“Dignity Has No Borders”: Jesuit Migration Network Meeting Looks at Migration on a Regional Level

October 30, 2017 — Given the many obstacles that migrants currently face on their journey, it is important to step outside our immediate contexts and engage with other regional partners on the issue, according to Kristen Lionetti, policy director of the Office of Justice and Ecology for the Jesuits of Canada and the U.S., who recently returned from a meeting of the Jesuit Migration Network of Central America and North America.

The 16th annual migration meeting, held in Mexico City from Oct. 9-11, gathered almost 100 Jesuit network partners from 12 countries who work on migration issues. With the theme "Dignity has no borders,” the group met to analyze and reflect on common migration issues and attempt to answer the question: How do we accompany and promote the human rights of migrants in the current context?

Attendees included people working on migration in the Jesuit network from a variety of areas: researchers, advocates and direct service and pastoral providers. Lionetti coordinated the U.S. and Canada delegation, which included participants from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Canada; JRS/USA; Kino Border Initiative; the University of San Francisco; the Jesuit Social Research Institute of Loyola University New Orleans; Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic in Los Angeles; Loyola University Chicago; and the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

Kristen Lionetti, policy director of the Office of Justice and Ecology at the Jesuit Conference

The meeting is important, says Lionetti, because migration is not just a national issue, but a regional and global issue. “It’s an opportunity for institutions in the network that have common missions, concerns and goals to come together from different points of view for collective analysis and reflection.”

There are a number of pressing migration issues in the region. People fleeing violence and poverty in Central America are facing rejection in both the U.S. and Mexico. In addition to an increasing number of Central Americans seeking refuge in Mexico, the country is also receiving deportees from the U.S. and trying to figure out how to help them reintegrate. Meanwhile, U.S. policy — both increases in detention and deportation and decisions it’s making on temporary protections like DACA and Temporary Protected Status — are being felt throughout the region. Network partners have seen this in Canada with thousands arriving to their border in search of protection. The Kino Border Initiative, on the U.S.-Mexico border, reported a 143% increase in deportations of migrants away from their U.S. citizen children in 2017 compared to 2016.

The network shares migration trends like these and looks for ways to better respond collectively. It is also an opportunity to formulate common goals and concrete actions for the next year.

“The proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border gets a lot of attention,” says Lionetti, “but there are many ways in which countries are seeking to restrict migration or putting up barriers that don’t allow people who are forced to migrate to access the international protection they should be entitled to.”

One initiative the network is promoting in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as in Canada and the U.S. is the Campaign for Hospitality. The campaign illustrates one way that the Society of Jesus is working across borders to foster a culture and communities that are more welcoming and hospitable to migrants and that calls upon governments to develop policies that reflect this.

Meeting attendees visit with migrants outside of a shelter.

The meeting also offered accompaniment experiences at a shelter that serves migrant women seeking refuge and at a dining hall for migrants.

Norbert Piché, director of JRS Canada

Norbert Piché, director of JRS Canada, visited the shelter and told the Sister who runs it about asylum seekers in Canada — though the system is not perfect, that they have rights and that the government will make sure their basic needs are met. 

“She was grateful to hear that there are still certain countries who treat migrants as human beings,” Piché says. “It struck me to hear that because it reminded me of the Good Samaritan. Are we Good Samaritans as individuals, but also as countries? And what would that look like in both cases?”

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