Immigrant Day Laborers Lose, Culture Wars Win

July 17, 2014, 1:09 pm | Posted by

A Portland group that advocates for immigrant day laborers has been disqualified for a grant from the U.S. Catholic bishops’ national anti-poverty campaign over its affiliation with a national organization that endorses cvil marriage for gays and lesbians.

The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project, which has received church funding since 1994, will no longer be eligible for a $75,000 grant from the bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) because the advocacy group will not agree to the bishops’ request that it cut ties with the nation’s preeminent Hispanic civil rights organization, the National Council of La Raza.

NCLR, which primarily focuses on immigration reform, economic justice and a host of issues supported by Catholic bishops, also holds a policy position in support of marriage equality. As you might expect, the largely Hispanic men that Voz serves each day are not crusaders on the front-lines of LGBT rights or deep-pocketed liberal donors invited to glitzy galas at the Human Rights Campaign. We’re talking about poor immigrants, many of them undocumented, who are struggling to find jobs that put food on the table, get decent health care for their kids and learn English. As Voz director Romeo Sosa told the Associated Press: “Marriage equality is not the focus of our work. We focus on immigrant rights.”

As a tiny non-profit, Voz survives on a shoestring budget — the CCHD grant would have amounted to a healthy chunk of its total budget — so they find invaluable technical support and other resources from more established national organizations like NCLR. But even this kind of relationship is viewed as morally unacceptable by some in the hierarchy because of the specter of same-sex marriage.

Talk about a classic lose-lose. Bishops will not win any points here in their efforts to oppose a demographic tsunami that has made support for marriage equality a mainstream view even among many in the pews, and an organization that puts Catholic social teaching into practice by empowering immigrants will have fewer resources. Day laborers should not be collateral damage in our tiresome culture wars.

At a time when Pope Francis says he prefers a church that it is “bruised, hurting and dirty” because its out “in the streets,” this seems like a page from an old playbook that wasn’t working so well for Catholic bishops.

Let’s be clear. Many bishops deserve enormous credit for standing up to an increasingly aggressive network of conservative activists who relentlessly attack CCHD, which has long been a key funder of community organizing that addresses the root causes of poverty and structural injustice. Just last month, the U.S. bishops’ anti-poverty campaign approved grants  totaling over $14 million to support more than 200 organizations doing this essential work.

But it would be a major step backward if CCHD withdraws from the kind of bridge-building coalition work that research says leads to the most effective outcomes for low-income communities. I wrote about these trends last summer in a report endorsed by several former CCHD executive directors and retired bishops. This would be a loss for both the image of church and, even more importantly, low-income communities Catholic institutions have a proud history of serving so well.

“Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage,” Archbishop Emeritus Joseph Fiorenza, a past president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told me at the time. “Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.”

In an interview today, Dylan Corbett, the Mission Identity Outreach Manager at the U.S. bishops’ CCHD office in Washington, told me the church remains committed to building coalitions and finding common ground.

“We are not pulling back,” he said. “Our commitment to collaboration is not diminished. The money is flowing out the door.” Corbett emphasized that Voz, CCHD staff in Washington and the Portland diocese had many conversations. “We wanted to work through this and we never shut the door. We are troubled by what happened. We are deeply committed to immigrant rights.”

But he said Voz recognized that their affiliation with the National Council of La Raza would disqualify the day laborer group from the potential grant because of CCHD’s contractual guidelines. NCLR’s public policy position on marriage equality, he said,”does not square with Catholic teachings.”

“We respect Voz’s thoughtful decision to make a public commitment to La Raza and the values of La Raza,” Corbett said.


John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, and a former assistant director for media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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30 Catholic leaders, bishops urge Congress to act on immigration

May 28, 2014, 6:30 pm | Posted by


As the immigration reform debate reaches a critical moment, 30 prominent Catholic leaders have released a letter calling on House Speaker John Boehner and other members of Congress to pass comprehensive reform that protects immigrant families and includes a path to citizenship. Signers include heads of religious orders, presidents of Catholic universities, priests, women religious and lay people from across the country.

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The letter, organized by Faith in Public Life, references the teachings of  Boehner’s Catholic faith about justice for immigrants, and is running as a full-page ad in Thursday’s edition of Politico. Also on Thursday, bishops who serve on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration are gathering on Capitol Hill to hold a mass urging lawmakers to pass legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for all aspiring Americans.

Bishops participating include Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami; Bishop Elizondo; Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City; Bishop Oscar Cantú of Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona.

It’s outrageous that Boehner and other House leaders have procrastinated and obstructed for so long while immigrant families are broken apart, but faith leaders are not going to give up until reform becomes a reality.

The text of the letter and list of signers is below:

Dear Speaker Boehner,

We write to you as fellow Catholics with heavy hearts and a profound sense of urgency. As the House of Representatives still delays passing comprehensive immigration reform, mothers are torn apart from children, migrants are dying in the desert and our nation is weakened.

Mr. Speaker, how can we fail to act?

Legislative obstruction in the face of preventable suffering and death is not only a failure of leadership. It is immoral and shameful. The eyes of our God — who hungers for justice and commands us to welcome the stranger and bind the wounds of those left by the side of the road — are on us.

Are we deaf to the cries of families and aspiring Americans separated by a broken system?

We stand with U.S. Catholic bishops who will celebrate Mass on Capitol Hill this week, and who come once again to advocate for humane and practical immigration reform.

