Peace & Justice Blog

Stay up to date on peace and justice issues, both locally and internationally, and learn how you can take action.


 

For I was a (stranger) refugee and you welcomed me.

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

This Thursday, June 20th is World Refugee Day, a day to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees like Natalie. Born and raised in a small village in Ghana, Natalia’s family was struggling to pay the school fees for her education and welcomed the opportunity for Natalia to receive an education in the U.S.

Shortly after arriving, the father she was living with began to physically and sexually abuse her. For the next six years, she was forced to clean the house, wash clothes, cook, and care for their three children, often working 18 hours a day while receiving no form of payment.  She was never allowed to enroll in school as the family had promised, to go outside, or even use the phone.

One day, after she was severely beaten, Natalia saw an opportunity to run away and a neighbor called the police.  She was then taken to a local hospital for medical. The nurse assisting Natalia was aware of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and referred her to Polaris New Jersey, an organization that works to combat and prevent human trafficking.

We have heard of the many reasons why men and women seek to flee their country of origin and go to another country – poverty, climate disasters, gang, and domestic violence, war.  It’s often hard for white Americans to understand this phenomenon and yet the vast majority of us have immigrant or refugee ancestors.

The United States has admitted, if not always welcomed, refugees from its beginnings. Refugees resettled here to rebuild their lives and contribute meaningfully to local economies. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a model humanitarian program and critical tool of U.S. foreign policy.  Unfortunately, the number of refugees admitted each year has been reduced from an average of 95,000 to fewer than 30,000. There are two pro-refugee bills recently introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

H.R. 2146 and S. 1088. The GRACE Act (Guaranteed Refugee Admissions Ceiling Enhancement Act) would set a minimum on refugee admissions of 95,000 each fiscal year.

H.R. 2214 and S. 1123. The NO BAN Act (National Origin Based Antidiscrimination for Nonimmigrants Act) would repeal the executive orders that have halted refugee admissions, banned individuals from Muslim-majority countries and barred individuals from seeking asylum between ports of entry. It would also strengthen the Immigration and Nationality Act to prohibit religious discrimination.

Sadly, as the number of legal refugees is reduced, more individuals are forced to look for illegal means that put them at greater risk of forced labor and human trafficking.  New immigrants may be susceptible to trafficking because of their precarious social and economic circumstances. Like Natalia above, they are pushed into the shadows allowing traffickers to use people’s immigration status as a tool to exploit their labor or coerce them into participating in the sex trade. More and more resources are being diminished or reduced undercutting anti-trafficking efforts and feeding into the hands of those who seek to exploit migrants and refugees.  It’s time to push for more just treatment of our brothers and sisters.


 

Posted in Peace & Justice Blog

Why You Should Vote for our Corporate Stance to Abolish the Death Penalty

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

We, the Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates, respect the dignity of human life from conception to natural death. Therefore, we believe that the death penalty should be abolished because it is contrary to our Catholic faith.  We urge immediate commutation of all death sentences and passage of legislation to repeal all statutes authorizing capital punishment at the state and federal levels. We pledge our support to efforts to abolish the death penalty.

Today we begin voting for our corporate stance for abolishing the death penalty.  There are many good reasons for eliminating the death penalty:

  • There are excessive costs for capital cases compared to non-capital cases.
  • It does not deter violence
  • Innocent people have/can be executed
  • The extraordinary amount of time it takes does not provide closure to victim’s families
  • Society can be protected from dangerous criminals without killing them
  • It discriminates against people in poverty and of color
  • Current methods of execution can be considered cruel and unusual punishment
  • Pope Francis changed the Catechism of the Catholic Church to state that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”
  • Most importantly, it goes against our belief in the value of life from conception to natural death.

The abolition of the death penalty is not a new concept to us.  Several founding congregations had corporate stances prior to our becoming the Dominican Sisters of Peace.  In fact, as early as 1988, the Kentucky founding congregation took up this issue stating “We strongly oppose the death penalty.”  Perhaps their many years as early as the 1850’s of working with prisoners helped them to see each prisoner as a human being deserving a chance to live and to transform his/her life.

If we pass this corporate stance, we will begin praying more intentionally for those individuals being executed, for their families, and for the families of their victims.  We will work in our states to encourage laws that abolish the death penalty and/or for moratoriums on the death penalty.  And, we will continue to work with individuals in jails and prisons.

I hope you will vote to abolish this “attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.”

 

 

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Poverty and the Death Penalty

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Why are the majority of prisoners on death row people of color? In fact, 58% of them are including 42% who are black. According to the Catholic Mobilizing Network, a national organization lobbying to abolish the death penalty, the reason is poverty. Poverty is a primary factor in determining who is executed and the poverty is persistent problem for many people of color.

The impacts of poverty can start early with children of color.  It begins with lack of access to educational resources needed to succeed. Children of color are rarely taught by teachers who look like them.  They don’t see materials featuring them. Many have learning disabilities and histories of abuse or neglect. These factors can lead to higher incidences of suspension due to misbehavior. In fact, black children are three times more likely to be suspended as white children.

