Speakers urge fair response on immigration

Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - Updated: 8:39 am

By JOHN FRANKO Staff Writer

St. Joseph Sister Janice Vanderneck said the empowerment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to round up undocumented immigrants can cause tremendous terror in communities.

“Our people are very frightened,” she said.

She noted, however, that while the current immigration system is a “mess” and needs to be fixed, it must be done in a comprehensive manner.

Sister Janice, founding director of Casa San Jose in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood, was among a panel of speakers at an “Immigration and Catholic Response” program July 12 at St. Thomas More Parish in Bethel Park.

Casa San Jose is a community resource center that advocates for and assists Latinos by promoting integration and self-sufficiently.

Sister Janice pointed to the local communities of Latino/Hispanic immigrants in Allegheny and Westmoreland counties. She spoke of the importance of using terms such as “undocumented” rather than “illegal alien.” In noting the great immigration wave of the early 1900s, Sister Janice said that many of the people who entered legally then would have trouble doing so today with the immigration laws.

But she also noted positive aspects. Sister Janice spoke of the support of U.S. bishops for immigration reform and of the “wonderful” relationship that the Pittsburgh Police Department has formed with her facility.

Sister Janice said promoting the sanctity of the family is foremost in Casa San Jose’s efforts, and she described the tremendous faith and work ethic of families she encounters. “I see this over and over and over again,” she said.

Samantha Tamburro, an immigration lawyer, refuted the notion that immigrants take jobs away from American citizens and that they populate dying areas. The opposite is true, she said. They are part of stable areas, and they aren’t a drain on the system. Many of them are highly educated, she said.

Tamburro noted, however, the difficulties that undocumented people have when obtaining citizenship. She also spoke of U.S. military veterans who have been deported because of addiction issues. “They can’t make the same mistakes that others can,” she said.

AnDria Verde lives in Mexico, but crosses into Brownsville, Texas, daily to work at a border shelter. She once worked at Casa San Jose, but her husband was deported. She spoke of people who have lost their dignity and whose basic needs are largely ignored.

“Those are the realities of the people,” she said. “Those are the faces.”

Verde pointed to the Gospel mandate of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked.

Sister Janice acknowledged that there are larger numbers of people trying to cross the border today. She spoke of gang violence occurring in Central American countries as contributing factors. People often try to get into the United States, she added, to escape domestic violence and poverty.

During her talk, Sister Janice advocated for programs such as the Catholic Accompaniment and Reflective Experience Program (www.justiceforimmigrants.org) that connects Catholic volunteers and parishes with fellow community members who are undocumented and in need of support.

“The only way it’s going to change is if we do it,” she said.

The panel members urged those in attendance to write their senators and representatives to voice their outrage. They encouraged parish drives to collect food, toothbrushes and other toiletries that can be sent to centers at the southern border. Those small things can help people recover their dignity, the speakers said.

The gathering included members of Social Justice Seekers. Founded in 2017, it is an ecumenical and interfaith group that promotes social justice values and calls people to make justice a priority in their lives and society. Groups meet in the north and south of Pittsburgh. Information is available by contacting Kevin Hayes at khayes@hayesdesign.com.

Casa San Jose is at 2116 Broadway Ave. in Pittsburgh’s Beechview area. A satellite office is at 116 S. Highland Ave. in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood. Programs include social services, community organizing and advocacy, and youth development. It is run primarily by more than 200 volunteers, with a small team of staff. Immigration presentations are offered.

For information, call 412-343-3111, visit www.casasanjose.org or e-mail office@casasanjose.org. Information on the CARE program is available by calling Miriam Manion at 412-668-0190 or e-mailing miriammanion@yahoo.com.

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