Sisters find that accompanying immigrants important
Earlier in this year, the Intercommunity Peace and Justice Center (IPJC) called the sisters in the Seattle Archdiocese to come together to brainstorm and discern a Gospel response to local immigration issues. Our Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in Tacoma responded.
Sisters Jude Connelly, Carmel Gregg and Christine Still are members of the Accompaniment Steering Committee.
While Associates of the Tacoma Dominican have provided leadership for addressing issues in Pierce and South King County, sisters have had a major role. The number of our Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia in ministry in Tacoma has diminished, but our response to issues has not.
Accompaniment programs can make a real difference in our immigration and criminal justice systems. Accompaniment helps stop deportations, reduces bond fees and keeps families together. By centering people’s dignity and choices in a system that takes away dignity and choices, we care for those who are criminalized for their being.
The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma has created many opportunities for our Sisters to accompany immigrants and refugees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appointments, and bond or court hearings. Recently, Sisters Jude and Christine had a unique opportunity to join the Immigrant Network of Seattle to support Jose Robles’ cause.
Jose is an immigrant who has spent the past year inside a Seattle church to avoid being deported to Mexico. On Wednesday, July 17, Sisters Jude and Christine joined 200 others at Riverton Methodist Church, about one and a half miles from the ICE offices in Tukwila. Jose and his family led the walk to the center where Jose presented himself to ICE officials.
Previous to the walk there was a teach in, prayer service and a blessing for Jose and family. When they arrived at the center, there were several ICE officers standing abreast of the building and a gathering of police across the street from the center.
Everything remained peaceful while speakers offered support and Jose spoke a few words of thanks for the support. Then he bravely walked through the door of the ICE building.
He was immediately detained by officers and was prevented from requesting a U-Visa. It is a non-immigrant visa for victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse while in the U.S. and will assist law enforcement in investigating criminal activity.
The next evening, the Tacoma Dominican Sisters held a prayer vigil at Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma where Jose was being held. Jose’s wife and daughter came for the service and thanked all who were helping them keep hope for Jose.
What was this experience like for Sisters Jude and Christine?
Jude said: “This was an inspiring opportunity, one in which I experienced a sense of unity with the participants. I admired the leader of the sanctuary movement, in particular the pastor of Peace Lutheran church, who supported the process of assisting Jose and his family in keeping sanctuary. It was obvious to me that his pastor was willing to be at risk in supporting his process and that she had been a valued spiritual mentor. The group of supporters was diverse in faith traditions, age and ethnicity.”
Christine added: “I was impressed with the support from numerous faith traditions and denominations. At the same time, I was disappointed with the decision to detain Jose. His family remains supportive and hopeful. The Tacoma community has picked up the baton from the Seattle community and is checking in on Jose, praying for him and his family.”
The experience of walking with 200 people to the ICE Center is different from our future work of accompanying one person for an appointment, but both actions are answering the call to respond to the need of the immigrant and the refugee, and to do so with hope.
“When an alien resides with you in your land, do not mistreat such a one. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; you shall love the alien as yourself; for you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt. I, the LORD, am your God.” Leviticus 19: 33-34
Sr. Pat Millen, OSF
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, November, 2019