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Immigration is Key Issue in Gathering
of Latin American and US Dominicans

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO – August 25, 2008 –  For the first time, Dominicans from Latin America and the United States gathered to explore the complexities and layered issues surrounding immigration at a meeting here August 1-4.

The goals of the first continental seminar on immigration were to strengthen common understanding and build solidarity among Dominicans in North and South America who are working among or on behalf of immigrants; to conduct an analysis of the political, economic, social and ecclesial situation; and develop a strategy for action together.

It is impossible to be a Dominican and not be an immigrant, a person on the move, an itinerant in permanent movement. This sentiment exemplifies the connection Dominicans made to the plight and problems of migrant peoples who are caught between the urgent need to provide for their families and US economic policies that drive them north into an uncertain and dangerous future. 

Organized by the co-promoters of justice and peace in Latin and North America, the First Continental Seminar, as the meeting was called, was held at Casa del Migrante, a center for immigrants who have been deported from the US or who are looking to resettle in Mexico.  

Forty-two Dominican sisters from 16 congregations, 20 friars from six provinces and six Lay Dominicans, representing 12 countries met to explore the issues and plan collaborative action. About 30 US Dominicans attended.

Chuck Dahm, North American Co-Promoter of Justice and Peace said, "The conference was enormously successful in several ways:  It provided us U.S. Dominicans with the inspiring opportunity of getting to know personally our Dominican Latin American sisters and brothers working with the immigrant poor. It heightened the urgency for all of us to work for reform of the unjust immigration system in the U.S. Finally, it emphasized our need to understand the global economy and its devastating impoverishment of millions of families."

Chuck Dahm
Chuck Dahm, OP (St. Albert) North American CoPromoter of Justice and Peace addresses the group

Chuck was one of the organizers, including Dusty Farnan, OP (Adrian) North American Co-Promoter of Justice and Peace along with Noemi Zambrano, OP (Cabra) CODALC and Miguel Concha, OP (Mexico) CIDALC.

The program included intense presentations on the economic and societal causes of migration, the suffering and losses experienced by people on the move, political realities both in the North and South and pastoral responses by the Church.  The plenary sessions included moving testimony from migrants who have attempted or who returned from crossing the US border. One woman, whose husband died enroute from Honduras to Juarez, hoped to find work and a new life in the United States. She described a frightening journey that took two months, sleeping in hidden places during the day and traveling at night.

Justice Promoter Rose Van Buren, OP (Columbus) said, “All that I heard only reinforced the image of itinerant Dominicans who are called to identify with those who have been forced from their homes by globalization and a world that doesn't want to accept any limits on its consumerism.”

Language groups worked in small group sessions to build connections and explore the implications of Dominican responses to the issue.

Among the many presenters were Chuck Dahm, OP (St. Albert) North American Co- Promoter of Justice and Peace, offered a plenary session on the history and present law on immigration in the US. Toni Harris, OP (Sinsinawa) International Co-Promoters of Justice and Peace offfered a comprehensive description of global phenomenon of human mobility and the Dominican response.

Antonio Cube, Director of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the USCCB, spoke on the pastoral response of the US Bishops. He observed that most US Catholics oppose immigration reform because they are caught in the bind of legalistic thinking. "What don't you get about being legal?" is a typical response that the US Bishops are hoping to change.
The participants in the seminar saw a larger, more Gospel centered pathway.

ABOVE: Participants listen in plenary sessions on economic, judicial, social and political aspects of immigration

LEFT: Kathy Nolan, OP (Adrian) and Pat Simpson, OP (San Rafael) confer during the opening session.

Although no clear or easy solutions to issues of immigration are evident, it is clear that the question of immigration legislative reform in the US will not return to public debate until well after the presidential election and new Congressional term in January, 2009. Neither candidate for president of the United States has been willing to discuss the issue. What do Dominicans do in the mean time?

Frequently, issues of national security, linked to the terrorism of September 11th have been tied to immigration issues and the constuction of the $9 billion fence along our border with Mexico. However, this clouds the issue of who is migrating and why.

In their concluding declaration the participants said, "In the countries of their settlement, migrants also encounter discrimination and exploitation.  While their labor is more than welcome because of the unjust wages they are forced to accept, their legal presence and even their human and civil rights are denied.  Since September 11, 2001, legal initiatives in the United States have increasingly undermined the security of their labor, curtailed their freedom of movement and their opportunity to normalize their legal status as well as their efforts to secure the unity of their families.  Moreover, they are increasingly vilified as threats to national security and stability and forced to live in fear in the dark recesses of society." (Read the full text here)

Experts agree that US trade policies such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement)  have helped fuel migration from Latin America (mostly Mexico) into the United States.  Since 1994, NAFTA removed most barriers to trade and investment among the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  In 2005, Congress voted to extend NAFTA to five Central American countries through the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)

In a stirring and passionate response to the Mexican special prosecutor's report on violence against women, Bishop Raul Vera spoke about the Church's response to violence and declared, "What does it mean to be Catholic if we do not address social issues? The Church cannot be satisfied just to pray."

In a public witness of solidarity, the group celebrated Eucharist as the US Mexican border with the assistance of Corpus Christi Parish near Juarez. Bishop Raul Lopez Vera, OP again preached an impassioned homily while some participants stood on the US side of the border fence.  Border patrol vehicles watched from a distance while a helicopter flew over head.
(see more photos)

The participants agreed to commit themselves to work more closely, South and North in making a  pastoral response to the problems of migrant people.

Margaret Mayce, OP (Amityville) newly appointed NGO Representative to the UN in New York, said, "Our experience together, as brothers and sisters, particularly as we celebrated Eucharist on the border through a chain-link fence, was a profound reminder that there are no borders between us - unless we choose to establish them. I have no doubt that each of us, whether in the North or the South, will do whatever we can to chip away at the attitudes and fears that create obstacles to a sharing of our common humanity."

The group called for a change of “attitudes, conceptions, and approach are needed which involve all of us and not only state institutions.”   The group committed itself to promote policies that respect human rights and to monitor human rights violations.  In addition, the group called on the Dominican Family to strengthen its role in bring attention to this problem, particularly in areas of religious formation and public education and to work together through our networks to defend the human rights of migrants. (Read the full text here)

There is much work to be done politically, economically and socially. Most significantly for Dominicans the work is pastoral. Our call is to relieve the suffering of people who come to our borders seeking a better life in a country traditionally rooted in welcome and opportunity. Our task is to awaken in those who oppose immigration reformto a recognition of the basic human right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for everyone. Those who hold on to the dream of freedom and opportunity that our country has always promised cannot be denied the dream that has defined us as Americans.

Anne Lythgoe, OP
DLC Communications Coordinator


see all photos of this meeting here

Declaration in English

in Spanish

(Word document)

Download a prayer for immigrants here and join us

Message from International
Co-Promoter of Justice
Prakas Lohale, OP

It is impossible to be a Dominican and not be an immi-grant, a person on the move, an itinerant in permanent movement.

Download a prayer for immigrants (Spanish and English

Please join us in reciting this prayer
every first Wednesday of the month in the morning.

Related News:

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