U.S. Bishops’ Lenten Campaign Raises Profile of Unauthorized Immigrants

A new resource from the USCCB puts advocating for immigration reform in the context of Lent’s prayer and fasting.

WASHINGTON — A number of churches and dioceses are seeking during Lent to help the people in the pews connect with the Church’s teaching on immigration, the need for immigration reform and ways to take concrete action.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ campaign, Justice for Immigrants, has created a comprehensive toolkit for Catholics called “Immigration Reform: Your Lenten Promise” that integrates the season’s emphasis on prayer, fasting and almsgiving with the U.S. bishops’ advocacy for immigration reform.

“We’re trying to put all these pieces together so that Catholics during Lent can get a fuller grasp of the picture of immigration,” said Tony Cube, director of the Justice for Immigrants campaign.

The Lenten toolkit invites Catholics to “to pray, fast, learn, give and advocate for just and humane immigration reform, in solidarity with immigrants and refugees.” It invites them to use the materials to educate the public on the Church’s teaching on migration and immigrants, advocate for laws and policies that follow the principles outlined by the U.S. Catholic bishops and organize Catholics to help “qualified immigrants obtain the benefits of the reforms.”

“What people do, oftentimes, for Lent is make resolutions, usually to give up something for Lent,” Cube said. “What we’re trying to do here is to encourage people to make what we call ‘Lenten resolutions’: Rather than give up something, we want people to resolve to learn about an issue that is important to Catholics and of particular importance to the bishops.”


Prayer, Fasting and Advocacy

The 30-page resource kit has eight separate sections comprised of Scripture, Catholic teaching, prayer, reflections, stories that illustrate the situation of unauthorized immigrants and calls to action and advocacy.

The Ash Wednesday section requested people set up personal meetings with their senators and congressional representatives or their staffers, in order to ask their support for “compassionate immigration reform legislation” and oppose legislation that would expose potentially 4.4 million unauthorized immigrants to deportation and family breakup.

Particular concern was placed on attempts to repeal President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability program, which exempts certain undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and parents of lawful permanent residents, as well as the expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for unauthorized immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

The packet explains the principles outlined by the U.S. bishops for how to reform U.S. immigration, namely by creating a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the U.S.; making family unity a top priority for the immigration system; providing legal pathways for low-skilled immigrants to work in the United States; ensuring due process in immigration enforcement policies; and addressing the situations that are pushing people to migrant from their homes, such as local persecution and lack of economic opportunity.

The Justice for Immigrants program is now available in Spanish as well as English.

“The bishops have been very outspoken in their advocacy,” Cube said, adding that the toolkit is meant to help parishioners, pastors and supporters unite themselves with the bishops on this issue.

“What we’re trying to do with the [Lenten] toolkit is to see Jesus in the eyes of migrants,” he said. “Putting themselves and Jesus in that light, so they can fully understand what people are doing and get a deeper understanding of their faith.”


Praise From Chicago

Elena Segura, director of the Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education at the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the Lenten materials produced for 2015 are the best she has seen in the campaign’s 10-year history.

“It’s very comprehensive and very well done,” she said, adding that the archdiocese has included it in the Lenten resources on immigration already in place. Segura added that the materials are being picked up in schools as well.

Segura said the archdiocese’s promotion of immigration reform already follows the liturgical calendar.

“This Lent, we’re emphasizing that our parishes really include the liturgical Lent activities,” she said, particularly with the prayers of the faithful during Mass.

“Prayers for immigration reform, prayers for unaccompanied children, prayers for people who are in deportation and detention [centers],” she said.

They also invite people in Lent specifically to visit the unauthorized immigrants in detention centers and pray for the families being separated by deportation on Fridays.

“We’ve visited the detention center every Friday for six years, from five in the morning to nine in the morning,” she said.

Immigration is also a Lenten focus at one area Jesuit high school.

“We’ve been really captivated by the topic,” said Peter Corrigan, director of faith formation and ministry at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. The Jesuit school hosted an Ash Wednesday immigration summit, with 21 different sessions attended by more than 1,000 students.

Corrigan said student activities are planned for Lent and beyond, and the school also hosted a March 9 panel on immigration reform featuring Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago.

“We see [this issue] as one that the Catholic Church has been extremely active on, and we try to follow the response of our bishops and leaders, particularly Pope Francis,” he said.


Growing Closer to Christ

Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., which contributed to the USCCB Lenten toolkit, said the resource provides an opportunity for Catholics to “grow closer to Christ” during Lent by practicing “solidarity, particularly with people on the margins.”

“We are asking people in the pews to consider the plight of vulnerable immigrants, such as unaccompanied children and families in detention facilities,” she said, “as well as the need for just and humane immigration policies. We are inviting people to think about these issues in a deeper way, from a faith perspective.”


Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register’s Washington correspondent.