Category Archives: Women and Families

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Progress from Congress on Appropriations

Tralonne Shorter
September 12, 2018

This summer, Congress made extraordinary progress toward completing the requisite 12 spending measures for upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2019. To date, the Senate has passed nine spending bills, while the House has passed six. Lawmakers have until September 30 to finalize spending bills or extend funding at current levels through a continuing resolution (CR).  Efforts are underway to bundle nine* out of 12 spending measures into three packages by September 30 and put the remaining three** bills into a CR, averting a government shutdown.

One reason for the Senate’s remarkable pace on appropriations is President Trump’s vow to not sign another omnibus spending bill.  To achieve this progress, the Senate uncharacteristically spent part of August in session.  Another reason is a bipartisan agreement between Appropriations committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) not to pack spending bills with controversial provisions that would weaken bipartisan support.

NETWORK continues to lead lobby efforts supporting our Mend the Gap priorities.  These include:  humane border enforcement that promotes family unity and funding increases for affordable housing, workforce development, job training, child welfare and health care.  In addition, NETWORK will continue to oppose efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Immigration

Unsurprisingly, the Trump Administration’s “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy dominated the appropriations debate and faced strong opposition across party lines in both chambers.  NETWORK joined pro-immigration advocates in garnering support for more than 12 amendments to the Homeland Security bill that adds report language that clamps down on family separation with better oversight and accountability standards for ICE detention centers.  Additionally, we successfully lobbied for more funding to support alternatives to detention, family case management services, and mental health screening of unaccompanied minor children crossing the Southern border. However, a major disappointment by House Appropriators includes the reversal of the Flores Settlement, a 1997 agreement drafted by the ACLU which set a 20-day limit for family detention and governs the conditions of detention for children, including that facilities be safe, sanitary, and age appropriate.    If enacted this would allow immigrant families to be indefinitely detained in facilities with harsh conditions not supported by Flores.  Thankfully, the Senate approved LHHSED Appropriations bill leaves the Flores settlement agreement intact and the House language is not likely to be part of the final bill.

As for immigration enforcement spending contained in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, the House Appropriations Committee approved $7 billion more than the Senate for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and the Southwest Border Wall.  Other areas of concern include, a 10 percent increase in detention beds, as well as funding to hire almost 800 more border and customs agents/officers.

NETWORK will continue to push back on efforts to separate families or that would undermine humane border enforcement as negotiations gain momentum post the mid-term elections.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The current Farm Bill is set to expire on September 30, unless Congress passes the next Farm Bill before then or extends the current reauthorization.  Regardless of when Congress finalizes the next Farm Bill, funding for SNAP will not lapse as the government is statutorily required to continue funding the program subject to participation demands.  Since 2015, SNAP enrollment has declined by more than 4.7 million people resulting in a $73 billion automatic appropriation for FY 2019.  This is $794 million less than FY 2018 and a 10 percent reduction since FY 2015.

Census

House appropriators gave a big boost to the Census Bureau in the FY 2019 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations (CJS) bill, approving nearly $1 billion more for the agency than the Senate. However, it is unclear how much of the $4.8 billion for the agency will be allocated for the 2020 Decennial.  Conversely, the Senate appropriators (under new leadership) appears to have taken a more conservative approach and adopted the President’s FY 2019 budget request to fund the 2020 Decennial at $3.015 billion.  This is drastically different from NETWORK’s request of $3.928 billion minimum baseline.

Besides census activities, the CJS bill also funds immigration related law enforcement and adjudication efforts within the Department of Justice.  Regrettably, the House Committee bill, fails to fully protect immigrant families and includes increased funding for immigrant-related law enforcement efforts.  Congress is not expected to finalize the CJS bill until sometime after the mid-term elections.  NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push for the higher number for the 2020 Census contained in the House bill.

Housing

Funding for housing programs fared better in the Senate.  The Senate approved a $12 billion increase above the President’s FY 2019 budget request−and is $1 billion above the House bill.  Housing programs help nearly 5 million vulnerable families and individuals.  This includes:  $22.8 billion for tenant-based Section 8 vouchers; $7.5 billion for public housing; $11.7 billion for project-based Section 8; $678 million for Housing for the Elderly; and $154 million for Housing for Persons with Disabilities.  Both committee bills reject the Administration’s rent reform proposal, and reinstate funding for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships programs, which were eliminated in the President’s FY 2019 budget request.  However, the House reduces spending for the HOME program by 12 percent.

