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Pope Gives the U.S. an Example of How to Treat Syrian Refugees

Posted on 01. May, 2016 by .

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The following is from Crux

Pope Francis greets Syrian refugees he brought to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos, at Ciampino airport in Rome April 16, 2016. The pope concluded his one-day visit to Greece by bringing 12 Syrian refugees to Italy aboard his flight. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See POPE-LESBOS-FLIGHT April 16, 2016.

Pope Francis greets Syrian refugees he brought to Rome from the Greek island of Lesbos, at Ciampino airport in Rome April 16, 2016. The pope concluded his one-day visit to Greece by bringing 12 Syrian refugees to Italy aboard his flight. April 16, 2016.

About one week after the April 8 release of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, it could be said that he offered a sequel to that document – not in words, but in actions, by visiting Syrian refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, and then bringing 12 of them with him on the papal flight back to Rome.

In the exhortation, the pope wrote that “Jesus himself was born into a modest family that soon had to flee to a foreign land,” and the pontiff called on every family to “look to the icon of the Holy Family of Nazareth.”

On April 16, Pope Francis did just that, meeting with hundreds of Syrian refugees at Lesbos who had fled war in their homeland. Leaders of two U.S. Catholic agencies playing leading roles in refugee resettlement hope that the pope’s gestures will change people’s hearts toward refugees, and spur more compassionate government policies.

William Canny, the executive director of Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, called the pope’s actions on Lesbos “a good example for all of us,” for individual Americans and for policy makers.

“He’s getting up close to people and children, hugging and touching them, and showing us these are human beings, each one,” Canny said.

“When he does those things, it helps us cut through our privileged veneer, and helps us realize we are all children of God, we are all equal, and we are all made in the image and likeness of God,” said Canny, whose agency assisted in the resettlement of 22,000 refugees in the United States last year, more than 25 percent of all refugees who came into the country.

Dominican Sister Donna Markham, the president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, also praised the “powerful witness” of Pope Francis in visiting the refugees and then offering a safe haven to some of them.

“Hopefully, his actions will move the hearts of people of good will, including our legislators, to do more than we currently are to help these suffering people,” she said.

Catholic Charities has been serving immigrants and refugees in the United States for more than 100 years. Markham noted that 66 Catholic Charities agencies across the country are involved in initial refugee resettlement services and another 78 agencies have post-settlement programs. Those programs help with housing, legal services, language proficiency, trauma counseling, and employment training.

“Our Catholic Charities agencies do their best to help them, regardless of nationality or religion,” she said. According to Catholic Charities USA, its network of agencies served 69,045 refugees in initial and post-resettlement aid in 2014, and helped 17,424 refugees achieve self-sufficiency.

Canny said he hoped that the pope’s gestures would impact how citizens and government officials regard refugees.

“I would hope it would reverse the current trend of Europe not opening its doors to refugees,” he said. “For our part in the U.S., I hope it will help us realize how we should be acting vis-à-vis taking them into our country and our communities.”

Markham, noting that “for understandable reasons, the U.S. government’s rules for allowing Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the country have become more stringent than for many other nationalities seeking asylum,” said she hopes some balance can be restored.

“My hope is that our government can implement procedures that are both diligent but also more efficient in screening persons who are at imminent risk,” she said, adding, “fear of refugees cannot eclipse our compassion.”

Canny said people’s fears are legitimate, but it’s important to educate them about the plight of refugees and about steps being taken to block the entry of potential terrorists.

“You have to help people understand what’s going on, so they can deal with their fears,” he said.

The numbers of Syrian refugees entering the United States are relatively small. Canny noted the United States had committed to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, but halfway through the year, less than 2,000 have entered the country.

He also pointed out that the United Nations estimates that more than 4 million Syrians have fled their country in recent years, and about 10 percent of them, 400,000 people who have escaped the violence and devastation there, are refugees in urgent need of resettlement.

