History of the Office of Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education

In June 2005 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) launched the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform (CCIR)/Justice for Immigrants Campaign during their semi-annual meeting in Chicago, taking guidelines from the joint Pastoral Letter of the US and Mexican Bishops’ Conferences, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.” The three-fold goal of this campaign was to educate the catholic community on the benefits of immigration and immigrants in this country; advocate for comprehensive immigration reform legislation based on the five core elements developed in “Strangers No Longer”; serve the immigrant community in the process of legalization when a new immigration legislation past.

As the Bishops were launching the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform on a national level, the staff of the national office of Migration and Refugees Services requested to the Office of Peace and Justice to convene a meeting with key people to introduce the CCIR. At that time, Elena Segura (Present Director of the Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigration Education, then Director of Catholic Campaign for Human Development the Archdiocese of Chicago) assisted in the introduction of this campaign and invited attendants to form a committee to work on the advocacy and educational components of the campaign. 20 people signed up for this first committee.

In the years that followed several more networks were formed to facilitate and add to the work towards immigrant justice in the Archdiocese. In December of 2005, five priests who had shared an interest in the immigration issue were asked to meet with Elena Segura. A month later that group expanded to 25 priests, henceforth forming the Priests for Justice for Immigrants  network, which, at present, stands at 200 priests interested and dedicated to advocating and educating on immigrant justice. A year later two religious sisters from Mexico and Sr. Pat Murphy and Sr. JoAnn Persch inquired about forming a network of religious sisters to work on behalf of immigrants. In January 2007, 35 sisters were present and formed what is now the Sisters and Brothers of Immigrants  network, currently with 59 religious orders represented. This network has been pivotal on the work of accompaniment and education since its inception. In addition, the initial Advocacy and Education committee that was formed in 2005 became the education committee in 2007.

During 2005 and 2007 the advocacy and education committee and the emerging networks of clergy, religious and lay people worked intensively in support of immigration reform legislation. One example of their work is the placement of 220 immigrants in 164 parishes to share their stories, and the collection of 200,000 postcards in support of immigration reform.

It was because of this dedication and hope, however, which made the failure of an Immigration Reform bill in 2007 more difficult to bear. As a result of that and the increase in raids and deportations, it seemed as though the immigrant community in the Archdiocese, as well as throughout the nation, was feeling depressed, alone, fearful, and disempowered. In all, they began thinking that God abandoned them. Daily activities, such as going to work, classes or running errands, turned into risky ventures because of the rise arrests from simple violations.

Around this time two fundamental questions emerged from the Catholic immigrant community: The first, What is God saying to us in this situation? The second, What can we do for each other? And, is there something that we could do in our parish communities, or do we have to wait for others to do it? As a respond to these questions, Pastoral Migratoria  was born (Immigrant to Immigrant Ministry) in 2008. Pastoral Migratoria is a ministry that invites immigrants to respond to their baptismal call to be engaged with service and justice actions responding to the needs of their parish communities.

The Priests for Justice for Immigrants, Bishops John Manz and Gustavo Garcia-Siller, and Elena Segura met several times with Cardinal Francis George to talk about the need to implement the third phase of the Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform: service. This being, service directed to the needs of the immigrant community in the Archdiocese. After a time of prayer, discernment, and reflection on the vision, the Office for Immigrant Affairs and Immigrant Education was created in July 2009. This office will continue working on the same goals (education and advocacy) stated for the CCIR plus the empowerment and integration of immigrants.

In 2010, following the same principles of Pastoral Migratoria, the office formed the Polish Immigrant-to-Immigrant Ministry. This ministry uses the same methodology of listen, learn, and proclaim.  In addition the office formed the Immigration Parish Coordinators  network, with parish leaders in “non-immigrant” parishes working to educate and work to create solidarity with the immigrant community. This network is currently in over 120 parishes.

Since its inception, the work of the office has extended to the promotion of evangelization for changes of heart and the bringing about of the Kingdom of God, as well as creating space for multi-cultural collaboration.

The journey has been one full of blessings and struggles, and as pilgrims we continue to walk the journey to Emmaus encountering Christ in “the other” and standing with the immigrant together towards justice for all.