NETWORK will continue to advocate for increased funding for affordable housing programs.

Children and Human Needs

The LHHSEd Appropriations bill funds popular safety net programs, like Medicare and Medicaid operations, home energy assistance, Head Start and the Child Care Development Block Grant.  It is the 2nd largest spending bill, after defense and comprises about 63 percent of total discretionary spending.  The House and Senate bills are slightly different—overall the Senate bill is better because it has a higher spending allocation and contains no poison pill riders unlike the House.

Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act continues to be attacked by Republican lawmakers.  Both the House and Senate bills reduce access to affordable health care by cutting funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) operating budget by nearly half a billion dollars.  According to the House Committee report, Democrats view defunding CMS as “a misguided attempt to sabotage the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace.” If enacted this cut would significantly impact Medicare as it subject to mandatory 2 percent sequestration cut pursuant to the Balance Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).

NETWORK will continue to call on our supporters to push back against efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act.


* Agriculture; Defense; Energy and Water; Financial Services; Interior; Labor-Health and Human Services-Education; Legislative Branch; Military Construction and Veterans Affairs; Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

**Commerce, Justice, Science; Foreign Operations; and Homeland Security.

Guest Blog: Celebrating Our Dreams, Our Families in the Face of Threats to Family Reunification

Celebrating Our Dreams, Our Families in the Face of Threats to Family Reunification

Sam Yu
August 31, 2018

In February, the Senate voted on four different immigration bills for our undocumented young people. They all included plans to cut family-based immigration and they all failed to pass. Moreover, the Trump administration was doubling down on using harmful rhetoric around “chain migration” in order to further alienate and dehumanize communities whose families benefit from family-based sponsorship.

An overwhelming majority of Asian Americans come to the U.S. through the family-based sponsorship, meaning that any cuts directly impact our community. Forcing immigrant youth to choose between their futures and their families is pure blackmail and intolerable.

In order to spark dialogue and fight back against the harmful “chain migration” rhetoric, NAKASEC and affiliates launched the Our Dreams, Our Families” campaign. During February and March, we shared stories of impacted folks from our community whose families have benefited or will benefit from family-based sponsorship. All of the stories can be found at www.nakasec.org/ourdreamsourfamilies.

In one of our stories, Esther, our DACAmented young leader, explained how “it infuriated [her] that members of Congress, even our so called ‘allies,’ would think that [she] would ever want a pathway to citizenship that would prevent [her] from sponsoring [her] own parents… Our parents made us who we are today, our parents are the original Dreamers, and when you celebrate the achievements of Dreamers like [her], you are celebra

ting the achievements of not just our parents but our friends and our communities.”

Esther’s story and her declaration that her mother deserves to stay too captures the essence of the “Our Dreams, Our Families” campaign. We are asking Congress to value our families, protect family-based sponsorship, and fully understand that we cannot support undocumented young people without also supporting their families. Families are a cornerstone of American values and they deserve to stay together!

Sam Yu is the Communications Coordinator at NAKASEC. NAKASEC organizes Korean and Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice. Learn more at www.nakasec.org

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

Guest Blog: Living out Our Hope That All May Be One

Living out Our Hope That All May Be One

Father Jim F. Callahan
August 24, 2018

Worthington, Minnesota is a community of 13,000 people, located in the Southwest corner of the state. It is a diverse community with 64 nationalities, living, working and worshipping together. The Latino population comprises the largest immigrant community. Seventy-five percent of our public school children speak Spanish as their first language. Most members of our immigrant communities come without documentation.

People often wonder how Worthington has the second largest immigrant community in the state. What draws immigrants here are the meat packing plants in the city and surrounding communities as well as the numerous farms throughout the region.

The challenges facing the immigrant communities in Worthington are racism, prejudice, and discrimination. Lack of affordable housing, medical, and dental care are also challenges that the community faces. As a result of the need for medical care, we established the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Clinic, and later, the Our Lady of Guadalupe Free Dental Clinic. Anyone without insurance is welcome. We became a 501(c)(3) four years ago, and have seen over 1200 patients.

The Parish of St. Mary is a church of hospitality. Our primary objective is to make the parish a welcoming and safe haven for all people. After the election of Donald Trump, fear seized our community. We announced to the parish we would do everything possible to help and protect our people. The staff prayed and studied what would be the most Gospel-based response to this crisis. Already we were experiencing families being torn apart by deportation and mothers separated from their children. So we unanimously decided that we had to become a Sanctuary Church. Since our declaration of becoming a Sanctuary Church, we have received support from the diocese and individuals and faith communities around the state.

