Chinanu Chidi, one of the campus organizers at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, wrote about the experience of meeting the members of the “Fast for Families” tour. Here is what Chinanu had to say:
The “Fast for Families” bus tour stopped in Houston on the March 6. Initially, given that the stop occurred in the middle of midterms, I was concerned about turnout, but was relieved when dozens of students showed up to the event. There were also people from the Houston community that were present. Being an immigrant myself, I was happy that I got the opportunity to plan this event with Kevin Shaghagi, the other UST Campus CIR organizer and Jose Bolivar, a faculty member who has been very helpful with CIR activities on campus. The event started at about 5 p.m. at the Old Bookstore, and was opened by Fr. Dempsey Rosales Acosta, who is an immigrant priest on campus. We got to listen to two of the core fasters talk about their fasting experiences, and explain why we had to support immigration reform because of the fact that it keeps families apart from each other and that it is also detrimental to the society. Furthermore, we learned comprehensive immigration reform will help the economy of the U.S. in the long run.
Being an immigrant myself, I was honored to have this opportunity for my school to host this event because I understand it on a personal level. My family immigrated to the U.S. about four years ago from Nigeria, and we were very lucky to come here with visas. I personally know families that have been separated because of the current immigration laws in the country. I consider myself to be very lucky because my family was able to live together the entire period before my father was transferred back to Nigeria. This is also a reason why I see the need for immigration reform in the country. I was glad that I was able to share this story at the event on campus.
To top it off, there was some music by a local Houston band, and there was also a Question and Answer session. There were representatives of Univision at the event. A few of the UST students got to be on TV, and we were all excited that the event got some local coverage. There was an article about the event on the newspaper although it has not been published yet. There was also free food at the event, provided by Mi Familia Vota, a group devoted to registering voters in the area – which made hungry mid-term students happy! Overall, we were happy with the success of the event.
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Sabrina Hernandez, the Campus Organizer at Loyola University New Orleans, had the opportunity to meet with members of the “Fast for Families” tour, along with other community members and immigration reform advocates. Sabrina wrote the following about her experience during the New Orleans stop on the “Fast for Families” tour:
On March 17, New Orleans had the pleasure of welcoming the “Fast for Families” bus tour. As a lifelong supporter of immigrant rights, I was beyond honored to be present for this moment. This is an issue that has been pertinent to me from a young age. To be able to participate in a movement to bring about change and call for justice was exhilarating. The day began with a conversation among local members of the New Orleans community, specifically members of the Congress of Day Laborers, a group who had come to the U.S. primarily as construction workers in the rebuilding effort after Hurricane Katrina. It was particularly heartbreaking to hear the story of a local woman who lives with the constant fear that she will not return home to her children at night. She spoke of the tribulations she’s faced in the process of legalization. Her story was not unique in its portrayal of a system that harshly criminalizes people merely seeking a better life.
On a personal level, hearing the stories shared throughout the day brought to mind experiences of my own. Growing up in California, I was surrounded by undocumented immigrants seeking a better life in the United States. From stories of escaping persecution in home countries to stories of parents trying to provide basic necessities for their children, I have grown up familiar with the difficult choices that come along with seeking a home in the United States. The “Fast for Families” event was one of solidarity in which I found myself reflecting on the people who helped shape me as a person. The same people who are currently subject to a broken immigration system.
This is an issue that is not exclusive to a certain sector or geographic region of the country. This is an issue that has grown to affect the well-being of millions of Americans. Deportations tear apart families. It’s not a matter of jobs being stolen or the livelihood of documented citizens being threatened. Human rights are being violated and we need to prove to the current administration that we care. It gave me hope to see members of the Loyola University of New Orleans community, such as Father Fred Kammer, Director of the Jesuit Social Research Conference, who came out to show support and take on an active role in advocating on this social justice issue. In line with Jesuit values, this is also an issue of human dignity. The Church teaches that every human has a right to go out and seek a better life. The “Fast for Families” tour was able to bring the current battle in Washington to New Orleans, serving as a liaison through which our community could voice their sentiments on a broader scale. At a prayer service later in the day at Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church, a large group of nuns came to discuss their work in advocating and providing access to resources for immigrant families.
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DeSales University students, including Campus Organizer Amanda Miller, gathered to pray with members of the “Fast for Families” bus tour. Leaders of the event shared their experiences with Faith in Public life in this blog post they wrote:
On April 1, the “Fast for Families” bus tour continued their cross-country tour, and stopped in Center Valley to meet and pray with DeSales University clergy, administrators and students for immigration reform. With the help of campus CIR organizer Amanda Miller, as well as clergy and staff, an opening prayer service took place on the university’s campus to support the mission of “Fast for Families”. Students gathered in the McShea Activities Center to hear core faster DJ Yoon discuss the importance of immigration reform and to encourage students to work for change in our country’s immigration system.
