Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Cardinal Rigali on health care for immigrants

From Cardinal Justin Rigali's * statement to mark Respect Life Sunday (Oct. 4):

"Many people insist that undocumented persons living and working in the United States should not be allowed in any new system to purchase health-care coverage, and that poor legal immigrants be denied coverage for the first five years they are in the United States. Do immigrants forfeit their humanity at the border? How can a just society deny basic health care to those living and working among us who need medical attention? It cannot and must not."

*Cardinal Rigali is the Archbishop of Philadelphia, and the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A new look... and another look

A new look for the newspaper:

We've just completed the redesign of our newspaper -- from flag to folios. Let us know what you think! Of course, you have to pick up the print edition to see just how extensive the redesign really is....

And another look at an issue I write about often: the Catholic Church's commitment to bettering the plight of immigrants and reforming broken immigration policies:

The photos I've included in this post are by freelancer Kevin Cook. They were taken at a Philadelphia Catholic leadership meeting on immigration reform that took place at Our Lady of Ransom School's gymnasium Sept. 11.

Msgr. Hugh Shields, vicar for Hispanic Catholics of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and other Hispanic apostolate leaders addressed approximately 90 people who gathered -- to formulate a genuinely Catholic response to the challenges posed by current immigration policies. An article about the event, written by freelancer Denise Peterson, will appear in the Sept. 24 issue of the Catholic Standard & Times (in English and in Spanish), but here's a teaser:

Sister Pat Madden, S.S.J., who works at the Sisters of St. Joseph Welcome Center in North Philadelphia, attended the meeting at Our Lady of Ransom. “I’m glad to see the energy is back. A couple of years ago we were going to rallies and all, and then it just died. I can feel that the energy is coming back, that the time is now, and that hope is here. The plight of the immigrant is very important to us. Jesus welcomes everyone — lepers, Samaritans, the woman at the well — so we should too.”

On Sept. 17, the Hispanic Bishops of the U.S. met with legislators in Washington D.C. about policy issues most affecting Hispanics in the U.S. This is from a USCCB report on the meeting:

At a series of meetings at Capitol Hill, a delegation of Hispanic Bishops discussed with Democratic and Republican legislators of both houses, four areas of deep concern and offered principles of Catholic social teaching to help in the current debates.

Archbishop José Gomez of San Antonio, Texas, led the September 17 delegation, representing the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“The bishops are keenly aware of the substantial contributions Hispanic communities make to the prosperity and well-being of the United States,” said Archbishop Gomez. “Yet those same communities suffer under the weight of a broken immigration policy, as well as lack of access to quality education, adequate medical care and economic opportunities.”

“We met with our political leaders of both parties to re-affirm the principles of Catholic social teaching about the dignity of all human beings from conception to natural death and the centrality of the common good. We offered these principles grounded in social ethics and our religious heritage as constructive guidelines for achieving a just and equitable resolution of the public policy debates around these key issues,” he said.

The U. S. Church and our Bishops continue to remind Catholics about the moral implications of current immigration policies, and a debate about the issue that has turned increasingly vitriolic. From Catholic News Service:

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Outside the Capitol Sept. 15 bishops of three denominations led a brief prayer service for an end to hate, particularly hatred toward immigrants.
"The current environment dehumanizes our fellow human beings and diminishes us as a nation," said Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Meanwhile, elsewhere on Capitol Hill, 47 radio talk show hosts held a two-day broadcast capping a lobbying effort aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration and derailing efforts to approve comprehensive immigration reform.

Read the CNS brief here (scroll to second brief).

Archbishop Wuerl, of Washington, included the following in an op-ed piece about another fractious issue -- health care reform:

The United Stated Conference of Catholic Bishops, following the Gospel mandate to care for the "least of these," urges us to look at health care from the bottom up. A particular gauge against which to measure true universal coverage would be how reform treats the immigrants in our midst who contribute their labor and taxes to our nation, but are at risk of being left out of health care reform.

Read the full op-ed here (and note comments on the post, if you have the stomach for them).

And Our Sunday Visitor, in an editorial about health care reform and the Bishops' call to cover immigrants in it, notes that:

It may be that what America needs right now is a conscience prick about what society is supposed to be all about: serving the common good, as Pope Benedict XVI so forcefully underscored in his latest encyclical, Caritas in Veritate.

Read the full editorial here.