The United States can do a better job of welcoming those refugees into the country at a faster rate, “and I expect in the next few months, we will,” Canny said.

“I think we’re caught up in the presidential election cycle,” he said. “I’m hoping that when we get through [it], and the political situation settles down, and when people and leadership are more educated on the situation, we’ll take in more Syrian refugees.”

Markham, who has traveled to Iraq on two occasions and visited displaced Christians there, and who has also been to refugee camps in Lebanon, spoke about the agonizing wait that some refugees and displaced persons face.

“Recently, an Iraqi Catholic family fleeing from Qaraqosh, Iraq, was told it would take at least two years before their case would be heard. Meanwhile, they live in camps in Lebanon and in Kurdistan,” she said.

“Clearly, when lives are endangered, it is profoundly upsetting to learn that it will take that long even to be considered.”

Canny said that personal encounters with refugees, like Pope Francis had in Lesbos, help others understand and empathize with their experience.

While some might regard refugees as helpless and suffering, Canny said the refugees he has met are hard-working, motivated people, who are concerned about their children’s future, especially in helping them get a good education, something that is especially lacking in refugee camps.

Like earlier waves of immigrants to the United States, Canny said, refugees bring a strong work ethic and contribute to the ongoing evolution of the United States as a country enriched by its diverse peoples from many ethnic backgrounds.

“They come to work and participate,” he said.

While the 24-hour news cycle of images of the pope’s visit to Lesbos may be fading, Canny said he’s confident that Pope Francis will continue spotlighting refugees and our need to welcome them.

“The Holy Father keeps going back and providing us with reminders,” Canny said. “His intent is to keep this issue, and the plight of people, in front of us. He’s putting mercy and compassion in front of us.”

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Detaining Immigrants for Profit

Posted on 01. May, 2016 by .

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The following is from the Orange County Register:

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The American immigration detention system, much like the criminal justice system, has gone unchecked for far too long. Ostensibly predicated on the safety and security of Americans, our immigration system detains hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, despite clear evidence that effective alternatives to detention not only exist, but are cheaper and more humane.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has proposed getting California out of the business of detaining immigrants for profit and ensuring compliance with humane and respectful immigration detention standards. Known as the Dignity Not Detention Act, Senate Bill 1289 proposes several notable reforms to California’s participation in this system.

Most significantly, the bill proposes to prohibit city and county governments from contracting with private companies, like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, from operating immigration detention centers. These companies currently operate some of the largest detention centers in the state, including the Adelanto Detention Facility in San Bernardino County.

The bill also requires, and makes enforceable, the 2011 Operations Manual ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards, which outline various requirements for detaining entities. SB1289 would make it possible to take civil action against those in violation of those standards.

“Our state and local governments should not be complicit in this practice of profiting off of human suffering,” said Lara in a statement. “This critical first-in-the-nation legislation would make the currently unenforceable national immigration standards the law of the land in the golden state.”

If enacted, the statewide implications are significant. Since most immigrant detainees in California are held in privately operated facilities, the bill would make it difficult for immigrants to be detained in the state. Local governments could conceivably allot jail space for the job – like Orange County and Santa Ana – though this ought to be a difficult task given the number of jails that are well overcrowded.

In Orange County and Santa Ana, the chief consequence of the bill would be added leverage in ensuring compliance with ICE’s detention standards, which they claim to do.

“Orange County is already obligated to follow the standards, so if the county is truly already complying, I think it should applaud Senator Lara for trying to create a right to humane treatment in immigration detention,” said Christina Fialho, co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement. Fialho and her organization, which sponsors the bill, have raised numerous issues with immigration detention in Orange County and Santa Ana over the past year.

On Dec. 4, CIVIC filed a complaint to the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of 10 current or former detainees at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange who alleged physical abuse, medical neglect and prolonged periods of isolation. The complaint came after hunger strikes were launched by immigrant detainees, including many asylum seekers, at Theo Lacy and the James A. Musick Facility in Irvine.

