Sisters of St. Joseph host an ‘Immigration Conversation’
BY DAVID MYERS
Southwest Kansas Register
It was a poignant way to begin the recent “Immigration Conversation” at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City – with a Native American prayer, celebrating not only cultural diversity, but the fact that each of the approximately 35 people present was either an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants.
The afternoon gathering was hosted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, Kan., who asked those gathered what they would do if they had the power to make “this a better climate for immigrants?
“If you were shaping strategies for creating a healthy environment, what would those strategies look like?” asked Cheryl Lyn Higgins, neighborhood initiatives coordinator with the Sisters of St. Joseph.
“One of the things that seems to poison the environment is that we forget we’re a nation of immigrants,” replied Kathy Denhardt, a mobility manager for Dodge City and Ford County. “My forbearers were illegal and undocumented. And I think we forget that. Mine were 1880s German immigrants. … If we told those stories more and put all of us back in touch with where we came from, there might be an environment that was more welcoming of the latest wave of immigrants. We forget that this is our own history. I think if we understood it better, if we remembered it, we would be a more welcoming environment for our new immigrants.”
The Sisters of St. Joseph congregation was formed in 1650 in France and came to Kansas in the latter half of the 19th century where the Sisters opened a motherhouse in Concordia. Since their first days, they have served people “on the fringes”. In the early 1980s as part of the “sanctuary movement,” the Sisters began supporting families escaping oppression in Guatemala and other war-torn countries.
A child of one of the families, Ana Aquirre-Brown, attended a special gathering last year at the motherhouse in which the Sisters unanimously approved a statement that “calls for the creation of a pathway to lawful, permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented persons currently in the U.S., a process to reduce the backlog of family visas in order to ensure family unity and reunifications….”
In a toast to the Sisters, Aquirre-Brown said, “We knew violence, brutality and atrocities of all sorts, all of which prompted us to leave our native Guatemala. Although strangers, you took us in. Your courage lighted our path, and brought promise and music into our lives. I raise my cup in appreciation of the Sisters of St. Joseph.”
Attending the meeting were representatives of United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries, Dodge City Community College, the City of Dodge City and Ford County, Garden City Mayor John Doll, and other area leaders.
The Sisters of St. Joseph aren’t alone in their efforts. Also attending the gathering was Maria Musick, who recently formed an interfaith coalition which invites people to become advocates for immigrants, whether it’s through prayer, offering financial assistance, or learning the issues and speaking to groups about them.
It is often misunderstandings, Musick said, that leads people to practice racial bigotry.
Spearville resident Johnny Dunlap, who works with the League of United Latino Citizens, said he felt it was “key to raise awareness of what’s going on in Topeka and Washington, D.C. Part of the reason LULC was started in Dodge City is because there are a lot of people hearing about immigration laws in Topeka, but not knowing what is happening with them. We put together a list of what the bill was, and what it was doing. We had people go to Topeka and testify in the hearings they had for the immigration bills earlier this month. … We need increased awareness in the immigrant community so that they know when these things come up, and they can speak out against them.”
Denhardt suggested that businesses with many resources that value the immigrant labor force should visibly work to get policies in place. “This would be a powerful step in the right direction. They would be happy to employ people legally, but they need the government to develop the mechanisms to make that work.”
For many, though, immigration reform is equivalent to amnesty. The Catholic Church has long held that blanket amnesty is not the answer. Instead, it urges the government to fix what it feels is a broken immigration system, as well as to fix “injustices” within the system, such as the deportation of parents of children who were born in the United States.
Higgins made clear to those gathered that the Sisters don’t claim to have the answer to the immigration dilemma. However, she said, “Our hearts are very much with our good neighbors who come to us with the expectation of creating better lives for themselves or their families.”