Community

Recap: IFCLA's Week of Gratitude

Thank you all so much for the support and community you provided during IFCLA’s Week of Gratitude! The week was successful on many levels; besides the atmosphere of fun and connection achieved, IFCLA gained sixteen new sustainers and multiple one-time donations over the course of the week! These new sustainer commitments will help IFCLA immensely over the course of the next year, and we are more grateful than we can say. Let’s recap our week:

At our Monthly Meeting on Monday, November 26th, we screened our Alex Belongs Here video for the first time and talked about ways that we can commit to personal actions towards justice in the face of a government that is often uncooperative with our efforts. We discussed the importance of building a powerful and educated base and vowed to work together to cultivate that base in the coming year.

On Giving Tuesday, November 27th, we reached our goal of gaining 10 new sustainers! Thank you all for your contributions and for spreading the word about supporting IFCLA!

At our Dinner Dialogue on Wednesday, November 28th, we heard from local immigration activists and advocates about ways to make 2019 a success; the panelists focused on the importance of unifying our efforts and working together as a cohesive unit for justice in the future. All throughout IFCLA’s website, you can find further opportunities to get involved.

On Thursday, November 29th, we set aside heavy discussions for a night to enjoy the powerful simplicity of fun! We enjoyed dinner and margaritas while we learned about the history and traditions of the game of loteria - and then played the night away!

At our Salsa Swap and Program Fair on Friday, November 30th, we held conversations about IFCLA’s different programs and how they functioned in 2018. We also talked about specific initiatives that have taken place; board member Ellen Zeigemeier spoke about IFCLA’s work in conjunction with the Honduras Solidarity Network and executive director Sara John spoke about her September trip to Washington, D.C., to support Alex Garcia’s wife Carly in her advocating for her husband.

We are so grateful for the community of kind and generous supporters that we are surrounded with at IFCLA, and we look forward to continuing this new Week of Gratitude tradition in years to come!


Press Advisory: Interfaith Press Conference & Faith Dialogue

St. Louis – Faith leaders en route to the tent prison in Tornillo, TX., where immigrant teens are being detained, will hold an interfaith press conference and “diálogo de fe” (faith dialogue) event at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, Missouri, on Monday, November 12 at 6:30 p.m. to demand that all immigrant families be reunited.

ACTION: Rise Up Against Indefinite Family Detention!

The Flores Settlement Agreement (FSA) was enacted in 1997 to protect immigrant children in government custody. Under the FSA, children were not allowed to be held for longer than 20 days in detention facilities due to the proven harmful effects on their development and well-being. The Trump administration has released an amended version of this ruling that would permit undocumented children and parents who enter the U.S. to be held indefinitely in unlicensed and unregulated facilities. Under the proposed regulation, “emergency” loopholes could result in the denial of basic needs or services to families in detention, as well as reduced access to due process. Plus, children would no longer be required to be transferred to Health and Human Services facilities within 72 hours of being detained.

So, what can you do about this injustice? There is a 60-day period for the public to comment on the revisions to the FSA and the government cannot proceed until all comments have been reviewed. The 60-day window for comments ends on Tuesday, November 6th. The government is required to review all comments pertaining to proposed regulations. This is a chance for your voice to be heard. Stand in solidarity with our neighbors and let the government know that you do not support the indefinite detention of families. We know that mass incarceration is not the solution to family separation.

Create your own comment or use the sample language below:

I oppose the proposed rule “Apprehension, Processing, Care and Custody of Alien Minors and Unaccompanied Alien Children” because indefinite detention of families is abusive and inhumane. It has been proven that even short stays in detention facilities can be detrimental to a child’s health and well-being. Alternatives to detention, such as the Family Case Management System, exist to reduce the harmful effects of detention. This regulation will allow the current administration to operate facilities with no oversight and will be costly to taxpayers. A human being should be treated with dignity, compassion and respect. Please, oppose the proposed changes and preserve the Flores protections for immigrant children.

Click here to submit your comment to the Federal Register!

You can read more about the Flores Settlement Act and the changes that the Trump administration wants to make here.


April General Meeting and Open House

  Open House guests Giovanni Madriz and Judy Williamson socialize after the IFCLA General Meeting.

Open House guests Giovanni Madriz and Judy Williamson socialize after the IFCLA General Meeting.

Each month, IFCLA hosts a General Meeting to share staff updates and progress from working groups, as well as opportunities for volunteers to deepen their involvement. In April, we also added a special open house at the new office space, 5021 Adkins, Room 122, on the campus of St. John the Baptist in South City. 

