~ by Nuri Vallbona, Global Sisters Report
The stories and images are powerful. Delivered into living rooms nightly, they capture the faces of crying children and parents, panicked immigrants fleeing violence and anxious students facing deportation.
Operating in that swirl are women who quietly tap into their faith to advocate for the undocumented. These are sisters from various congregations. They also happen to be immigration attorneys.
The rewards are great but the stakes are high, says Holy Cross Sister Sharlet Wagner, the new president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). “If you lose the case, you’re talking about someone’s life,” she says. “They’ll be shipped back to a country where they may very well be killed.”
Women religious advocate for immigrants, helping them resettle and find education and services in the U.S. Sisters with legal expertise are on the frontlines of changing immigration policies that brought about the separation of families at the border and that have made it more difficult for Central Americans to gain asylum. They work to educate those American citizens whose voices against immigrants grow louder each day. Although some lawyer sisters have retired, all remain active, volunteering in a legal capacity or advocating for those trying to gain a foothold. Called to the legal profession for various reasons, the sisters spoke of the challenges they face and how their faith anchors their commitment.
“This is intrinsically redemptive work,” says Society of the Holy Child Jesus Sr. Ann Durst, who has made it her mission to get legal representation for minors arriving at the southern border. “It doesn’t get any rawer than this.”
Nearly every child from Central America is fleeing violence, Durst said. “Whether or not they may be eligible for relief under the law is what we’re dealing with constantly because the law … and policies are in a state of incredible flux.”
She [is referring to] the recent change in immigration policy announced in June by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a decision overturning a precedent-setting court case, Sessions said asylum-seekers can no longer use gang or domestic violence as reasons for protection in the U.S.
Despite the changes, Durst is undeterred and holds that cases are won on their individual merits.
However, Durst said she is troubled by how enforcement of immigration has changed. “It’s one thing if people were discovered,” Durst said. “It’s a whole other thing to hunt people, and I can’t tell you how that haunts me.”
Durst also condemned the recent separation of families. “It’s absolutely reprehensible,” she said. “Can you imagine any state … terminating parental rights, or taking children away [based on a] misdemeanor?” ~ from the Global Sisters Report