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Critics blast US crackdown on protected Vietnamese immigrants

Washington D.C., Apr 18, 2018 / 02:54 pm (CNA).- Thousands of Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S. who were previously protected under an agreement largely for refugees fleeing post-war Vietnam could face detention and deportation in coming months.

The Trump administration’s efforts to remove the Vietnamese immigrants, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, have drawn sharp criticism from immigration advocates.

“Often folks are being deported to dangerous situations and a country where they know neither the language nor have any community connections any longer,” Greg Walgenbach, director of Life, Justice and Peace from the Diocese of Orange, Calif. told CNA.

“Will families have the ability to make arrangements for them to be received in the country to which they are returned?” he asked. “These are all questions that in the haste to show a ‘tough on immigration’ approach, the U.S. government is casting aside humanitarian concerns and the dignity of the human persons involved.”

Walgenbach said individuals should have the chance to have their cases reviewed to see if anything has changed that might allow them to stay. Families should be able to communicate with their members and given time to make arrangements.

“Especially until immigration laws are changed to be more compassionate and just, the human dignity of every immigrant must be upheld,” said Walgenbach, whose diocese has a large Vietnamese community.

A 2008 repatriation agreement between the U.S. and Vietnamese governments states that Vietnamese citizens are not subject to return to Vietnam if they arrived in the U.S. before July 12, 1995 – the date when the two governments re-established diplomatic relations. Much of this population consists of refugees who fled post-war Vietnam, fearing persecution under the communist government.

Vietnam refuses to take back immigrants who fall under the agreement, meaning that those who have been detained with final deportation orders are in a legal limbo.

Most of the 1.3 million Vietnamese immigrants in the U.S. are legal residents and not in danger of deportation.

But about 8,600 of them are under final deportation orders and are at risk of imminent detention. Of these, 7,821 have criminal convictions, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told Reuters.

However, Ted Osius, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam from 2014 to October 2017, said that “[t]he majority targeted for deportation—sometimes for minor infractions—were war refugees who had sided with the United States, whose loyalty was to the flag of a nation that no longer exists.”

Ambassador Osius spoke against the deportation policy in the April 2018 issue of The Foreign Service Journal, published by the American Foreign Service Association. He said U.S. government efforts against such immigrants were among the actions that had prompted him to resign.

“[T]hey were to be ‘returned’ decades later to a nation ruled by a communist regime with which they had never reconciled. I feared many would become human rights cases, and our government would be culpable.”

Many of the immigrants had supported South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and the Vietnamese government would consider them a destabilizing force, Osius told Reuters.

“These people don’t really have a country to come back to,” he said.

Some of the immigrants had committed serious crimes, Osius acknowledged, although immigration advocates say that many of the convictions are decades old. Osius said that the repatriation agreement had meant that they would be left alone.

Immigration lawyers have said that some detained Vietnamese immigrants have been held for as long as 11 months because Immigration and Customs Enforcement cannot deport them.

Previously, arrested Vietnamese immigrants with final deportation orders who had arrived before 1995 would be released within 90 days, under supervision orders. In 2017, 71 Vietnamese people were deported to Vietnam, compared to 35 the previous year.

In February, several groups filed a class action lawsuit in Los Angeles federal court seeking to challenge the indefinite detentions.

One of those detained, Hoang Trinh, came to the U.S. in 1980 at the age of four when his family fled postwar Vietnam. He became a legal resident, married and raised two children in Orange County, Calif., the Washington Post reported in March.

He has spent at least seven months in detention under Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For a 2015 drug charge he spent a year in prison, then was arrested in 2017 for possession of marijuana. He was then ordered to be removed from the U.S. Trinh is a party to the lawsuit.

Phi Nguyen, litigation director with Asian Americans Advancing Justice--Atlanta, charged that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is acting “in complete disregard for the law.”

“The only thing that has changed is that our administration wants the Vietnamese government to completely abandon the repatriation agreement.”

Nguyen said that her parents fled Vietnam after her father was imprisoned for three years, during which he suffered from forced labor and starvation.

The fate of these immigrants is a subject of international discussion. Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s East Asia bureau, said the U.S. and Vietnamese governments continue to discuss their positions on Vietnamese citizens now in the U.S.

Reuters cited a senior Vietnamese official who said Vietnam needs to accept those who went to the U.S. after the war, not as a consequence of it.

For opposing gay marriage, she's facing death threats and million-dollar lawsuits

New York City, N.Y., Apr 18, 2018 / 03:04 am (CNA/EWTN News).- When Barronelle Stutzman took a stand for her Christian beliefs nearly five years ago, she never imagined that she would eventually be appealing to the US Supreme Court to defend her decision.