Comprehensive immigration reform and the treatment of immigrants in our country is as fractious an issue for the Catholic laity as it is for the rest of the population. Working at a Catholic newspaper I get to see letters to the editor and to field calls from readers who are upset at our priests and religious for their ongoing work to minister to the undocumented.

I get to track poll results from our own newspaper web site that indicate that a substantial number of our readers think the Bishops shouldn't involve themselves in immigration because it is a "political" issue.

But it isn't be the first time we've needed the priests and religious -- and our Bishops -- to remind us that issues of shared humanity and human dignity go beyond the merely political; and that they aren't predicated on race, or ethnicity, or status in society.

Some time ago I fielded an unrelated call that took me into the newspaper's archives. I rooted around in the CS&T issues from the 1960s. By chance I ended up looking at a number of editorial pages. There were lots of letters to the editor in those old issues very similar to ones I'd been seeing about immigration. Catholics were taking the Bishops to task for what the letter-writers saw as meddling in politics. You see, the Bishops had issued statements and were advocating for desegregation... and the readers didn't like it one bit.

Today it is hard to imagine that any Catholic could have wanted the Bishops to stay mute about segregation.

And years from now, I believe, it will be equally inconceivable for us to imagine that any would call for our Bishops to be silent while immigration policies tear families, lives and communities apart.

Prophetic voices are desperately needed (I'm shamelessly stealing this line from one of my favorite CS&T columnists, Msgr. Francis Meehan).

On this issue and in this debate, I'm proud that some of the strongest prophetic voices belong to our Bishops.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tokyo in Philadelphia

My daughte
r is in love with all things Japanese: kimonos and manga, onigiri and pocky, picnics beneath the cherry blossoms and cosplay.

Her interest has taught us a new vocabulary -- otaku, j-pop, mochi (among many others). It’s also taken us places – Sakura Sunday in Fairmount Park (those are my daughter’s photos from Sakura Sunday two years ago at the top of this post) and the East Coast’s largest Japanese bookstore, Kinokuniya, in New York City to name just two. It has not yet, alas, taken us to Japan itself.

Her enthusiasm for the culture has even prompted her to choose to study Japanese in her first year of high school. Now, in addition to watching Hayao Miyazaki’s films together, we spend time as a family trying to figure how our names should be written in hiragana and katakana.

It all kind of makes my head spin.

A few days before the new school year started, my daughter came into Philadelphia with me for a half-day of school shopping. In addition to getting clothing you just don’t see at suburban malls, I planned to take her to lunch at a little Japanese eatery on Chestnut between 17th and 18th (the Tokyo of this post’s title and photo here) and to introduce her to Philly’s touristy-but-still-alternative South Street. Despite the rain that cut short the South Street portion of the day, it was great fun.

It was also an eye-opener.

I’ve commuted into Center City five days a week for the past five years -- the details of the trek have long ago faded from my notice. But I was with a fresh pair of eyes. Those eyes took in the pair of young violinists playing at the train station during the morning rush hour. They noticed a lush little park tucked between buildings I’d overlooked every other time I’d been down that street. Her eyes registered the artistry of the julienned vegetables garnishing her lunch and the beauty in dozens of things I’ve seen daily without noting them.

Hmmm. Is this something my daughter has picked up because of her love of a culture that seems to attend to the moment? Or is it her own artist’s temperament that makes her more observant? Or both?

But maybe those aren’t the questions I need to ask.

When did life start to move so fast that I can’t observe its little beauties?

When did the noise of tasks that need to be completed, and places I need to be, drown out the music played as both gift and petition?

When did I stop noticing?

It is a gift to spend days with one for whom the moments are still full of art.

It’s a gift to have a daughter with fresh eyes.

Morning-misted street …
With white ink an artist brushes
A dream of people.

-- Buson (Japanese poet and painter of the Edo period.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Who says our immigration laws aren't broken?

What do you get when you put overzealous ICE agents together with a mentally ill citizen who can't prove he's a citizen? Read this article from the Charlotte Observer:

N.C. native wrongly deported to Mexico

By Kristin Collins

August 30, 2009

The U.S. government admitted in April that it had wrongly deported an N.C. native, but newly released documents show that federal investigators ignored FBI records and other evidence showing that the man was a United States citizen.

At the time of Mark Lyttle's deportation, immigration officials had criminal record checks that said he was a U.S. citizen. They had his Social Security number and the names of his parents. They had Lyttle's own sworn statement that he had been born in Rowan County.