About a dozen attended to see the new IFCLA office, share experiences of immigration advocacy throughout their lifetimes, and to investigate current opportunities for involvement. Staff, board, and volunteers shared key updates from:

  • The Communications working group, which is in the process of drafting strategy and updating the website.

  • The St. Louis Coalition for Sanctuary working group. Some of the attendees remarked that participating in educational programming and volunteering, particularly related to the vecino program at Christ Church UCC, is an opportunity for them to understand and take action to keep from despairing in the current political climate. In particular, a volunteer, Judy, brought up the Vecino program, a project of Christ Church UCC where individuals keep watch for Immigration Customs and Enforcement at Christ Church UCC in Maplewood where Alex Garcia is living in Sanctuary. Vecinos (meaning neighbor in spanish) take a shift at the church, acting as a first responder in case ICE does arrive on-site, acting as witnesses and notifying key individuals. Judy Williamson said of participating in the program, “One of the advantages is that you have a community of vecinos; it is a joy for me. I was feeling hopeless because of the rhetoric against immigrants I am seeing in the U.S. right now, and participating has helped me deal with that.” For Judy, understanding that others in the U.S. do care about individuals from other countries was of particular importance. 

The group also discussed upcoming event planning, including speakers and the Dinner Diálogos series (please see the website’s events page for additional details). The group shared ideas for audiences for IFCLA’s Immigration 101 courses, which are a four-hour courses on the history of intervention in Latin America, the causes of migration to the United States, and the immigration system. Attendees were also invited to submit names for IFCLA’s Advisory Committee, which met on Saturday, April 28, and is currently seeking additional members. 

The meeting ended with time for everyone to continue conversation and share in the food and drink present.

Visiting Missouri's State Capitol

2017

 
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We've sustained a small but persistent presence in Missouri's state capitol this year. With leadership and bill tracking from Aimee Abizera, the Executive Director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA), we have been active speaking out against anti-immigrant legislation in our state. 

In January, IFCLA's Program Coordinator, Sara John, offered oral testimony before the Senate Committee hearing on Senate Bill 34, along with attorney Ken Schmitt of US Legal Solutions, Aimee from MIRA, Sarah Baker ( ACLU-MO), and Jeannette Mott Oxford ( EmpowerMO). Unfortunately, the bill was voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor. 

IFCLA sent representatives to Jefferson City in February as part of ACLU's statewide advocacy day. Our faithful interns, Mary Louise Pabello and Geraldine Hannon, spent a day with our allies, speaking up for human rights issues. We were back again in March as part of MIRA's statewide advocacy day - and were honored to be introduced on the Senate floor by Sen. Jill Schupp! But once again, our voices were not heard, and the Senate perfected SB 34 late that evening. 

On April 11, we were back again! This time, IFCLA was represented by Sara John, Mary Louise Pabello, former-SLU-intern-turned-Core-Committee-member Ellie Urbina, and current SLU student Marissa Ornelas. We again accompanied the testimonies of Sarah Baker, Aimee Abizera and Jeannette Mott Oxford. The afternoon sessions of the House and Senate went long, so the Committee hearing didn't begin until 7:30pm, and we didn't get to speak out against SB 34 until nearly 9pm! All 3 of these courageous young women of color spoke clearly and confidently against SB 34, sharing their individual testimony as immigrants, bringing all the emotion that comes with the vulnerability of sharing one's story of self in the face of power. We might be up against Goliath (again), but David was looking pretty strong in the voices of Ellie, Marissa and Mary Louise! 

We'll continue to keep you up-to-date as MIRA leads the resistance to state-level legislative threats to immigrants in our communities. Unfortunately, we're sure there will be more opportunities to challenge SB 34 and other harmful bills before this session is over. 

Mobilizing Coherent Community Responses to Changing Immigration Policies—Conference in Houston, TX

June 2017

On June 7-9, St. Louis was represented by 5 women from three organizations (IFCLA, the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project, and St. Francis Community Services Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry—CLAM) at a conference in Houston, Texas, sponsored by the Center for Migration Studies of New York, the Cabrini Center for Immigrant Legal Assistance of Catholic Charities of Galveston-Houston, the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, and South Texas College of Law Houston. IFCLA, MICA Project and CLAM are also active participants in St. Louis’s Immigrant Service Providers Network (ISPN), a group that seeks to support the foreign born and their families in the St. Louis region by increasing community resources, advocating for inclusive policies and services, and educating residents and providers. 

This conference presented a unique opportunity to understand the models, systems and processes used by the hosting organizations that have been effective strategies for mobilizing communities in their cities, focusing on the idea of “whole of community” as central to any substantial and effective response. We sought to understand the models and best practices that have seen positive results in Houston and across the country, so that we could more deeply analyze our own efforts in St. Louis, and adapt and implement successful strategies from other case studies to our own context. 