In January, CIVIC filed a complaint against the Santa Ana City Jail on behalf of 31 women who reported traumatizing and arbitrary strip searches, which Fialho characterized as “state-sanctioned sexual assaults.” The Santa Ana City Council has since indicated its intention to get out of the business of immigration detention, rejecting a proposed expansion of its contract with ICE in February.

As a nation predicated on respect for the individual, it is abhorrent that the best we seem to be able to do with immigrants and asylum seekers is to treat them like serious criminals, particularly when alternatives to detention itself exist. Like community-based programs revolving around case management and monitoring, as has been done by the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

Lara’s bill is at least a starting point for what should become a national discussion about the extent to which we rely on detention.

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Recap of Vatican Conference on Nonviolence

Posted on 01. May, 2016 by .

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The following is from Eli McCarthy at the Conference of Major Superiors of Men:

What an amazing experience with so many amazing, courageous, creative, and audacious nonviolent peacemakers! The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Cardinal Turkson, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Union of Superior Generals/International Union of Superior Generals, Colombans, Maryknoll, Jesuits, Redemptorists, Missionaries of the Precious Blood, Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Pace Bene, Pax Christi International, bishops, lay people, etc. were all part of this wonderful conference with over 80 people focused on Gospel Nonviolence and Just Peace.

We used a circle process and small groups to elicit fuller participation of all. We heard about Catholic leaders negotiating with very violent armed actors in Uganda (Archbishop Odama negotiating with the Lord’s Resistance Army) and Colombia (a Jesuit negotiating with FARC and the paramilitaries), as well as an Iraqi nun calling to stop the militarization of her country, stop bombing, and to rely on nonviolent strategies to transform the conflict. We also heard from a Bishop in South Sudan who created a peace village and has cultivated the trust of all the armed actors. We heard of peace education across all the schools in the Philippines. That only begins to touch the surface…

Conference Final Statement approved by general consensus- “An Appeal to the Catholic Church to Recommit to the Centrality of Gospel Nonviolence” included:

  • continue developing Catholic social teaching on nonviolence, including an   appeal to Pope Francis to share an encyclical on nonviolence and Just Peace;
  • integrate Gospel nonviolence explicitly into the life and work of the Church;
  • promote emerging nonviolent practices and strategies;
  • initiate a global conversation on nonviolence within the Church, with people of other faiths and with the larger world;
  • no longer use or teach “just war theory;”
  • lift up the prophetic voice of the church to challenge unjust powers and to defend those nonviolent activists whose work for peace and justice put their lives at risk.

Pope Francis’ Letter to Conference 
Press Conference afterwards
Pictures from the conference

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Immigrants Wait Years for Asylum–Sometimes Behind Bars

Posted on 01. May, 2016 by .

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The following is from the Los Angeles Times:

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After federal immigration agents picked up Cesar Matias in late 2012 and began deportation proceedings against him, the Honduran native asked that he be allowed to remain in the U.S. for his own safety. As a gay man, he argued, he faced a resumption of persecution if he was forced to return to Honduras. An immigration judge found that Matias had presented a sufficient argument to win a stay of deportation while the legal process played out. The judge also determined that Matias did not pose a risk to public safety or to national security, nor was he a flight risk, and said he could be released on a $3,000 cash bond. But Matias has no assets. He’s broke. So he has remained in the Santa Ana City Jail for more than three years, and likely will remain incarcerated for at least another year as his case is decided.

According to a lawsuit filed last week on behalf of Matias and others in his situation by the American Civil Liberties Union, the immigration system does not consider a detainee’s ability to afford bond when determining how much cash must be posted. But that’s unfair and counterproductive. When someone like Matias is seeking protection from persecution, or has made a credible argument that he or she might be eligible to remain in the country, the government should not set the price of release at such an exorbitant level that the person is forced to remain in prolonged imprisonment. The whole point of setting bond is to enable people who pose no danger to be out of detention while they wait for their proceedings — but with an incentive to return.