None of this stopped them from leaving Lyttle, a mentally ill American who speaks no Spanish, alone and penniless in Mexico, where he has no ties.

Lyttle's 350-page Department of Homeland Security file, released to The (Raleigh) News & Observer, shows that the government deported him based entirely on some of his own conflicting statements, even though agents knew that Lyttle is bipolar and has a learning disability.

"I tried to tell them I was a U.S. citizen born right here in Rowan County," Lyttle says now. "But no one believed me."

Lyttle is one of a growing number of people who have been swept up in the federal immigration detention system since 2001, when terrorist attacks prompted an unprecedented effort to find and deport illegal immigrants. The U.S. government deported 350,000 people in the fiscal year that ended in October 2008.

When The N&O first reported on Lyttle's case in April, officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said that Lyttle had caused the mistake by declaring that he was from Mexico. They maintain that position now.

"Individuals who misrepresent their true identity and make false statements to ICE officers create problems both for law enforcement and themselves," ICE spokesman Ivan Ortiz-Delgado said in a written statement.

Lyttle swore to immigration agents on two occasions that he was Mexican, but he also swore that he was a U.S. citizen born in Rowan County. His Homeland Security file does not reflect any attempt by ICE officials to confirm Lyttle's citizenship claims.

The agent who took Lyttle's statement that he was born in North Carolina dismissed it, saying in a report that Lyttle "does not possess any documentation to support his claim."

A few dozen pages were withheld from the file released by ICE. But the file provided to The N&O shows no search for a Rowan County birth certificate and no attempts to reach the family members Lyttle named before his initial deportation.

The ICE file states that Lyttle's Mexican citizenship "was established based on interview results and numerous background system checks." But repeated background checks, from an FBI fingerprint database and the National Crime Information Center, showed he was an American citizen.

Asked by The N&O why they had not accepted the findings in these background checks, ICE officials said they were reviewing their information and could not provide a response after a week.

The inconsistencies in his case were not discussed when Lyttle appeared before an Atlanta immigration judge and was ordered deported on Dec.9. On Dec. 18, he was loaded onto a plane and left at an airport just across the border from Hidalgo, Texas.

On Dec. 29, he returned to the U.S. border threatening to hurt himself and the border patrol agents. "Subject appears to be mentally unstable," the report notes.

Lyttle, who now lives with his mother in Georgia, says that during his travels he didn't take medications that treat his mental illness and was subject to cycles of manic activity and depression.

Lyttle again told immigration agents he had been born in Rowan County. This time the file shows that they checked for his birth certificate there. They didn't find it because Lyttle is adopted. In cases of adoption, birth certificates are stored in Raleigh, said Shirley Stiller, the deputy register of deeds in Rowan County.

Lyttle was deported a second time, within hours. With no documents to prove legal residency in any country, he soon found himself on an international odyssey.

Mexican authorities sent him to Honduras, where he was imprisoned before being sent to Guatemala.

In late April, he found the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City. Within a day, officials there contacted Lyttle's brother at the military base where Lyttle told them he was serving, got copies of his adoption papers and issued him a U.S. passport.

Three days after his arrival in Guatemala City, his brother had wired him money and Lyttle was on a flight to Atlanta.

U.S. Immigration officials worked Lyttle's case for 31/2 months and held him in immigration detention for more than six weeks.

"This is not rocket science," said Jacqueline Stevens, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who brought Lyttle's case to light on her blog and is now writing a book about it. "It took someone in Guatemala one day to prove he was a citizen."

Lyttle, 32, has spent much of his adulthood bouncing among mental institutions, halfway houses and prisons. He has been convicted of more than a dozen crimes, including assault and sexual battery.

He also lost touch with his mother, who had moved during his time in prison, and did not have phone numbers for his two brothers, who are in the military. His father is deceased.

When he entered prison, his country of birth was listed as Mexico. Prison officials say Lyttle made that claim, but in an interview with The N&O, Lyttle said he never invented such a story. Regardless, he was flagged for a federal immigration check.

In September and November 2008, he met with immigration agents three times, each time signing a different sworn statement.

Lyttle says he claimed to be Mexican at the first interview because he thought it was pointless to argue with the agent, who was convinced that he was an illegal immigrant. His birth father was Puerto Rican, and Lyttle says he is often mistaken for Mexican.

He says he figured he would take a free trip to Mexico.