More than 20 Jesuit Schools join forces to form Steering Committee on migration

More than 20 Jesuit Schools join forces to form Steering Committee on migration

Following three-day symposium to discuss research, curriculum and advocacy

More than 20 Jesuit education institutions from the United States, Mexico and Central America have gathered to pool resources and ideas about the issue of global migration and will form a Steering Committee to oversee a network of the schools that will facilitate joint work on future migration projects in the areas of research, curriculum and advocacy.

The new network is a product of a three-day symposium, "Migration Studies & Jesuit Identity: Forging a Path Forward," that took place at Fairfield University from Thursday, June 9, through Saturday, June 11. The symposium was sponsored by Fairfield, The Association of American Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), the Social and International Ministries Office of the United States Jesuit Conference and Jesuit Refugee Service, to consider ways that Jesuit schools could work together to make an impact on the issue of global migration, which is now one of the Society of Jesus' primary apostolic priorities. The United Nations estimates that one in every 35 people worldwide is an international migrant.

"This extraordinary initiative responds to migration as one of the new world priorities of the Jesuits," said Father Richard Ryscavage S.J. a visiting professor at Fairfield who helped coordinate the conference. "It represents the first time the universities have attempted to create an institutional faculty network focused on a specific academic topic."

Fr. Ryscavage will direct the establishment of a new center at Fairfield University for the study of faith, public policy and civic engagement. He formerly headed the Jesuit

Refugee Service/USA and had been executive director of the Migration and Refugee office for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"We live in a world where war and persecution drive many millions of people from their homes, and where economic desperation leads a rising number of people to migrate to rich countries like the United States," said Rev. David Hollenbach, S.J., Margaret O'Brien Flatley Professor of Theology at Boston College.

"A network of Jesuit colleges and universities focused on understanding these issues will enhance our capacity to alleviate the suffering of the refugees and migrants of our world," Fr. Hollenbach said.

The conference participants have already submitted ideas for national projects that the network of schools can tackle together. Those ideas will be considered within the individual schools which will then submit to the Steering Committee which ones they would prefer to work on. Based on those responses, the Steering Committee will choose three national projects this fall, one each in the areas of research, curriculum and advocacy.

Project ideas ranged from a migration website for the network with an online journal for professors at the various schools to post papers on migration, to a research project looking into cases in the United States in which a parent is deported, leaving children behind.

"We don't know much statistically about that group," Fr. Ryscavage said, noting that the project could provide some insight into how many families are broken up in this way, and what happens to the parents and their connections to their children following the deportation.

The network will also approach other Jesuit schools that did not attend the conference about joining the network and participating in the projects. Fairfield University is currently seeking grants to fund a half-time coordinator who would be the administrator and contact person for the network of schools.

"With our commitment to social justice, Jesuit colleges and universities are particularly well situated to take on the complex issues raised by international migration. Our research, teaching and advocacy can better inform policymakers and the public about the contributions of migrants as well as the problems they face," said Susan Martin, Ph.D., director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University.

"Collaborating with such organizations as Jesuit Refugee Service and CLINIC, Jesuit institutions of higher learning can help protect the most vulnerable, particularly those who have been forced from their homes.

"For example, Georgetown University, along with other Jesuit universities, represents asylum seekers facing deportation through our program of clinical education. These clinics are win-win situations: asylum seekers get world class representation and our students learn to be professional advocates for their clients," Dr. Martin said.

Image: Bishop DiMarzio "The numerous lectures and discussions at the conference demonstrated that migration is a vastly complicated topic and there is much work to be done," Fr. Ryscavage said." Bishop Dimarzio noted that the UN global commission studying world migration will probably make more than 100 different recommendations to the U.N. secretary general later this year."

T. Alex Aleinikoff, dean of the Georgetown University School of Law, noted at the conference that there are issues not being discussed in the public that researchers can push to publicize, including due process of migrant proceedings, increasing the enforcement of labor laws, and addressing the backlog of immigration petitions. Aleinikoff encouraged universities to have law students participate in legal clinics and internships.

Aleinikoff also noted that researchers and their work add historical context to the discussion. "That deepens and enriches the debate and moves the debate forward," he said.

The three-day conference featured a number of distinguished speakers, including Kelly Ryan, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration; Rev. Lluis MagriƱa, S.J., director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Rome; and Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, Bishop of Brooklyn and U.S. representative on the United Nations Global Commission on International Migration. Luca Dall'Oglio, Permanent Observer to the United Nations from the International Organization for Migration; and Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, were also among the speakers.

Amelia Guzman Molina was one of 250,000 immigrants detained for being in the country illegally. She shared her story at the discussion on "Immigration, Detention, and Asylum Seekers in the U.S." on June 9. She and her husband spent 18 months in prison for this civil offense, while their three children - ages 13, 15, and 18 - lived alone at home. The children had only arrived in the country eight months before their parents were taken away.

"It was very hard for us," said Molina, who had saved money to bring her children to the United States from El Salvador. "Once you are detained by immigration, you are lost. We didn't know what to do."

Molina did receive spiritual guidance from the Jesuits while detained. They made no promises about her future, she said. That didn't matter. "We didn't even need to pray. We just needed their presence."

Molina emphasized that most people held don't know their rights and don't often get proper care. She feels that her husband did not get adequate medical care while detained and that doctors at the detention center had spotted his cancer but did not tell him. He died six months after they won their appeal and were released. Like others on the panel, she called for more legal assistance for the people detained. The Rev. Christopher Lockard, S.J., noted that 90 percent of those detained have no legal representation. Of those, only 2 percent are granted asylum.

The institutions involved in the network thus far include: University of Detroit-Merch School of Law, Jesuit Refugee Services, Regis University, Loyola University Chicago, St. Peter's College, Ejecutiva de AUSJAL, Santa Clara University, ITESO, University Iberoamericano - Mexico, John Carroll University, Marquette University, Boston College, University of San Francisco, Fordham University, the Jesuit Conference, UCA Managua, Universidad de Deusto, Weston Jesuit School of Theology, Boston College Law School, Spring Hill College, St. Joseph's University, Loyola College in Maryland, Queen Elizabeth House, Puebla, Loyola Marymount University.

For more information about the network of Jesuit schools, contact Fr. Ryscavage at (203) 254-4000, ext. 3393, or e-mail

Posted On: 06-14-2005 10:06 AM

Volume: 37 Number: 285