‘Fear,’ a reality for undocumented families

Dominican Sister of Peace Pat Reno, far right, executive director of Centro Latino in Shelbyville, Ky., spoke about the mission of the center during a panel discussion, which was part of the “Share the Journey Immigration Workshop” March 3 on Holy Family Church’s campus. The other panelists were, from left, Karina Barillas of La Casita Center, Jesus Ibañez of Mijente Louisville and Lorena Miller of Doors to Hope. (Record Photo by Ruby Thomas)

By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer

Undocumented immigrant families who call the Archdiocese of Louisville home are living in fear of arrest and deportation, so much so they will not contact the police to report crimes, according to speakers at the “Share the Journey Immigration Workshop” March 3 at Holy Family Church’s Saffin Center on Poplar Level Road.

Father Joseph Rankin, Vicar for Hispanic Ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville, was one of the speakers on a panel  discussion entitled “What Is Happening Around Us?” Father Rankin — who serves a large Hispanic community as pastor of St. Rita Church — told participants that some members of his parish are “self-deporting.” These immigrants, instead of waiting in fear of arrest and deportation, are choosing to return to their native countries leaving their American-born children in the care of older siblings and family members.

“That scares me to death,” said Father Rankin.

The event, sponsored by Catholic Charities of Louisville, drew about 80 people. Among them were priests of the Archdiocese of Louisville and the Diocese of Lexington, Ky.; community leaders, including Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) chief Steve Conrad, laity and Hispanic leaders.

The day started with participants listening to a video message from Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, followed by a presentation of the church’s teachings on immigration by Deacon Lucio Caruso of Catholic Charities.

Deacon Caruso shared five principles from church teaching that relate to immigration:

  • People have the right to opportunities and to find what they need to survive in their own countries.
  • Individuals have the right to migrate to support themselves and their families. This principle, said Deacon Caruso, is based on the church’s teaching that everything on earth belongs to everyone.
  • Sovereign nations have the right to reasonably control their borders. “The church doesn’t teach open borders with no process,” said Deacon Caruso. This, however, is not “an absolute right when people are in great need.”
  • Immigrants should be protected by the global community.
  • And, every person has God-given rights and inherent dignity that should be respected.   

The workshop also included presentations about local laws affecting immigrants. The city’s police chief spoke on this subject, telling listeners that immigrants, documented or not, have nothing to fear from his officers.

Conrad said LMPD’s relationship with immigrants was damaged last year after it was reported that LMPD officers collaborated with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to enforce federal immigration laws.

The chief said there were instances where his officers had legitimate reasons to be present, but in some instances, ICE officers were only “using” the LMPD to get individuals to open their door.

Conrad said he was sorry and told the audience that those incidents “should not have occurred.” The “mistake” has been corrected, he said.

“The last thing the city wants is for people to feel they cannot contact the police,” said Conrad. The LMPD has “no role whatsoever in enforcing immigration laws.” Police officers are “here to make the city safe for everyone. Immigration status means nothing to us,” he said.

Since that report, a new  LMPD policy dictates how officers work with ICE officers. Conrad said if an officer’s behavior is not what it should be, he wants to know.

“I can’t fix it if I don’t know about it. I’ll make it right,” he said.

Participants also heard a keynote address from Michelle Sardone of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., (CLINIC) — a national group created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Sardone presented an update on federal immigration laws via webinar — winter weather caused her flight from Washington, D.C., to be canceled.

Sardone’s presentation included an update on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and information on how immigrants go about applying for U.S. citizenship or permanent residency.

She also shared information on special visas available to individuals who were the victims of crimes or human trafficking.

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