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Provide welcome to the stranger’

Marisa Iati | Monday, April 22, 2013

University President Fr. John Jenkins called for reform in United States immigration policies Friday and announced an academic conference on immigrants, which will be held in March 2014.

Jenkins also presided over a service to pray for just and effective immigration reform in the Dillon Hall chapel Friday, a “Campus Day of Action,” as designated by the National Immigration Forum.

“Notre Dame is proud of a long history of educating immigrant communities and our Catholic tradition urges us to provide welcome to the stranger among us,” Jenkins said in a University press release. “While recognizing the complex legal, economic, social and political questions surrounding immigration in our nation, we join others in calling for just and effective immigration reform.

“We urge particular attention to reform that will allow deserving, academically-qualified young men and women who were brought to the United States as children to have access to higher education in the United States and opportunities following from educational achievement. By educating these young people, we will improve their lives, enrich our nation and live up to our values.”

Last fall, Jenkins convened an 11-member presidential task force, comprised of representatives from different University institutes, to study how Notre Dame could contribute to the national debate about immigration.

Tim Matovina, co-chair of the task force and executive director of the Institute for Latino Studies, said the task force met over the past two semesters and recently submitted a report to Jenkins. Matovina said the group recommended the academic conference, which will focus on the intersection of Catholic social teaching and immigration reform.

“It’ll be scholars, Church leaders, other people who are involved in one way or another with issues of immigration, but I think it’s going to be … the kind of conference where academics, Notre Dame and otherwise, and Church leaders are brought together for conversation and mutual learning,” Matovina said.

The conference will emphasize the experiences and contributions of people in the United States who are or once were immigrants, according to the University press release.

The task force made other recommendations, but has not heard which of those the Office of the President will enact, Matovina said.

“We made some suggestions to Fr. Jenkins about those specific initiatives that could be added to this collection of ongoing projects at the University,” he said. “I haven’t received word from Fr. Jenkins about what he’s going to go forward with and endorse.”

Fr. Dan Groody, director of the Center for Latino Spirituality and Culture within the Institute for Latino Studies, said the presidential task force was part of a larger dialogue among American Catholic colleges and universities. Beginning in October 2011, University presidents participated in a series of meetings sponsored by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities to discuss how the schools could contribute to immigration reform.

The colleges and universities decided to address the issue in three ways, Groody said.

“One is going to be on the level of advocacy, so certainly with helping in Washington,” he said. “We’re working very closely with the [United States Conference of Catholic Bishops]. … Education is certainly another area. … And thirdly, there’s direct service: … going down to the border, working at migrant houses of hospitality, putting food and water in the desert.”

Groody said universities across the country are asking how they can improve their outreach to undocumented students.

“[Immigration reform is] one of these things that’s such a big issue, you kind of have to decide … how you want to focus it,” he said. “I think [the task force is] the beginning. It’s not necessarily the last word by any means.”

Student body president Alex Coccia said student government will help determine how students can engage in next spring’s academic conference.

“Once we get a better sense of what the conference is shaping to be, we’ll be able to create a committee here in student government that will work solely in … the immigration reform issues,” Coccia said.

Student government has also begun to talk with administrators about finding a way to admit undocumented students to Notre Dame, student government chief of staff Juan Rangel said.

“I think for us, it’s Catholic social teaching,” Rangel said. “The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has placed a strong emphasis on education … and as a Catholic university, we want to align our views with theirs.”

Coccia said the potential recommendation to admit undocumented students to Notre Dame will have to come from the presidential task force.

The task force is only one piece of the broader conversation about immigration reform at Notre Dame, Groody said.

“There is a larger conversation about migration and the role of Catholic universities going on right now,” he said. “It’s the beginning of ways in which we can really be more engaged in responding to the needs of the world. … The task force is meant to focus the question, but I think there’s a lot of stuff going on beyond the task force.”

Paolo Carozza, co-chair of the task force and director of the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and the Center for Civil and Human Rights, said the Center for Social Concerns, the Institute for Latino Studies, the Kroc Center for International Peace Studies, the Kellogg Institute and other campus institutes already work on issues of migration and immigration.

“I wouldn’t say that they’re very united with one another,” Carozza said. “It’d be nice to bring them more into collaboration and communication with one another.”

Carozza said although the task force decided that creating an administrative apparatus to unite the groups would not be cost-effective, the task force members benefited from discussing their projects with each other.

“Personally, for example, to the extent that we really are going to want to pursue that issue [of immigration reform] at the Kellogg Institute, I’ll be much more likely to be able to work effectively with whatever [other groups] to see if there are ways that our activities and interests can overlap or benefit each other,” Carozza said.

The task force’s members agreed on the importance of Notre Dame’s continued involvement in discussions about immigration reform, Carozza said.

“There was definitely complete agreement on the task force from the first moment that it’s an issue that Notre Dame … really needs to continue to be engaged in, and that engagement just needs to grow,” he said.