Will you pray with us that the House of Representatives puts aside partisanship and passes comprehensive reform?

Pope Francis reminds us that a “globalization of indifference” prevents us from seeing that every migrant, regardless of status, has inherent human dignity. As Catholics who share your commitment to the sanctity of life in the womb, we must not be complicit in the suffering of migrants dying in the shadows. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who has called justice for immigrants a “pro-life” issue, spoke during a Mass on the U.S.-Mexico border last month of the “unmarked graves of thousands who die alone and nameless.”

Is our nation so callous that we fail to weep for those nameless lost? We pray that you and your colleagues in the House have the moral courage to show real leadership and act.


Rev. Larry Snyder 
Catholic Charities USA 

Rev. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J.
Jesuit Conference

Patricia McGuire
Trinity Washington University

Rev. Daniel Groody, CSC
Director of Immigration Initiatives, Institute for Latino Studies
University of Notre Dame

Rev. Stephen A. Privett, S.J.
University of San Francisco

Donna M. Carroll
Dominican University

Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J.
Loyola University New Orleans

Rev. Clete Kiley
Director for Immigration Policy

Rev. Charles Currie, S.J.
Executive Director
Jesuit Commons

Rev. Drew Christiansen, S.J.
Distinguished Professor of Ethics & Global Development
Georgetown University

Rev. Michael U. Pucke
St. Julie Billiart Parish
Hamilton County, Ohio

Rev. Anthony Kutcher
National Federation of Priests’ Councils

Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS
Executive Director
NETWORK, A Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Stephen F. Schneck
Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies
The Catholic University of America

Sr. Sally Duffy, SC
Executive Director
SC Ministry Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio

Moya K. Dittmeier
Executive Director
Conference for Mercy Higher Education

Rev. Leonir Chiarello, C.S.
Executive Director
Scalabrini International Migration Network

Donald Kerwin
Executive Director
Center for Migration Studies of New York

Francis X. Doyle
Associate General Secretary (retired)
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J.
Director, Jesuit Social Research Institute
Loyola University New Orleans

Rev. John Baumann, S.J.
PICO National Network

Christopher G. Kerr
Executive Director
Ignatian Solidarity Network

Patrick Carolan
Executive Director
Franciscan Action Network

Sr. Pat McDermott, RSM
Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Sr. Carol Zinn, SSJ
Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Sr. Patricia Chappell
Executive Director
Pax Christi USA

Francis J. Butler
Drexel Philanthropic Advisors

John Gehring
Catholic Program Director
Faith in Public Life

Gerry Lee
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Christopher J. Hale
Senior Fellow
Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good

Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J.
Executive Director
Kino Border Initiative

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Creighton students fast for immigration reform

April 23, 2014, 12:00 pm | Posted by

The “Fast for Families” tour came to Omaha to meet with faith leaders, clergy, students and community members at Creighton University. One Creighton student, Kelly Sullivan, committed to fasting every Wednesday of Lent in solidarity with the “Fast for Families. Kelly wrote the following blog post, which was published on Creighton’s website.

Prayer and Fasting – Testimonial by Kelly Sullivan, CCSJ Student Coordinator

So this was my sixth Wednesday fasting for immigration reform. Each week, it looks a little different, depending on my busyness, mental and physical health, and…whether I remember that I’m supposed to be fasting that day. Often, the thing that has been reminding me is that come lunch time, I remember I have a prayer service to go to! I then re-plan my meals for the day, and am reminded to pray throughout the rest of the day as my stomach growls in hunger.

One thing I did not expect from this experience was how much I would get out of these short prayer services that we have been holding on the steps of St. John’s as part of the fast. Each week, we have focused on a different aspect of the complex immigration issue. It is amazing how well these services have come together to address the different prayers and needs of the community during that week.


First, we were able to discuss the importance of a pathway to citizenship and pray for a long-time member of the Omaha community that is facing deportation. Then, we talked about refugees and asylees fleeing violence and poverty, just after a visiting anthropologist came to Creighton to discuss her study on migration aspirations and what causes people to want to migrate. The next week, we prayed about ways we can humanize our borders, and we reflected on the homily that Cardinal Sean O’Malley gave at the Border Mass in Nogales, AZ, the day before. And finally this week, while addressing the root causes of migration, we remembered the violence and conflict in Syria and reflected on the life and courage of the beloved Dutch Jesuit, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, who was killed in Homs on Monday.

As we took the time this week to remember Fr. Frans and support those on our Creighton campus affected by his death, I was just struck by how interconnected our world is. I feel like I often prevent myself from fully comprehending things like the 2 million deportations that have occurred in the past five years, or that truly horrible situations cause people to migrate, so that I might protect myself from pain. But praying through these stories has helped me realize the humanity in all of these situations and the real people that immigration reform will help.

As it says in Strangers No Longer, “We judge ourselves as a community of faith by the way we treat the most vulnerable among us” (#6). We need immigration policies that support our brothers and sisters and recognize their humanity, suffering, and value.

On April 8th, Creighton students erected a mock border wall on campus to bring attention to the plight of immigrants.


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University of St. Thomas students host “Fast for Families” event

April 22, 2014, 12:00 pm | Posted by

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.

St Thomas

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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Immigration reform hits home for Loyola University New Orleans students

April 21, 2014, 12:00 pm | Posted by

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.

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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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