We believe Sanctuary has biblical roots and we have mandate to proclaim justice for all people, regardless of race, creed, or color.

We work closely with the Immigrant Law Center based in St. Paul. We established a steering committee made up of immigrants and community leaders and the church sponsors programs, workshops, and listening sessions related to topics which affect the community. As a Catholic Faith Community whose foundation is the Eucharist, we have an obligation to live out the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching, living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.

St. Mary’s Parish prays for comprehensive immigration reform and for the end of this reign of terror, where families will no longer hide in the shadows, where families will no longer be separated or children taken from their parents because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or who they call God.

Our prayer is as a Nation, as a Church, as a People, that one day all may be one.


Father Jim F. Callahan is Pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Worthington, MN.

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

We Cannot Allow This Cruelty in Our Country

We Cannot Allow This Cruelty in Our Country

Fighting Immoral Policies Tearing Families Apart at the Border

U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal
August 17, 2018

Our nation is in crisis. The words on the Statue of Liberty—”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—seem far away as families on the border are separated as a result of President Donald Trump’s inhumane and cruel “zero tolerance” policy.  The policy has resulted in thousands of children being placed in tent cities, shelters, and foster homes across the nation, with no plan to reunite them with their parents.

Two weeks ago, I spoke with 174 women who were, at the administration’s orders, transferred thousands of miles from the southern border to a federal prison just outside Seattle. Most of these women were asylum-seekers, fleeing rape, violence, and persecution. The majority had been held in various facilities for over two weeks, many for over a month.

The mothers had been separated from their children at the border, and not a single one had spoken to their children since then. All but two of the mothers did not even know where their children were. They wept as they told me that they had been “deceived” by agents who told them to just leave the room for a minute to take a picture or see a judge, and when they returned, their children were gone. They didn’t even have a chance to say goodbye.

The women I spoke to had already made heartbreaking choices in deciding to come to the United States. One woman told me that her oldest child was shot killed by gangs, her second shot and paralyzed, and that she had to leave that paralyzed child in order to try and save her third child. She had been separated from that last child at the border and had not seen him in a month. Another woman traveled to the border with one child, leaving another child who was blind behind because she knew he could not make the difficult journey.

I am an immigrant and a mother, and what I heard breaks my heart.

We must demand that Trump fix the crisis he created, and reject his false claims that he has taken any action to do that. The executive order he signed does not reverse his zero-tolerance policy that created these abuses and violations; instead, it allows for the indefinite detention of children and their parents in family prison camps. His administration has challenged a previous court settlement that clearly states that children cannot be detained for more than 20 days. That means that, very soon, either he is going to separate families again or he is going to defy that court order and continue to detain children illegally. Does anyone seriously believe that incarcerating children is a solution to the crisis the president has created?

On top of that, the administration has no plans to reunite the thousands of children who have already been separated.

We cannot stand for this. As one of only a dozen members of Congress born outside of the United States, I began my organizing in the wake of 9-11, forming Washington’s largest immigrant advocacy organization to combat the abuses at the time against Sikhs, Muslims, Arabs, and immigrants. I saw then that strength emerges in times of crisis and that is what we must focus on building all over again today. That’s why I’m calling on Trump to overturn his zero-tolerance policy, reunite families, and release them from their prisons.

This isn’t about politics—it’s about right and wrong. We have to stand up for America.

Representative Pramila Jayapal represents the state of Washington’s seventh district. The first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives, Representative Jayapal has spent the last twenty years working internationally and domestically as a leading national advocate for women’s, immigrant, civil, and human rights.

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

Humanizing the Immigration Debate: A Conversation with United We Dream

Humanizing the Immigration Debate: A Conversation with United We Dream

August 10, 2018

United We Dream, a youth-led organization with hundreds of thousands of members, is one of the strongest voices for immigrant rights in our nation. United We Dream has shaped the immigration debate on Capitol Hill and across the country since it was founded, advocating for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), and other legislation on the national, state, and local levels to improve the lives of immigrants and their families. 

