~ by Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
Much has been written, and for many years, about immigration and its various policy and practical aspects
But what about that “weekend associate” at your parish? Or that group of nuns who reopened the old convent? They, too, may be immigrants.
There are close to 5,000 people from all denominations hailing from other countries who come to the United States each year as “religious workers.” Among Catholics, they are usually clergy, sisters and brothers, but there are lay missioners, some of them married and with families. U.S. immigration law makes provisions for them to carry out their ministry through the R-1 visa.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINC) has a hand in about 800 cases each year, according to Miguel Naranjo, director of CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services. It was one of CLINIC’s first programs, established more than 30 years ago, and the numbers suggest it remains a valued initiative. “We certainly have a very busy practice,” Naranjo told Catholic News Service.
CLINIC works with nearly half of U.S. dioceses in doing the visa work for religious workers. The remainder, according to Naranjo, either are connected with attorneys who can guide the process for immigrant clergy and religious, or work through a local Catholic Charities affiliate or similar agency on sponsorship issues. “We work more with religious orders. There is a large number of religious orders in the United States,” he said.
Naranjo, who has been with CLINIC for 13 years and has led its Religious Immigration Services division for about half that time, walked through the process.
“This is a program that did undergo some changes a decade ago. They changed it to make it similar to other visas. What they require — which they did not require 10 years ago — was to file a petition. They have to file a petition with the Immigration Service: The organization’s legit; it has the financial means to sponsor the person they want to sponsor,” he said.
For someone who qualifies as a religious worker, he says they “could fall under a traditional religious occupation, somehow involved in promoting the belief system of the denomination. You need a lot of documentation. The standard the immigration service will use is that the documentation must be verifiable. We can submit affidavits. You’re looking at 3-6 months to prepare the petition,” Naranjo noted.
“There is a site visit the immigration service will conduct. And there’s a fraud investigator that makes sure everything you said you were going to do in the petition was true. It’s certainly not a simple process,” he added.
Organizations calling CLINIC on religious immigration issues “express some frustration how the process can take a lot of time. Inevitably, there comes a time when you have to troubleshoot issues. Immigration service will request further evidence — evidence on why this person is qualified, or do you have the means to support.
The experience of immigrant sisters
Venturing to new territory is the subject of a new book, Migration for Mission, published in April and co-written by Sr. Mary Johnson, a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur who teaches at Trinity Washington University; Sr. Patricia Wittberg, a Sister of Charity; Sr. Thu T. Do, a Lover of the Holy Cross-Hanoi; and Mary Gauthier. They are staffers at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) in Washington.
book included results from a survey of nearly 1,000 immigrant sisters. The average age of the sisters is 58, making them much younger than U.S.-born sisters, whose average age is in the high 70s.
When asked what could be improved about the sisters’ lives [as immigrants in this country], one sister replied: “It would be helpful if the members of the dominant culture would treat the members of the minority culture with mutuality and encourage the minority culture to preserve the richness of one’s native tongue and culture. Forced enculturation for the sake of uniformity is a very violent experience of ‘colonization.’ ”