Yoon called on those in attendance to “open the eyes of our lawmakers and leadership.” During the event, students had the opportunity to fill out postcards to petition House Speaker John Boehner to call on Congress in passing comprehensive immigration reform by the end of 2014. Yoon touched many hearts at the event, opening the eyes of many DeSales students when he told the story of how immigration personally affected his own life.
“I was really excited that DeSales could host “Fast for Families” so that our students could start gaining awareness. For most of us, this is a topic far from our hearts. This let us see any of us could have been in that kind of situation, where our families take us to another country to give us better lives.” - Jaime Gerhart, Director of the Center for Service and Social Justice
“It’s really great to see that DeSales is on board for supporting comprehensive immigration reform. People suffer to gain citizenship everyday in the United States, while here in Center Valley we often take our rights for granted.” - Amanda Miller, DeSales University Campus CIR Organizer
The event concluded with Mass at Wills Hall, led by Father William Davis of the Theology faculty.
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Villanova student organizer Morgan Gruenewald wrote about her experience meeting the “Fast for Families” team when they visited her school. Morgan is now leading an effort to collect student-signed postcards supporting reform which will be delivered to Rep. Patrick Meehan’s office before the end of spring semester. Here is what Morgan had to say about the tour’s stop at Villanova:
As a student, an American citizen, and a person of faith, I am proud to be a very new member of a vibrant, passionate, and important movement to reform the way our country addresses immigration. I find it disappointing that I still feel compelled to use the word: “addresses.” I wish that I confidently say that our country embraces immigration, but I still feel that that is far from the truth. Too many view the need for comprehensive immigration reform as a political option, rather than the humanitarian crisis and the moral duty that it is.
Despite the reluctance of several key players to consider immigration reform in a meaningful way, I am continually inspired by the work of activists, faith leaders, DREAMers, and students to advocate for immigrant families. As a newcomer to this movement, and I wasn’t sure what to expect last week when asking students to sign advocacy postcards for the first time. The response far exceeded my expectations, as students volunteered to share their stories and to take the time to write out personal messages. This is obviously a very local example, but there are broader narratives as well, including the solidarity fasts of Fast for Families and other immigrant rights groups, the barrage of lobby visits, and the mass at the border last week. Everywhere, every day, there is real, inspiring work being done to bring immigration to the forefront not only of the political agenda, but of the public conscience.
Through my work, I have come to realize a platform for immigration advocacy that revolves around two concepts– compassion and enlightened self-interest. Although I borrowed this framework from an anti-poverty economist, Paul Collier, I still believe it applies very well to the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Compassion is a vague concept, but I like to think of it as a recognition of the inherent dignity of every person. Recognizing and respecting human dignity necessitates that we confront and eliminate structures that rob individuals of their dignity, namely, the current immigration system that has been the root of so many broken families, deaths in the desert, and unrecognized potential. Enlightened self-interest is another ambiguous concept, but in this case it simply means recognizing the tangible benefits of comprehensive immigration reform. As I mentioned, there is no reason that our country should not embrace its immigrant population. Beyond the fact that immigrants do wonderful things for our economy, they revitalize and renew communities, and the positive effect that immigrants have on the lives of everyone they touch is truly immeasurable.
At this event, clergy and students from other nearby Catholic colleges and universities, including Cabrini College, Neumann University, and St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia traveled to Villanova to take part in this event.
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On Sunday, a former Ku Klux Klan leader attacked two Jewish centers in Kansas City, taking the lives of the three people just before the beginning of Passover. Such horrors are difficult to comprehend at any place and time, but especially so in religious communities around holy days. It is a time for grief and prayer.
This Holy Week was already filled with somber remembrances of senseless violence in our nation, from last year’s Boston Marathon bombing to the anniversaries of the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. But as our friends at Faiths United to End Gun Violence have noted, we must also remember another anniversary: one year ago this week the U.S. Senate failed to stand up to the NRA and pass commonsense background check legislation.
Such legislation might have stopped Sunday’s killing spree. The shooter in Kansas City purchased his gun through a so-called “straw buyer” – someone with a clean background who buys guns for others – a practice that the Senate bill would have cracked down on.
While scripture reminds us there is a time for everything, clearly this is a time to act to end this needless destruction of innocent life. Faith in Public Life stands with groups like Faiths United to End Gun Violence and PICO National Network’s Lifelines to Healing campaign in calling on Congress to act now to prevent gun violence. As we enter the 2014 election season, we must keep these life and death issues close to our hearts and lift up our voices until they echo in the halls of power.
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