Recently, NETWORK Government Relations Associate, Sana Rizvi, interviewed Juan Manuel Guzman, Community and Government Affairs Manager at United We Dream, to hear more about United We Dream’s history, current advocacy, and vision for a future of just immigration policy. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Sana: Hi Juan Manuel, thanks for talking with us. Could you give us a brief history of how United We Dream was created and how important it was, in that process, to be an immigrant-led organization?

Juan Manuel: Yes, absolutely. The co-founders of United We Dream, Cristina Jimenez and Julieta Garibay, always tell us how United We Dream  started. As you know in 2001, there was this Dream Act. It was a bill that was introduced by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), but it wasn’t up until 2006 or 2007 when immigrant youth, Dreamers, from different parts of the country had the opportunity to meet each other.

One of the catalysts of having United We Dream form is that idea of “Oh my gosh you are undocumented like me, but you live in another state and I didn’t know you existed.” So, United We Dream started as a network, a network of young immigrants who basically shared the same stories or similar stories and lived similar things here in the United States as undocumented immigrants. They decided to say, “Okay, you live in Texas, I live in New York, let’s keep in touch and see how we can move things forward.” So, that’s how it all started.

I think there was a point in the movement in which people, or at least the young people, their input was not as valid because young people making decision for themselves was not that mainstream. So, there was that need of people saying “No, I need to have a say about my life. Not only am I somebody who will tell his or her story, but I also want to be at that table where the decisions happen. I want to be able to influence that.” Because up until then it was other organizations doing the work and immigrant youth just being called to say their stories. More than the photo-op, immigrant youth wanted to have more influence on their own lives. So, they tell us that it all started with one desk. United We Dream only had a desk and a phone and people just trying to make the most out of it. As you know, it went from that desk and now it’s been 10 years.

Sana: We know that one of United We Dream’s guiding principles is “Our Stories are Power.” How do you use the power of stories in both mobilizing supporters and lobbying elected officials?

Juan Manuel: I think when politicians and the media and everyone talks about immigration in particular, it is a very hot issue. Sometimes when you don’t put a face to that, to those reports, when you don’t do that, you don’t humanize. What the stories do is basically put a face, a story, a human being, to what is being discussed. Politicians can talk a lot about policy but it is only when you understand the effect on people when it starts to make sense for you whether that policy is right or it’s wrong. So the stories are very powerful.

I did a lot of advocacy meetings with Republican offices for the DREAM Act campaign, for example. And you know, me, an undocumented immigrant, talking to Republican offices, that is not easy. But when I told them about the sacrifices of our families, for example, I remember telling this to one staffer: I told her, “Our families— our dads, or moms, our cousins— they worked hard for a better future. From dawn to sunset in backbreaking jobs, sometimes being abused, sometimes being treated unfairly, so we can have a better chance” and people would relate to that and say, “My mom worked a lot too and made a lot of sacrifices and you know what, I understand. It makes sense.” That is why our stories are so powerful.

Sana: What do you think is the most significant campaign that United We Dream has worked on in the past?

Juan Manuel: What a question. Probably the one that had the most impact is our DACA campaign. In 2010, right after the failure of the DREAM Act in Congress, United We Dream and other organizations decided to see how we could move into an executive branch strategy. Eventually, after a lot of work, activism, and organizing, immigrant youth were able to force the hand of the president of the United States into signing an executive order. It was the organizing, it was the strategizing, it was everything that made DACA happen. And that had, as you’ve probably seen, a huge impact on the lives of people, of families. It is not just about the DACA recipient who was able to get a work permit and be protected from deportation, but it was also an impact on the families, the economy, and the communities where we live. I think that is one of the most important results from our organizing.

Sana: So, moving onto the current situation which is, unfortunately, attacks on DACA and attacks on the immigrant community. With all of this, how is United We Dream balancing its priorities and what are some of your current campaigns?

Juan Manuel: I have to say the end of DACA [by President Trump] had a huge impact on United We Dream, because we are primarily led by undocumented young people. So the end of DACA took us to a 7-month [legislative] campaign for the Dream Act. That happened until March 5. We fought, we did everything that we could to find a legislative solution, but ultimately, politicians were not able to come up with a solution that provides a pathway to citizenship for immigrant youth but at the same time doesn’t hurt our families. So after March we decided to go back to the drawing board and see what is next.