But that’s exactly what happened.

“This was never on my bucket list,” Barronelle told CNA.

The 72-year-old grandmother is the owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Washington, and is currently involved in a lawsuit involving a customer of nearly 10 years, Rob Ingersoll.

Barronelle knew Rob was gay from the beginning. “It was never an issue,” she said. She enjoyed working with him, and said he would pick out creative vases and containers, and would come in with flower requests for birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

“I loved doing arrangements for Rob, because I got to think outside of the box, and do something special for him.”

But when Rob came in and told Barronelle that he had gotten engaged to his boyfriend, she took him by the hand and explained that she believed marriage to be a sign of the relationship between Christ and the Church, and so she could not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.

Initially, Rob said that he understood and asked if she could recommend another florist, which she did.

Later, however, his partner posted a message on social media about Barronelle declining to take part in the wedding, and it went viral. Soon, she was informed that she was being sued by the Washington State attorney general and the ACLU. Today, more than four years later, Barronelle is waiting to hear whether the US Supreme Court will take her case.

And while the actual damages being sought by the couple are only around $7 – the mileage cost of driving to another florist – Barronelle could be responsible for more than $1 million in legal fees to nearly a dozen ACLU lawyers opposing her in the case.

Barronelle, who is Southern Baptist, spoke at a panel discussion in New York City last November, hosted by ADF International, the global branch of the non-profit legal group that is representing her in court.

“Because I have a belief that is marriage is between one man and a woman, we could possibly lose everything we own, everything we’ve saved for our kids and grandkids,” Barronelle said.

She explained that while the decision to decline a same-sex wedding was difficult, it was the only way she could stay true to her beliefs. For her, weddings are much more than simply a job – they’re a deeply personal labor of love, and she pours her heart and soul into her work.

“I spend months – sometimes years – with the bride and groom. I get to know them personally, what they want to convey, what the bride wants, what her vision is. There’s so much personal involvement in this.”

At the wedding, Barronelle will often help greet guests and calm nervous parents. “When we get the bride down the aisle, then I know I’ve done my job,” she said.

With floral arrangements for weddings being such a personal endeavor, she knew that she would be betraying her relationship with Christ if she participated in a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Over the last four-and-a-half years, Barronelle has received an outpouring of support – customers coming in to offer a kind word or a hug, strangers telling her they are praying for her family, and messages of encouragement from 68 countries.

But she’s also received death threats. She’s had to install a security system and change her route to work.

“Even today, we're very aware of people who come in who might do us harm,” she said.

Also hard, she said, has been losing her relationship with Rob. She said she misses him and harbors no anger against him.

“I can tell you that if Rob walked into my store today, I would hug him, catch up on his life, and I would wait on him for another 10 years if he’d let me.”

She also has a message for her fellow Americans: stand up for religious freedom, before it’s too late.

“Don’t think this cannot happen to you,” she said. “I never thought that we would have a government that would come in and tell you what to think, what to do, what to say, what to create – and if you don’t do it, you’ll be totally destroyed.”

“If we don’t stand now, there will be nothing to stand for.”

 

An earlier version of this article was originally published on CNA Nov. 3, 2017.

Former Catholic Charities employee sentenced for embezzlement

Oklahoma City, Okla., Apr 17, 2018 / 03:23 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A former immigration services director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City has been sentenced to 10 years probation after she embezzled thousands of dollars that were intended to be used for immigration fees.

Margarita I. Solis, of Oklahoma City, stole money from immigration clients in 2015 and 2016. She was charged with embezzlement in April 2017. Solis worked as an attorney and assisted Catholic Charities’ clients with immigration issues, including acquiring green cards and U.S. citizenship.

According to the charges, Solis would convert money orders given to her for immigration fees to be payable to herself, and then cash them. Prosecutors claim she stole $2,830 in 2015 and 2016, and later was accused of converting about $24,000 of filing fees into money orders for her personal use.

She resigned as an attorney in November 2017 before pleading guilty to three felony counts of embezzlement last week. As part of the plea agreement, she received probation.

If she is able to complete probation, she will not be labeled as a felon.

She paid $2,500 in restitution to Catholic Charities.

Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City, said in a statement published in The Oklahoman that his staff did not hold any ill will against Solis, and that they sought to deal with the matter as “compassionately” as possible.

“Many of our clients come from brokenness and we deal with human brokenness all the time,” said Raglow. “And occasionally, some of our staff have brokenness also.”

