Immigration reform ups and downs

A boy waves the American flag Nov. 20 at CASA de Maryland's Multicultural Center in Hyattsville, Md., after hearing President Barack Obama's national address on immigration. The president extended deferral of deportation to parents of millions of U.S. ci tizens and legal residents. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby cheered last week’s news that President Obama would use executive action to begin immigration reform, noting it is something the group has pushed for years.

“While the task of reforming American’s broken immigration system still lies ahead, we rejoice in the knowledge that millions of mothers and fathers living in the shadows of every community in America will tuck their children into bed tonight and wake up with less fear of a knock on the door, a random stop by police as they drop their children at school, or an unwelcome visit at work that will rip them away from their sons and daughters,” the group said in a statement. “Yes, we rejoice.”

But there is still a long way to go, said Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, NETWORK’s executive director.

“There are so many folks left out [of the reforms],” Campbell told me. “The only way forward is to fix our broken system.”

Campbell said the worst part of Congress’ inability to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill is that it is only because of politics: Both sides agree the system is broken, both sides agree it needs to be fixed and both sides largely agree on how to fix it. The Senate passed a bill, but Speaker of the House John Boehner refused to allow his chamber to consider it.

“It’s frustrating that John Boehner won’t bring it forward when we know we have the votes,” Campbell said. “The Wall Street Journal is on the same side as those of us seen as more progressive. The Chamber of Commerce is aligned with human rights groups. Those are not the usual suspects, and we still can’t get it done because of John Boehner.”

Campbell also warns that while the executive action gives immigrants certain rights immediately, it will take a while before the government bureaucracy catches up.

Still, she said, it’s a big step forward for the many people NETWORK met during its Nuns On the Bus tours.

“We spoke to children who lived in fear that they would arrive home from school to find their parents jailed. We met with students who care for their younger brothers and sisters because their parents had been deported,” the written statement said. “We cried together, and we prayed. It has been a dark time for these families, and we are grateful that tomorrow morning they awake to a new possibility.”

Good news / bad news

Immigration activists cheered the news that the federal government plans to close the Artesia family detention center by the end of December.

The law enforcement training center was converted to a temporary detention center to help hold the flood of families fleeing violence in Central America.  

But then they heard why the facility is closing: The government is expanding the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, to hold up to 2,400 people.

Activists say the move shows the government has a long way to go on solving the crisis.

Follow the money

One of the (many) criticisms of U.S. immigration policy is that the border is too easily crossed illegally. To that end, says the Center for American Progress, we now spend more on immigration enforcement – nearly $18 billion per year – than on all other federal law enforcement combined.

But all the money, the article says, is going to the enforcement said, without a corresponding increase on the judicial side. The result: “Over the past 15 years, the number of cases pending in the immigration court system has more than tripled, and today, it takes an average of 567 days for a case to be processed.”

While the number of border patrol agents has doubled in the last 10 years, the number of immigration judges has only gone up 11 percent.

And how has all this enforcement effort worked? So well that Texas will slash its “surge” of National Guard troops helping to secure the border from 1,000 to 200 because they’re simply not needed.

The state has been spending $17.2 million a month on the effort critics said was for nothing but politics.

Maps for a different type of exploration

The Walk Free Foundation says an estimated 35.8 million people are in slavery around the world. Where? They have a really interactive webpage that lets you explore the key findings of their 2014 Global Slavery Index. 

It shows, for example, that Mauritania and Uzbekistan are tied for the inglorious honor of having the largest percentage of their population enslaved, at 4 percent each.

India, meanwhile, has the largest sheer number of people enslaved, at an incredible 14 million.

Like using the interactive maps? Poverty USA has one, too. Theirs lets you examine poverty rates for children, women, and the disabled at the state level, and another lets you explore at the county level.

Poverty USA says 46.5 million people in 2012 were living in poverty, or almost one in every six Americans.

Serving in Haiti

Franciscan Sr. Vicky Della Valle, from Philadelphia, is back in Haiti and writing about it. The Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have partnered with the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, Ohio, on a mission in Haiti, where they help meet medical, educational and nutritional needs. They also deal with spiders:

“We only had one really close encounter – with a huge tarantula!” Della Valle wrote.  “I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that the body was about two and a half inches in diameter, and with the legs, it was about 10 inches.”

She also writes about a group of visitors that had an empty, but expensive, suitcase stolen by people on the road. A few days later, one of the men showed up at the gate with the suitcase, asking for forgiveness.

“It was a very touching experience of forgiveness and reconciliation between people of different cultures but of the same human family,” she wrote.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/dan.stockman2.]

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