African women religious play key role in social change

By most economic measures, Nigeria should be healthy. It has large oil revenues and has had strong growth in its agriculture, telecommunications and service sectors.

And yet, as the CIA World Factbook points out, more than 62 percent of the country's people live in extreme poverty.

Thirty-two percent of its people do not have access to improved drinking water sources, and 71 percent do not have access to improved sanitation. Not surprisingly, the risk of major infectious disease is very high.

This suffering in what should be a land of enough for all — if not a land of plenty — has pushed women religious to the point where they have banded together to stand up and say, "Enough!"

The Africa Faith & Justice Network reports that 86 Catholic sisters from 25 congregations gathered in the Nigerian capital of Abuja to learn how to help transform the structures that perpetuate poverty and oppression.

The training was part of AFJN's Women Empowerment Project and funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Fund for Sisters and the Base Communities of Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. (The Fund for Sisters was established by — but operates independently of — the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, which funds Global Sisters Report.*)

"AFJN is convinced that sisters can become a formidable force for addressing the current socio-economic and political ills in Africa," the group says. "It is a fact that African women religious have played a key role in social change, in building communities throughout Africa, especially through education, healthcare, and social services to the disadvantaged and vulnerable populations who are often neglected by the government."

Motivated by the conference, the sisters marched to the National Assembly to take their message to lawmakers but were denied entry. So they stood outside, where they sang, prayed, read speeches and held signs with slogans like "The moral test of a nation is how well it provides for the poor and the vulnerable" and "Stop wasting our resources."

Unlike their experience at the National Assembly, the sisters were well-received at the National Police Headquarters, where the sisters and police officers promised to work together to find solutions to the issues.

When the sisters realized the power they can wield, they formed the Africa Faith & Justice Network Nigeria Initiative, which will be incorporated in Nigeria to allow them to legally advocate for justice for the people they serve and the country the love.

US immigration anxiety

There is a lot of fear among undocumented immigrants, asylum-seekers and the advocates for both about what will happen after President-Elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office on Jan. 20.

After all, he has pledged to immediately begin deporting those without a legal right to be in the United States — up to 11 million people — starting with those who have been convicted of a crime.

"We will begin moving them out, Day 1," he said. "My first hour in office, those people are gone."

Of course, some things are easier said than done.

Take the immigration raids carried out in January and June, when immigration officials arrested a total of 161 people from Central America who had sought asylum in the United States. The raids were supposed to have been to deport those who had exhausted all legal remedies and had final deportation orders, but those who had volunteer lawyers on their side were released, raising serious questions about the legality of the raids.

Even more important in relation to Trump's pledge to begin deportations his first hour in office is the fact that the raids in January and June took months of planning and hundreds of officers — and the government knew where those people were because they had applied for asylum.

If it took months of planning and hundreds of officers to round up 161 people, what kind of effort — and expense — will it take to arrest the up to 3 million undocumented people who have committed crimes?

And once they're arrested, where will they be held until their deportation hearing?

Which raises another point — the first of those hearings might not be held until 2022.

In a Dec. 1 story, The New York Times detailed the woes of the nation's immigration courts, which already have a backlog of more than 520,000 cases. What will possibly millions of new cases do to a system that one retired immigration judge told the Times is already in "total chaos"?

In Courtroom 8, there was a deportation hearing for Damián Martínez, from Mexico. The judge soon discovered he was a 4-month-old infant, dozing on the shoulder of his mother. Somehow the baby's case had become separated in court records from hers. The bewildered mother, in court without a lawyer, had no clue how to fix the problem.

The judge could only urge her to make sure that Damián 'presents himself in all of his future hearings.'

And the backlog could get worse — even before any new cases are added. Immigration courts are already short of judges, but they are part of the Justice Department, not the separate judicial branch, so they are also subject to the political winds of Washington, D.C. That means the appointments of 75 judges made by President Barack Obama's attorney general could be canceled by Trump's appointments — which would mean it would be another year before they got to the bench, and the system would still be short nearly 50 judges just to tackle its current caseload.

So assuming 3 million people could be arrested in even just a few months, where would the nation's already-overcrowded prison system hold them for the years it could take before they could get a deportation order? Would the raids have to wait until new prisons can be built?

Perhaps this particular campaign promise should have reminded voters of the old adage that if something sounds too good to be true ...

*This piece has been updated to clarify the relationship between the Fund for Sisters and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.]

Related, a column from Sr. Eucharia Madueke - A dream coming true: Mobilizing African sisters for systemic change

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