Sisters bring immigration rights advocates together

January 19, 2012 by

This afternoon's meeting began with a prayer — and Mary Salazar, with the Univisión affiliate in Wichita, was there to report on it for the TV station's Spanish-language newscast.

 

Just days after Catholic bishops had convened a national conference in Denver on immigration policies and ways to move the issue to the forefront of political debate, a much smaller group of people from throughout central and western Kansas gathered in Salina Thursday to talk about immigrants in the state.

 

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Nearly two dozen Catholic sisters, social service workers and other citizens took part in the “Conversation about Immigration” organized by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. They had been invited by Cheryl Lyn Higgins, the coordinator of Neighborhood Initiatives, an office within the Concordia congregation that is working with the sisters’ Immigration Committee.

Higgins said this meeting — and a second one scheduled for March 1 in Dodge City — were designed to “develop a better picture of what is available for immigrants and what needs to be done.”

Many of the participants brought to the meeting passion and a certain level of frustration over limited services, funding cuts and a lack of understanding among both politicians and voters.

“There are a lot of people who really do know our (economic) need for the immigrant,” said Sister Therese Bangert, a Sister of Charity of Leavenworth and a longtime immigration rights advocate. “But we have to be more effective in getting that message out. Maybe, eventually, our own self-interest will move us (toward immigration reform).”

Sister Therese was among those last year who lobbied against Kansas House Bill 2372, which was authored by Secretary of State Kris Kobach and which contained provisions modeled after the Arizona law — also written by Kobach — that is still being challenged as unconstitutional. The Kansas House voted 84-40 against pulling HB 2372 from its Judiciary Committee, where the bill was tabled indefinitely.

But, Sister Therese said, that does not mean Kobach has given up his agenda on immigration. “He has said this year he’ll divide that bill into maybe nine little bills that won’t attract that much attention,” she said.

Sister Mary Ellen Loch of the Congregation of St. Joseph in Wichita said that educating laypeople of all faiths remains a crucial element.

While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph and numerous individual church organizations and religious communities – including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia — have called for national immigration reform, Sister Mary Ellen said, “The people (of the Church) have to see this as an issue for all of us. We’re not going to change anything until we change the spiritual attitude of the people.”

(TO READ MORE ABOUT THE SISTERS OF ST. JOSEPH OF CONCORDIA’S STANCE ON IMMIGRATION, CLICK HERE.)

Cynthia Colbert, executive director of Catholic Charities in Wichita, said that after people are educated about the issue, they can apply political pressure. But, she noted, that takes money.

“We need a political action committee, we need a lobbyist,” she said. “Right now there’s no unified organization to get people calling legislators.”

Colbert added that while there are many Kansans in support of national immigration reform, there are also some who stand adamantly opposed to that position. “We’ve got to speak to those in the middle,” she said. “We’ve got to help them understand why this issue is so important to us, as people of faith and as Americans.”

Sister Judy Stephens, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia’s Immigration Committee, said that people in Wichita and other cities across Kansas need also to understand that services for immigrants are mostly limited to urban areas – despite the need for them in rural, agricultural areas where many new immigrants may work. “There is a Hispanic, Spanish-speaking family in virtually every little town, and yet there are no bilingual services outside of Salina, Wichita and Topeka,” Sister Judy said.

A Concordia resident who is fluent in Spanish, Sister Judy frequently provides informal translation services for people in the Concordia area.

Higgins said the sisters’ Immigration Committee will take all the comments and information gathered at Thursday’s meeting — and well as information from the upcoming Dodge City session — and compile it, “to see what steps we can take.” The goal, she said, is to find ways to work together collectively.

 

 

 

Comments

3 Responses to “Sisters bring immigration rights advocates together”

  1. Jodi Creten on March 4th, 2012 11:38 am

    Our circle, Amistad, is in the process of interviewing different people who have immigrated to the United States. We need to hear their stories to know the situations from which they came, and to be more welcoming of the stranger who fast becomes a friend! Thanks for all of your efforts in Kansas to keep the issue before the public and to make folks more aware that we too come from immigrants.

  2. Dian Hall on February 28th, 2012 2:16 pm

    When voices come together to speak the truth, miracles happen! Thank you all for speaking the truth at a time when it is most needed!

  3. Loretta Jasper, csj on January 20th, 2012 7:39 am

    The many layers involved in Immigration and our continuing to be in the mix of orchestrating constructive action on behalf of the undocumented extends beyond words and prayer alone. This is about continuing prayer and action.
    Another of the 21st C. replications of our 17th C. heritage!

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