Charities’ office offers National Migration Week celebrations

By Amelia McGowan
VARDAMAN – The Northeast Mississippi office of Catholic Charities of Jackson is preparing for its third annual National Migration Week celebration, “Creating a Culture of Encounter,” which will take place in locations throughout northeastern Mississippi during Jan. 8-14, 2017. The events will include Eucharistic celebrations, cultural expressions and legal workshops conducted by Catholic Charities’ Migrant Support Center.
With this celebration, the Diocese of Jackson joins dioceses throughout the country in reflecting upon the circumstances confronting migrants in the country, including immigrants, refugees, children and victims and survivors of violent crimes and human trafficking.  The theme for National Migration Week 2017 draws attention to Pope Francis’ call to create a culture of encounter, and in doing so to look beyond our own needs and wants to those of others around us.
In the homily given at his first Pentecost as pope, he emphasized the importance of encounter in the Christian faith: “For me this word is very important. Encounter with others. Why? Because faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.”
While Mississippi’s immigrant population is not as large as more populous states, it is growing rapidly. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that Mississippi’s foreign-born population rose from 0.8 percent of the total statewide population in 1990, to 1.4 percent in 2000, and to 2.1 percent in 2013.
The kickoff for National Migration Week is Sunday, January 8, at Tupelo St. James with a bilingual screening of the film “The Invisibles” from 2:30-4:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, Jan. 10, I will provide an immigration workshop and legal consultations at Ripley St. Matthew Parish from 6 – 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, will feature Eucharistic celebrations commemorating National Migration Week throughout the area. I will provide a second immigration workshop at Corinth St. James Parish on Thursday, Jan. 12, from 6 – 8 p.m.
The week concludes with a Night of Cultural Expression on Friday, Jan. 13, from 6 – 8 p.m. at a location to be determined, and a closing ceremony at St. James Parish on Saturday, Jan. 14, which will feature Sister Gabriela Ramirez from Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala., from 3 – 4:30 p.m.
All are welcome to join in the National Migration Week festivities as we celebrate the diversity of our towns and parishes. For more information about the week’s events call 662-682-9992.

(Amelia McGowan is the Program Director and an Immigration Attorney for Catholic Charities’ Migrant Support Center.)

Local advocates decry ruling

By Maureen Smith
GREENWOOD – Amelia McGowan, head of Catholic Charities’ Migrant Support Center, was disappointed by the Supreme Court’s decision to put a halt on new applications for immigrants seeking work permits and protection from deportation.
“Hopefully this is just a temporary setback,” said McGowan. She and her staff were so hopeful they would get a favorable decision, they hosted a workshop for parish leaders in Greenwood Saturday, June 18, to train them on the issue.
The Migrant Support Center partnered with Texas-based advocacy organization “United We Dream” to provide the free, eight-hour training. Speakers Carolina Ramirez and Adonias Arevalo presented an overview of DACA/DAPA, “Know Your Rights” training, screening for immigration remedies, understanding and combatting the unauthorized practice of law, and the importance of client engagements/retainers. United We Dream is the largest immigrant youth-led organization in the nation. The network, made up of more than 100,000 immigrant youth and allies and 55 affiliate organizations in 26 states, advocates for the dignity and fair treatment of immigrant youth and families, regardless of immigration status.
Forty-two people from Clarksdale, Greenville, Greenwood, Jackson, Vicksburg and members of the Redemptorist community serving in the Delta attended the workshop. They included pastors, community leaders and catechists. “One of the problems we are having is that many people don’t even know or understand their rights,” said Nancy Sanchez, a staff member at the Migrant Support Center. She and McGowan said despite the Supreme Court ruling the center hopes to continue to offer training on immigration rights.
“We will keep working, keep collaborating. It is really important to build these networks and build and strengthen our partnerships,” said McGowan. Her office has been working for several years to educate not only the immigrant community, but also collaborate with law enforcement and the business community to make sure all the communities understand the complex issues involved. In an earlier interview, she explained that when immigrants are scared to report crimes or seek help, the whole community suffers.
Many immigrants in Mississippi live under constant threat of removal from the United States. The president’s proposed expanded Deferred Action program (otherwise known as “Expanded DACA” and “DAPA”) could have provided relief to many undocumented Mississippians by allowing them to obtain work permits and receive limited protection from deportation.
On June 24, the nation’s high court upheld an earlier ruling that determined President Obama did not have the constitutional authority to enact DAPA and expanded-DACA, two executive actions designed to provide temporary deportation relief and work permits for four million undocumented immigrants.
Immigrants granted protection in 2012 are not impacted by this ruling.

Agency clarifies immigration information

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – A question. Can the national of a country who has been granted a non-immigrant visa, automatically enter the United States for a visit? No, said Merrilyn Onisko, community relations officer of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). She said the visa only allows the individual to apply for entry to the U.S.
This question and many more were answered at an information session sponsored by Catholic Charities Migrant Support Center and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Friday, Sept. 19, at Catholic Charities.