I think at this moment what is important is that there have been a lot of leaders that emerged during the DREAM Act campaign. Even though there is that difficult reality that the future of the DACA program is in limbo, people have this energy, this willingness, to fight, to do something for their communities, to step up. There are many people in the country that we need to be involved at the local level. We have to see how we can protect immigrants at the local level. How do we work with the city council, how do we work with the school districts, how do we work with local organizations so we protect immigrants? Especially for people who are not protected or are losing protections, like TPS recipients or our own family who do not have any protection. How do we push for policies and people who are going to not only support us, but putting a stop to what has been coming from the federal government?

Sana: What keeps you all hopeful during this time? As an organization, I see United We Dream get up after we have a defeat and say, “Okay we are going to keep working, we are going to keep doing this.” What keeps that hope up?

Juan Manuel: I think we were able to see that in the DREAM Act campaign. We worked really long hours. We used to wake up really early, go to bed really late at night. Every day: working, going to Congressional offices, doing visits, doing actions, doing everything. We used all our energy and we were tired and it was difficult and it was cold, but at the same time you could see that people were still hopeful, were still energized and willing to fight. I think when you see that even though you might be tired, you might be burned out, you also have this sense of hope. In the worst times you can get the best out of people and I think that’s what gives me hope. When we didn’t have any certainty about our lives, it became the greatest leadership that we’ve seen. I think that’s what gives me hope that this is not over yet. We are going to keep fighting.

Sana: What is your long-term vision for just immigration policies in our country?

Juan Manuel: I think United We Dream has set it up clearly. It is not just about immigration. It goes beyond immigration. That was one thing we were able to see with President Trump coming to power. It is only not immigrants who are being attacked. It is also women. It is also our Muslim brothers and sisters. It is also the LGBTQ community that is being attacked, the environment. So I think the future for United We Dream and the vision is that we want to build this network of people, of people of conscience that want to work on behalf of these issues.

But most importantly, we want to seek racial justice because immigration is also a racial issue. You are seeing black and brown kids being separated from their families right now. They are not white kids. They are black and brown kids being separated from their families and black and brown people being incarcerated at such high levels. In the case of immigrants in detention centers, immigration detention centers, which are just jails— I can tell you that that is the future. Racial justice for issues that affect black and brown communities.

Sana: Are you hopeful that we will be victorious?

Juan Manuel: I think that sometimes we have to stumble and we have to fall a little bit so we can see the direction of our lives. I think that‘s true on a personal basis but also as a country. I think the country itself is waking up and people are saying, “I don’t agree with separating children, that’s not right. I don’t know what kind of political views you have but that is not a political issue, that’s a moral issue.” And I think people coming from that moral point of view will be able to say, “That is not the direction that we are going to go.” And I think progress, of course, is not linear, sometimes you have to take one step back to get two steps or three steps forward.

Sana: Can you give one word to describe how this movement makes you feel?

Juan Manuel: Wow, that’s a profound question. I think empowered. I joined the movement right around when Donald Trump was about to become the presidential nominee for the Republican Party. Before that, I was in the shadows and I felt very disempowered. That’s how you just feel. You don’t know your future here in the country. All these things being said about you and your community and your people. I had so much frustration and anger inside myself because of all the hateful things I was hearing. It was through the movement in United We Dream that I could feel empowered. I was able to say, “We can have an impact on the direction of our lives.”

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

Finding Holiness in the Struggle for Justice

Finding Holiness in the Struggle for Justice

Bearing Witness to the Pain of our Immigrant Family Calls Us to Action

I have shed tears watching the news coverage of ICE raids in work places. I have watched the separation of children, including very young children, from their parents in horror. I have had tears in my eyes as Temporary Protected Status for vulnerable people is ended without regard to the lived realities in these countries. I am shocked as the Republican Party, which always prided itself on being the party of “family values,” sets out with calculated cruelty to tear families apart. In the process, they are tearing the heart out of our nation.

But tears are not enough.

Pope Francis in his recent apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate, challenges us with the insight: “The only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him?” (Paragraph 102).

So how do we stand in the shoes of these immigrants? For some in Chicago it is being part of a prayer ministry for detained immigrants. In New Jersey, just across from New York City, it is providing detained people with basic necessities like stationery, stamps and international phone cards. In southern California, it is in providing parish identification cards and safe havens when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is around. In Minnesota, it is state organizing to provide actual protection for undocumented families. On our southern border, it is leaving water along the paths immigrants travel. In schools, colleges and, universities, it is making education accessible for undocumented children and young adults.

Everyone engaged in these and myriad other ministries is putting themselves in the zapatos (shoes) of the immigrant.