People facing deportation proceedings can be released on bond by either an Immigration and Customs Enforcement supervisor or by an immigration judge after they determine that the detainee is eligible (the law mandates detention for specific categories of undocumented immigrants), does not pose a threat to others and is not likely to disappear. They reach such decisions based on a range of factors, including whether the person has a fixed U.S. address, family ties in the country, how long the person has lived here, work history, past court appearance history, criminal record, prior immigration violations, previous attempts to flee, and how the person entered the U.S. in the first place. There is nothing in the publicly available guidelines telling immigration judges and officials that they should consider the detainee’s ability to post the bond.

Immigration officials declined to talk about how they set bond levels because it is the focus of the pending lawsuit, but did say that “each case is reviewed individually and takes a variety of factors into account, such as immigration history, criminal history, community ties, etc.” A spokeswoman for the immigration courts did not respond to requests for their ground rules, but a departmental handbook directs judges to consider “whether the alien’s release would pose a danger to property or persons, whether the alien is likely to appear for further immigration proceedings and whether the alien is a threat to national security.” No mention of the person’s ability to pay.

Significantly, immigration cases are matters of civil law, not criminal law, and ICE officials and immigration judges are not required to order a cash bond; they have the authority to release a detainee on his own recognizance or with other safeguards. Once a decision has been made that someone like Matias, who is seeking humanitarian protection, qualifies for release, it’s unjust — and bordering on cruelty — to keep him in jail solely because he lacks the cash to buy his freedom. The government has other ways to supervise his release, including electronic monitoring, if such measures are deemed necessary.

It is unconscionable that Congress has failed for so many years to reform its immigration laws, which are broadly viewed as confusing, out of date and insufficient to deal with the problem. The U.S. has a right to control entry into the country, but it also needs a fair process to allow those who have lived productive lives here for years to step out of the shadows and fully join American society.

Our national commitment, through both federal laws and international accords, to provide a safe haven for the persecuted is important, too. And it is unfair, and inhumane, to incarcerate them, and other petitioners for relief from deportation just because of their poverty.

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Upcoming Event: CA Advocacy Days

Posted on 24. Apr, 2016 by .

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May 10th at the State Capitol in Sacramento

The following is from PICO:

On November 4, 2014, Californians overwhelmingly voted to provide a pathway for 1,000,000 million state residents to reclassify six “wobbler” offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, allowing them to have better access to jobs, housing and reduce or eliminate probation periods. The passage of Prop 47 also came with a promise for the reinvestment of an estimated $100,000,000 plus annually from the criminal justice system into mental health and substance abuse services, programs for K-12 education and victims support services.

However, our experience has taught us that our fights almost never end with a ballot or legislative victory. And unfortunately with Prop 47, Governor Jerry Brown’s administration is severely underestimating the savings to be $29.3 million far below the Legislative Analyst office finding of $100 million.This is why we need you with us at the Capitol on May 10th to demand Governor Brown to show us the Prop 47 money!

Governor Brown’s calculation is inadequate, based on inaccurate data, and does not fulfill the promise of increased programs and services made to California voters. The resources scheduled to be provided have the potential to mitigate the damage of a decades old War on Drugs which targeted low-income communities of color.  

We are only one month away from the May Revise, when the Governor will provide an updated budget proposal to the California legislature.  The May Revise sets the stage for final budget decisions to be made and implemented. We must hold the governor accountable and let him hear our voice before he makes any more decisions about Prop 47 dollars.

We are asking you and your loved ones to take the day off on May 10th and join 100 hundred formerly incarcerated individuals, clergy and lay leaders as we reclaim the Capitol space from one that promotes apathy and mistrust, to a space of faith and integrity.

Please arrive by 9am and be ready to praise, organize and demand fairness for our people.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pico-california-advocacy-day-tickets-23483549930

Please register by April 23, 2016. To learn more, please contact Brandon Sturdivant, Organizing Director via email brandonsturdivant@gmail.com.

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