Merrilyn Onisko, a community relations officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, gave a spirited presentation on citizenship and immigration regulations at Catholic Charities on Friday, Sept. 19. (Photo by Elsa Baughman)

Merrilyn Onisko, a community relations officer for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, gave a spirited presentation on citizenship and immigration regulations at Catholic Charities on Friday, Sept. 19. (Photo by Elsa Baughman)

In an effort to keep religious, lay leaders and volunteers current with immigration issues, Catholic Charities Migrant Support Center offers this type of seminar every year so those who have immigrant parishioners can help them with their questions or to guide them in the right direction.
“Immigration 101, an overview of the Green Card, Naturalization process, the Unauthorized Practice of Immigration Law (UPIL) and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” was led by Onisko whose office is based in New Orleans.
Among those present for the first time this year were personnel from the Jackson Police Department who are trying to get more familiar with immigration issues so they can address problems or crimes against immigrants when they occur.
Onisko shared basic information on the above mentioned subjects and included other details such as how to check someone’s case status online and how to make an appointment with the USCIS.
She said sometimes people complain about the time it takes to process a case. To illustrate her answer, she noted each day the government processes seventy thousand green cards, nationalizes twenty-six hundred people and handles forty-thousand calls customer service calls.
The USCIS website has a link with information about how to avoid scams.  Onisko noted the site can help immigrants to avoid immigration services scams. The site advises to “… remember: Know the facts when it comes to immigration assistance, because the Wrong Help Can Hurt.”
She also mentioned many immigrants are charged for forms. “Never, never pay for a form. They are free and can be downloaded from our website,” she said.  The agency charges for processing the form but not for the form.
Also very helpful, she said, is a link in the website for InfoPass, a free service that lets people schedule an appointment with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Immigration Officer by using the Internet at any time of day or night.
For more information visit the USCIS website,

Savor the Flavor draws crowds

Bishop Joseph Kopacz visits with the sisters of the Excel Center in Morton.

Gwen Bouie-Haynes (left) program director of the Domestic Violence Services Center of Catholic Charities talks with Constance Slaughter-Harvey (right) and Sister Mary Anne Poeschl.

Marta Charria of Brandon samples the desserts donated by Panadería Mexico, Pastelería Lupita and other pastry shops in the Jackson area.

St. Richard parishioner Mary Louise Jones (left) and others enjoy the food and fellowship at Hal & Mal’s Restaurant. More than 300 attended the event on Feb. 20. (Photos by Elsa Baughman).

By Elsa Baughman
JACKSON – Hundreds braved a torrential downpour to enjoy the first Savor the Flavor event at Hal & Mal’s restaurant Thursday, Feb. 20, from 6 – 9 p.m., to raise money for the Migrant Support Center, formerly known as the Immigration Clinic.
Twenty-three area restaurants participated with donations of a variety of ethnic dishes, including desserts.

Tere Turner, director of the Migrant Support Center, said they were very glad, even surprised, by the number of people who attended the event. “The rain didn’t help and kept some from coming but those who attended had a good time,” she said.

Greg Patin, executive director of Catholic Charities, said the support was fantastic.“We are so grateful to the restaurants that provided the variety of cuisine for the evening and the volunteers who helped put on the event,” he said. “Catholic Charities Migrant Support Center helps to “welcome the stranger” to our land and the community joined us in that effort at Savor the Flavor.”

Sister Camilla Hemann, program director of the Excel Community and Learning Center, came from Morton with Sisters Eileen Hauswald, Rita Goedken and Pat Clement. She said she was impressed with all the people who attended and the companies that donated food for the support of a good cause. “It was nice to meet a lot of different people gathered there, especially the new bishop,” she said.

Tito Echiburu, also from Morton, said the people there are the kind that care about helping society, and that it felt good to be in that environment. “I thought the event was well worth the money … the food was delicious, abundant and great variety,” he said.
Entertainment was provided by Jackson St. Richard Parish’s Arthur Jones and the Lucky Hands Blue Band.

Proceeds from the event benefit the center which offers services and advocates for the immigrant community of the Diocese of Jackson. “The center specializes in providing family-based immigration services to individuals and their families who are seeking legal status in the United States,” explained Monique Davis, director of Parish Based Ministries for Catholic Charities.

According to Turner, the main responsibility of the center is to ensure that members of the immigrant community are aware of their rights and responsibilities as guests, alien residents, or citizens of the United States.

The center, which opened in 2002, also aims to educate the general population about the immigrant community in order to promote understanding, acceptance, and protection of immigrant rights, said Turner.

“The Migrant Support Center was previously funded by a three-year grant which has come to the end of its term,” said Davis. “The support center is seeking new sources for funding, while using events such as this one to fill the gap and raise awareness of what it does.
“We are humbled and, by the support of the community and hopeful, that we can continue to provide services to this vulnerable and often misunderstood community,” said Davis.

Michael Thomas, development director, said Catholic Charities noted that the crowd of more than 300 was an unexpected thrill since this was the inaugural Savor the Flavor.
Thomas said the leftover food was donated to two foods banks in the Jackson area.