As I don’t spend my time doing this direct work, I sometimes wonder how am I putting myself in these sacred shoes? I am lead once again to the crying need for systemic change in our immigration policy. Our nation is being torn apart. Our values are being trampled. Our people are being hurt.

A couple of weeks ago, a mother told me that her first grade son came home extremely worried. He feared that his parents would not be there for him when he came home from school. He and his pals at school were talking about what had happened to one of their pal’s parents. His anxiety was high as he blurted out in tears: “It isn’t fair!”

I know that primal cry. It resonates in my being. I want to stand up and say STOP! This is my part – and yours. Together we are called as the NETWORK community to lobby Congress to change these unjust laws. But it isn’t just our own members of Congress that need to hear from us. We can get our friends around the country to contact their members of Congress too. We need to be missionaries of the common good for our family members who are suffering.

If we are going to reclaim our country, we must act according to our faith values. We will put ourselves in the shoes of those seeking our help and do all in our power to change these unjust laws. I commit to you that I will not step back from the fray even when my heart is broken and I want to flee. Will you act with me in the face of this mounting horror?

It is in this struggle that we might come to know the holiness that Pope Francis talks about. He tells us that it is marked by perseverance, joy, passion and boldness, community and constant prayer. Let us continue our advocacy, knowing that in our time this is the Gospel path. Let us respond together to the invitation: Come Follow Me!

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

Encountering the Reality of the Southern Border

Encountering the Reality of the Southern Border

Mary Cunningham
July 20, 2018

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas are just miles apart and yet they are worlds away. As you explore both, you notice the cities blend into one another: people living on one side, working on the other, Spanish and English spoken in both, and a shared industrial vibe. And yet, the cities remain two distinct realities – divided by a large border wall, 18 feet high in some places. People on one side are trapped by low wages, poor working conditions, violence, and persecution, and on the other trapped by their own minds and biases. But there is a deep inequality between the two countries, and, in the United States, an explicit denial of the experiences of people living south of the border – people most of us have never even met. It baffles me how a barrier can create not only physical separation, but a separation that is strongly emotional and visceral.

In early July I went to the U.S.-Mexico border for the first time. Working at a federal advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., I am constantly reading news about what’s happening at the border: people fleeing violence in countries such as El Salvador and Honduras, debates on funding for the border wall, family separation, the list goes on. Despite this, I always felt a desire to go the border – to meet people and hear their stories. D.C. is geared towards engaging with immigration on a policy level, but it often feels disconnected from what’s happening on the ground. This trip was a chance to immerse myself in the reality of the border—learning about the working conditions for people on both sides, the process for seeking asylum, the experience of migrants, the conditions in detention centers, Customs and Border Protection, and more. It was a chance to learn, but also a chance to feel the impact of the border and the precise division it creates.

At the beginning of the week we helped serve dinner at Nazareth Hall, a shelter for migrants recently released from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention centers. Although there was a language barrier, the stories of the people we served food to were written all over their faces. We noticed the timidity of the group as they entered the dining hall and the slight relaxation that took over as they realized they were finally in a safe place. One woman came up to us after dinner with tears in her eyes, holding each of our hands for a few brief moments, as she repeated, “thank you.” We also got a tour of Annunciation House, a shelter for undocumented immigrants started by Ruben Garcia. (This is one of the only shelters available for migrants who are undocumented.) Interacting with migrants who had just been released from detention was a grounding experience. I spoke with one man from Cameroon who had been detained for 18 months. When I asked how that was, he just shook his head despairingly, claiming, “horrible.” It was evident that the conditions in detention centers are deplorable. Many local advocates we met with told us “make no mistake: these are prisons.”

In addition to helping at local shelters, we met immigration advocates and attorneys such as Anna Hey, Deputy Director of the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services (DMRS). Anna gave us an overview of the particular barriers facing migrants coming to the United States, explaining the snares they often get caught up in the legal process. Among all the things Anna shared with us, what stood out to me the most were the discrepancies between the number of people granted asylum from state to state, depending on where their case is heard. (In New York, New York the grant rate is 85%, while in El Paso the grant rate is a mere 6%.) Additionally, Anna noted how the whole “wait in line” argument is complete bologna. Some people applying for immigrant visas or Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) may have to wait over 20 years! Hearing about this and the lived experience of the clients Anna works with exposed the undeniable reality of our dysfunctional immigration system.

