.S. without documents, lived here without documents since 1/1/82, had provided for himself, paid taxes and was a person of good moral character. After the required time as a temporary resident, he became a permanent resident in 1992. One aspect of the 1986 law was that there were no derivative beneficiaries. This means a spouse could not bring in his or her spouse and minor unmarried children into the country as permanent residents when she or he recieved a “green card.”

However, as a permanent resident Mr. Gomez could and did file a petition to bring his wife and unmarried children in 1992. So Mr. Gomez was living legally in the U.S. and his wife and three kids were living in Mexico. What would you do? Leave your wife and kids in another country or bring them here? The latter, no doubt, which is what the Gomez family did-reunite the family. The children attended school here in the U.S. and the sons began working with their dad in the factory when they were old enough.

When I first met the family, in 2005, their number in the second preference visa category was not current. They patiently waited in line for a visa number to become available. Two years later in July 2007, their number became available, but the older son was over 21. Would he be able to immigrate with his mother as a derivative along with his younger brother and sister? Each family member, mom and three kids had to file a separate petition, get a medical examination, do fingerprints and a background check. This cost the family about $5000 in application, medical and biometrics fees before fees increased at the end of July 2007!

In November 2007, the family went for an interview at the immigration office in Chicago. Thanks to the Child Status Protection Act and its intricate formula for protecting “child status” the immigration officer agreed with us that the older son was under 21 for immigration purposes. Mr. Gomez’s wife and the three children were granted permanent resident status at the end of 2007 – 20 years after dad first applied!

The daughter graduated from grade school and high school. She became a U.S. citizen when she turned 18 and graduated from college last June. The sons have married, immigrated their wives and are raising their children in Chicago. Family is the chain that binds us. Family reunification is the foundation of U.S. immigration law.

*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of the family

Sister Bernadine Karge is a Sinsinawa Dominican Sister and a former “Nun on the Bus.”