The school to prison pipeline is well documented. Children, mostly male, are moved out of schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  Suspension leads to crime that leads to prison.  For young men, who are not respected in society or school and who see no future, crime might be the only option open to maintaining self-respect. According to the ACLU, “students suspended or expelled for a discretionary violation are nearly three times more likely to be in contact with the juvenile justice system the following year.”

When people in poverty commit crimes that could receive the death penalty, they often cannot afford legal counsel that could build a sufficient case to freedom or ensure life without parole.  They often suffer from mental illness or addiction and have experienced more childhood abuse or trauma. And of course, experienced racial discrimination as described in the school to prison pipeline.

As Catholics, we are encouraged to have a preferential option for the poor. Jesus did. It’s one of the Social Justice teachings of the church.  We are compelled by our faith to work to tear down those unjust social constructs that contribute to the high number of poor especially people of color in prisons and on death row.  We need to provide programs to build the self-esteem of young men. We need to improve schools and implement restorative justice practices that will keep children in school.  And we need to abolish a death penalty that primarily punishes the poor.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

Abolishing the Death Penalty is a Pro-Life Issue

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Recently, I met Bill Pelke.  In 1985, his grandmother was killed by a teenage girl who with some friends said they wanted to do Bible study with her.  For many years, Bill wanted revenge. If his grandmother died, this young woman should die also.  And she did receive the death penalty. But after several years of soul searching, Bill realized he didn’t want her to die and that his grandmother wouldn’t want her to either.  He worked hard to get her execution changed to life without parole. Now Bill shares his story around the country in an effort to help others see the beauty of a Journey of Hope – From Violence to Healing.

I believe that I am a pro-life person.  Life is precious.  I want children to be born and to have the opportunity to live long and fruitful lives without hatred and prejudice.  But it’s not that simple.  Children are born into dysfunctional families…they grow up with inadequate education and support…they are victims of violence…and if you are a child of color, you are more likely to live in a violent neighborhood, participate in the school to prison pipeline, and be given a death sentence if you commit murder.  We, pro-life people, should be as concerned about a child’s life as we are about his/her birth. That’s one reason why we should abolish the death penalty.

My reasons for wanting to eliminate the death penalty revolve around the need to be consistent about my pro-life beliefs. As Pope Francis said “the life of the unborn must be promoted and defended…At the same time, we must keep in mind that the dignity of every human being is equal and inviolable at every stage throughout his/her life.”

Some differentiate the innocent unborn child with the guilty criminal. But there are innocent people on death row.  Over 164 individuals have be exonerated since 1974.  New methods of determining innocence or guilt continue to be developed.  If we are pro-life, how can we kill innocent adults? We need to be consistent.

Redemption is such an important part of our faith tradition. Jesus gave many sinners the advice to sin no more.  But this can take time.  Mercy is also an integral part of our faith.  Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.  But this also can take time.  Eliminating the death penalty allows both the victim’s family and the perpetrator to change.  This is what Bill Pelke discovered.  It’s the only way closure will occur.

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog

The Budget is a Moral Document

Blog by Sr. Barbara Kane, OP, Justice Promoter

Have you ever thought about a budget as a moral document?  According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, the adjective ‘moral’ means conforming to a standard of right behavior or sanctioned by ethical judgement.  So a moral document would be one based on the highest ethical behavior.  And a moral budget would be built on a high moral standard. It would an ethical document.  As Christians, this morality is based on the teachings of Jesus and we know that Jesus had a preferential option for the poor.

You can learn a lot about the priorities of a person, family, city, state, and/or nation by its budget. What is included in the budget and what is left out.  For instance, a family that includes money for a luxury vacation but not enough to pay school tuition, puts pleasure before responsibility.  A company that puts more money in stock dividends and not enough in its pension plan is not concerned about its employees.  A state that budgets enough money for early childhood education recognizes the importance of a child getting started right and that this contributes to a better future for all.   A nation that increases its military budget but cuts funding for housing, food, medical care, and education makes power more important than compassion.

Granted, it is often more complicated than I’ve stated above but still it gives us a good indication about priorities.  As Christians, we would expect that a budget for a state or nation would address the needs of the most marginalized.  This is not a racial issue – in 2017, there were at least 34,596,000 families in the U.S. with two adults and one child who earned lass that $19,730.  42% of them were white, 23% black and 26% Hispanic. It’s not limited to urban areas. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nearly a quarter of children growing up in rural America were poor in 2016 compared to slightly more than 20 % of children in urban areas.  It’s a human issue. It impacts all of us.

So when the proposed budget for the Federal government slashes Health and Human Services funding by $17.9 B including reductions in maternal and child health and from primary health care programs like free clinics, cuts $214 B out of food assistance over ten years, eliminates $72 B from disability supports and services including those for veterans, we can see a real contempt for the poor.  When we see a $34 B increase for military and $8.6 B for a wall along the southern border, we see an ‘us versus them’ mentality. I see an immoral document. The U.S. is a wealthy country – a great country. But we are only as great as how we treat those who most struggle to survive.

Fact Sheets: President Trump’s FY 2019 Budget Harms Nearly Every Community Across the Country

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/reports/2018/02/16/446837/fact-sheets-president-trumps-fy-2019-budget-harms-nearly-every-community-across-country/

Posted in News, Peace & Justice Blog