Towards the end of the week we crossed the border into Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. While there, we visited the Bibloteca Infantil, “El Buen Pastor,” a children’s library started by Cristina Estrada. Cristina explained how the limited economic opportunity in Juárez dissuades many people from finishing their education. Maquiladoras (foreign-owned and run factories) are common in Juárez and many Mexicans – often multiple members of the same family– end up working in them. We talked to a representative from Foxconn (an electronics manufacturing company), who told us that the starting wage is around $60 a week. Broken down, that means that at least three members of a family would have to work to make ends meet. Recognizing that many Mexican young people see factories like this as their only path, Cristina’s mission at the children’s library is to provide a space for young people to learn, study, and grow. She provides books for students and helps tutor them so they are able to recognize the value of education and where it can lead them. When one of our group members asked Cristina what she hoped to accomplish, she replied with tears in her eyes, saying her dreams had already been fulfilled. Seeing so many kids achieve their educational goals over the years is her greatest accomplishment.

This immersion trip brought me many things, but perhaps among the most important was that nothing is more powerful than the power of experience. Some elected officials choose to paint the immigrant population with broad strokes, calling them criminals, drug traffickers, or burdens to our country. But how fair is that, when these are people just like us, who each carry their own pain, struggles, and joys? There are so many stories that simply don’t get heard, because we don’t have enough time or space to tell them. While I know this immersion trip and these stories won’t change immigration policy overnight, they certainly changed me. I find hope at the individual level, where the stories of each individual person we meet transform our hearts and minds and push us in subtle ways to see anew. As the Columban motto goes, “A life unlike your own can be your teacher.”

A Play Date to Oppose Family Separation

A Play Date to Oppose Family Separation

Daisy Pitkin
June 27, 2018

On June 13th, I and about 15 other parents and our children went to Representative McSally’s District Office in Tucson, Arizona to raise our deep concern over the separation of families at the border. Congress is in session, so Rep. McSally was not in her office. While waiting to see if we could speak with her by phone, we sang songs, read books, and ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches. We called our visit a “play-date,” and while we were there, some of the children filled out office-supplied opinion forms. Carter, who is ten, wrote: “Please make this stop it is realy [sic] wrong.”

We went to McSally’s office knowing that she would not be there, but after hearing about the suicide death of Marco Antonio Munñoz after CBP agents forcibly tore his three-year-old son from his arms, and after learning that hundreds of separated children are being held at shelters right here in Tucson, we felt it urgent to reach out to her in person. We are her constituents. She represents us in Congress. Isn’t this the way representative democracy is meant to work?

McSally issued a statement in response to our visit. It began, “It is most unfortunate that this group, organized by radical activists, broke into our office today to disrupt the workplace and prevent us from serving constituents…” She went on to claim that visits like ours “distract from the many issues our country faces.” Again, we are her constituents. We were there to speak with her about an urgent issue facing our country, happening to children and families in our community.

On the night after our play-date, my three-year-old son had a nightmare. I rushed to hold him and to quiet him so he wouldn’t wake his 9-month-old sister. He’d dreamed about a tiger scratching at his window, he said. “Tiger” has become a kind of stand-in for all sorts of unknowns, particularly sounds he doesn’t recognize. I asked if he could hear the branch scraping the window in the breeze. He nodded. I asked if that could that be the “tiger.” He nodded again, and after a few minutes, he fell back to sleep holding my hand. As I lay next to him, I wondered what a stranger might have said to him if he had awoken somewhere away from me. What would have happened if he had awoken to no one?

For me, and I imagine for many others who are outraged by the barbarity of separating families, this is the root of the issue: It is inhuman to make a child alone in the world, or to place her with strangers who aren’t supposed to touch or hold her, who don’t know how to comfort her.

More than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents or guardians due to the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy. Hundreds of these children are being held at a shelter three miles from my home. It is possible that some of them will not see their families again. Yesterday, President Trump signed an executive order to detain immigrant children in camps indefinitely, this time along with their parents.

These policies are monstrously cruel. They are an attack on things I hold very dear: family, the well-being of children, empathy, community, love. So I and my friends who are parents and our children will continue to raise this grave moral issue to Rep. McSally as well as to our senators, city councilpersons, mayor, governor, and anyone else in a position to create safe, compassionate, humane immigration policies. Play-date anyone?


Daisy Pitkin is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona Honors College, where she teaches critical thinking and creative writing courses. She is the proud mama of two sweet children, ages 3 years and 9 months.