While there, the team participated in site visits, valuable networking opportunities, and attended more than a dozen seminars, panels and small group discussions on topics ranging from the current administration, recent Executive orders, state-level actions like Texas’s SB4, immigration law practice concerns, faith activism and more. 

Immigration attorneys Nicole Cortes and Kris Walentik, along with Sara John, will give a brief presentation about their experiences at the conference and implications for our work and collaborative efforts. The morning presentation will be in mid-August; IFCLA will share the event via email and social media. 

Exploring immigrant experiences and identities through a trip to the borderlands, by Mary Louise Pabello

By Mary Louis Pabello

I have known the struggle of migrants all my life, being myself an immigrant to the US. But after the border trip with Loretto’s Latin America and Caribbean Committee, I find myself asking, “do I really?” Like the young woman I met at Casa Nazareth, my mother crossed countries while three months pregnant, and with two young daughters in tow. Unlike the young woman, however, my mother wasn’t fleeing violence in her home country. My mother wasn’t made to cross miles of desert on foot. My mother had a husband waiting to receive her. This young woman’s husband was in an unidentified detention center. She was alone. No family other than the life she carried, her yet-unborn child who might grow up never knowing their father. 

I saw my father in the men at El Comedor. My father, who took a risk and left behind the only home he’d known, with only the hope that there would be something better on the other side. The one thing setting my father apart from these men? An employment visa issued by the United States government, on the promise of guaranteed work writing computer code for a Canada-based company with an office in St. Louis, Missouri. A skill deemed “useful” according to the State Department’s visa bulletin, vis-á-vis the evolving tech industry. That one piece of paper opened doors for my family, a “path” to naturalization denied to so many others. 

This personal agitation of being “immigrant enough” has come to the forefront during my year as a Loretto Volunteer. A decision to confront that feeling was made intentionally by myself and by my supervisor, Sara, with the purpose being to push my understanding of migration issues and uplift my own story. For example, Sara asked me and two other young women who are the children of immigrant parents testify before the Missouri House Judiciary Committee against SB 34, a bill that sought to create the crime of illegal re-entry for Missouri. Illegal re-entry is already addressed in federal immigration law, so the bill is totally unnecessary and ultimately didn't pass. But testifying on that issue affirmed my own beliefs and experiences. 

Emigrating with papers and becoming naturalized citizens are privileges that are not accessible to every migrant. Those privileges do not invalidate or lessen my migrant experience. If anything, my privilege should (and does) motivate me to do right by the thousands of others who are more impacted by the broken immigration system than I am. 

I will never know the feeling of fleeing violent unrest caused by an unstable government. I will never know the feeling of crossing miles of desert, wondering when or if I will find clean, drinkable water. I will never know the risk of being found and detained by Customs and Border Patrol. I will never face abuse by their hand. I will never know the hurt of families kept separate by inadequate and outdated migration policies. I will never know a life where my parents couldn’t raise me. 

But I have borne witness to those who do know that pain and suffering all too well. Their stories, courage, and perseverance are what continue to motivate me in this work of justice. I hold their hurt along with mine, and together we will march forward. “Hold on just a little while longer; everything’s gonna be alright”. 

Launch of the St. Louis Immigration Enforcement Accompaniment Program

2017

In the wake of rapidly shifting rhetoric and policies that further criminalize immigrants and communities of color, several organizations across the country have developed new tools for response and support for the directly impacted individuals and their families, There have been numerous cases of migrants being detained after going to a routine check-in at the offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or BI Incorporated (the private company that ICE contracts with to manage the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program). Family members literally disappear, often without being allowed to inform their friends or relatives, creating panic among their loved ones, destroying families and devastating our communities. 

In some cities, a successful tool to protect against this threat to due process and violation of our shared values, has been to accompany individuals to these check-ins. By volunteering to accompany migrants to ICE check-ins, we are able to show solidarity and perhaps, in a small way, help to ease the anxiety of interacting with the legal system, reducing the likelihood of detention with our presence, and keeping relatives and/or lawyers informed in case the individual is detained. This is a huge help to efforts to end detention and deportation. 

After attending a training session for a similar program run by Missouri Faith Voices of Columbia, MO, IFCLA prepared and hosted a training session to begin this type of program locally. Now, similar programs are operating across the state! The first session, held on July 17, trained roughly 25 individuals. The St. Louis Accompaniment Teams have supported community members at 4 check-ins since then. There will be additional training opportunities in November, and we are always looking for new locations/groups to which we can offer this training. Please contact the office for details. 

We are also working to ensure that our community members know this service exists, and would welcome your support!