The Washington Post — Immigration has been a fixture of debate in the 2016 presidential campaign. The presidential candidates have expressed, shall we say, divergent plans to address it.
With that in mind, The Fix reached out to Father John Olenick, pastor of Visitation Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) Roman Catholic Parish. Visitation BVM, a multi-ethnic church in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood, is a place where each Sunday, multiple Masses are held. There are three in Spanish, one in English and one in Vietnamese.
The church is also one of 19 member congregations in the New Sanctuaries Movement. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced in January plans for mass immigration raids, New Sanctuary members and staff set up the emergency hotline and “Know Your Rights” training sessions for undocumented immigrants.
That’s anathema to some. But, when people living in the United States are detained and the most common result is deportation, a number of matters often require attention. A share of undocumented immigrants live in mixed-status households. So contact needs to be made with legal immigrant and U.S. citizen spouses and children; any plans to reconnect in another country organized; property or businesses sold, medications obtained and child-custody matters sorted. And, while the U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals arrested on various crimes access to a lawyer, there are no such requirements for undocumented immigrants in the nation’s backlogged immigration courts, where deportation orders can be issued.
What can you tell me about Philadelphia’s undocumented immigrant population?
OLENICK: My parish consists of many undocumented people from places like Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, [the] Dominican Republic, and other countries. In the broader Philadelphia community, there are undocumented people from all over the world, including Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe. Philadelphia is a very diverse city that is experiencing a boom in our economy and population in large part due to hardworking immigrant businesses.
OLENICK: [The] New Sanctuary Movement is an interfaith, multicultural immigrant-justice organization fighting to win more just and humane laws for immigrants and to keep immigrant families together. We are united in our shared faith values of justice, dignity, and hospitality for all, regardless of immigration status. We’ve worked for the past nine years to keep immigrant families together through the successful campaign to end the practice of the Philadelphia police collaborating with deportations. [We] accompany families facing deportation, and are now working on a campaign to win driver’s licenses for undocumented Pennsylvanians.
Where did the idea for the hotline come from?
OLENICK: The idea of the hotline came from our immigrant members’ very real feeling of being terrorized by constant violence in their home countries and now in the United States. The [Christian] mandate to welcome the stranger and love your neighbor are not just about feelings; they are a call to action. We cannot sit idly by while our community members are dragged away from their families at 4 in the morning. The hotline and emergency rapid response of “Sanctuary in the Streets” aims to bear prophetic witness to this injustice while we organize against the deportations. People across the country are responding to the raids in a manner that best suits their own communities. We believe that “Sanctuary in the Streets” [the hotline] is what Philadelphia needs to be safer from the terror of deportation.
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