Two Bills Aimed at Ending Family Separation

Two Bills Aimed at Ending Family Separation

Sana Rizvi
June 11, 2018

As Congress struggles to find consensus on a solution to provide protections for Dreamers, the Administration’s new family separation policy has started a political fire storm creating moral outrage across the country and in Congress. There are two bills that would end the practice of family separation and provide relief to impacted families: The Keep Families Together Act (S. 3036) and the Humane Enforcement Legal Protections (HELP) for Separated Children Act of 2018 (S. 2937/H.R.5950). NETWORK strongly supports these bills.

The Keep Families Together Act (S. 3036)

The Keep Families Together Act prohibits the separation of families at the border. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced this bill on June 7, 2018 and it currently has 31 Democratic cosponsors and no Republican cosponsors. The bill was created in consultation with groups who provide services to families at the border including Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) and the Women’s Refugee Commission. It mandates a prohibition on removing a child from a parent or guardian in an attempt to deter migration into the United States. It also provides a mechanism to reunite families who have been separated.

The HELP Separated Children Act of 2018 (S. 2937/H.R.5950)

Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40) introduced this bicameral bill on May 23, 2018. Although this act does not end the practice of family separation, it is a necessary step in protecting children until Congress can find a permanent legislative solution to unite detained families and prohibit the separation of families. The HELP Separated Children Act of 2018 would provide relief to families by:

  • Allowing parents to participate in proceedings affecting their children.
  • Allowing parents to make calls to arrange for the care of their children and ensuring that children can call and visit their parents while they are detained.
  • Protecting children from being forced to be translators for law enforcement when speaking to their parents.
  • Ensuring that parents can coordinate their departures with their children.
  • Requiring ICE to consider the best interests of children when making decisions on the detention, release, or transfer of their parents.

The bill currently has 24 Democrats sponsors in the Senate and 16 Democrats sponsors in the House.

With Democrats working to elevate this moral crisis to the public’s attention, all eyes are on Republicans for a legislative response. Protections for children have historically been a nonpartisan issue and thus these two bills should be supported by all Members of Congress.

We must work to secure Republican cosponsors on these bills so that Congress can pass legislation to end family separation. The practice of separation is so morally corrupt, that even immigration hardliner Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) leader of the House’s far right faction called the “Freedom Caucus” has called the policy a “horrible law.”  We call on Republicans to join their Democratic colleagues in ending the policy of family separation.

NETWORK will continue to monitor legislation closely and provide updates on this issue.

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Sister Erin Zubal

Faces of our Spirit-Filled Network: Sister Erin Zubal

Sister Erin Zubal
June 4, 2018

How did you first learn about NETWORK?

I learned about NETWORK from the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland Social Justice Office when I first entered the community.  NETWORK has informed and educated me on many social justice issues, which in turn has empowered me to do advocacy work.

What inspired you to get involved and join NETWORK?

I was inspired to take action with Nuns on the Bus in 2016.  The goal of the trip was “to bring a politics of inclusion to divided places, change the conversation to mending the vast economic and social divides in our country, and counter political incivility with a message of inclusion.” Our world is in great need of this and I believe it is important to advocate for systemic change that seeks to address the needs of our brothers and sisters who are underserved. What better way to do this than travel the country to listen to the realities and lived experiences of people in our own communities—and then take those stories to our elected officials and encourage them to legislate for the common good.

What issue area(s) are you most passionate about?

Housing, healthcare and advocating for a faithful budget.

How does your faith inspire you to work for justice?

My faith has deeply inspired my work for peace and justice.  As an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland, the story and legacy of martyrs Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke and Jean Donovan have had a tremendous impact on my call to work for systemic change in our world.  Even though I was not yet born when the women were killed, their history and legacy shared with me by my sisters has formed and shaped me as a woman religious. We must continue the work of those who have gone before us—and be faithful to the call as women of faith, committed to contemplation, justice and compassion in all we do.

Is there any quote that motivates or nourishes you that you would like to share?

“If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Lilla Watson

What social movement has inspired you?

The youth of our world who are standing up and allowing their voices to be heard on critical issues.  I am so inspired and filled with hope witnessing the good work of the next generation.

Erin Zubal is an Ursuline Sister of Cleveland. She currently serves as Guidance Counselor at Cleveland Central Catholic High School in Cleveland, Ohio.