 

'Pope's choir' to go on first-ever US national tour

Vatican City, Apr 17, 2018 / 12:32 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The Vatican’s Sistine Chapel Choir, known as ‘the pope’s choir,’ will head to the United States this summer for an eight-city concert tour.

This is the choir’s first nation-wide tour and will include stops in Atlanta, New York City, St. Louis, Detroit, Miami, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles from July 3-July 23.

The national tour follows less than a year after the choir’s first U.S. performance in three decades, which took place last September, with the choir performing at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., New York, and Detroit.

Known officially as the Cappella Musicale Pontificia Sistina, the choir is comprised of 20 professional singers from around the world, as well as a treble section made up of 35 boys aged 9-13, called the Pueri Cantores.

With a 1,500-year history, the Sistine Chapel Choir is believed to be the oldest active choir in the world.

Mark Spyropoulos, a choir member from the United Kingdom, told EWTN that in his opinion, the purpose of the tour “is to bring to America the spiritual intensity of the Sistine Chapel, the transcendent beauty which is at the heart of the Vatican.”

“We are bringing to you some of the finest music from the Vatican and from the archives that go back to the sixteenth century,” he said. “We bring the music which reflects those famous and beautiful frescoes of Michelangelo.”

The choir’s director, Fr. Massimo Palombella, said in a statement that the Sistine Chapel Choir “is delighted and honored to embark on our historic first U.S. national tour.”

“We are excited to experience the many great cities we will visit and look forward to sharing our cutting-edge research and study of Renaissance music, directly from the archives of the Sistine Chapel, preserved in the Vatican Library, to audiences across America.”

After attending Italy’s prestigious conservatory and spending years as a theology and music teacher, Palombella became the director at the Pontifical Music Chapel and began conducting the choir in 2010.

Palombella studied philosophy and theology at the Salesian Pontifical University and trained under organ players Luigi Molfino and Bishop Valentino Miserachs Grau. He also attended the Conservatory of Turin.

Ordained a priest of the Salesian order in 1995, he began teaching dogmatic theology at the Pontifical Salesian University and the Language of Music at Sapienza University of Rome. He then succeeded Father Giuseppe Liberto as director of the Sistine Chapel Choir.

More information can be found at sistinechapelchoirtour.com.
 
 
 
This report contains material from EWTN News Nightly.

How a Catholic congressman agreed to be part of a pope documentary

Washington D.C., Apr 17, 2018 / 02:57 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) is not shy about his Catholic faith. He holds a master's degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and has spoken openly about his beliefs.

Recently, he was featured on CNN’s new miniseries, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History. Fortenberry spoke to CNA about his experience with filming, and his thoughts on balancing his faith with being a public figure.

The congressman first became involved with the project about six months ago, when CNN producers reached out to him about the show. He said he had “a little hesitancy” initially, but after meeting with the network, he agreed to contribute to the series.

“I was impressed by their outline of the topics under consideration and how they wanted to look at the papacy through a historical lens, as well as the intersection of both papal power and temporal power,” Fortenbery told CNA.

On the show, Fortenberry said he wanted to present both an accurate portrayal of Catholics as well as faithful commentary to the issues that were discussed. He told CNA that he tried to focus on how the world is a “duality of sorts,” and that Catholics today have to balance living out their faith as well as living in the secular world.

“Spirituality is not left for Sunday, and Monday is other things. As Catholics, as Christians, we operate in two realms all at once, both the spiritual and temporal,” he said.

Shows like this being broadcast on secular networks are important, said Fortenberry. He believes that “the world is screaming for deeper meaning,” and that the only way this meaning can be found is through “authentic dialogue” with people who may not believe the same things.

“Even if it’s in secular media, as long as the media’s attention is reasonable,” explained Fortenberry. “I think we absolutely have to participate in these types of media presentations.”

Reflecting on the papacy, Fortenberry believes the institution is regarded as an “immovable, unchangeable force for good” in the middle of an ever-changing world.

“In fact that's one of the things I reflected on in the show, that we're living in a context of upheaval and change, and it's bewildering to most people, particularly the older generation, who see everything around them that gave them stability and lessened vulnerability crumbling.”

The papal visits to the United States of Benedict XVI in 2008 and Pope Francis in 2015 resulted in an “outpouring of joy and love,” which the congressman believes is a reflection of the respect for the stability of the office.

“In an age of real anxiety, and ever-shifting change, the permanency of the papacy gives people something to cling to that is higher, and everlasting. And it has deep meaning for people even of non-Christian traditions, even people who are just authentically striving for good through goodwill.”

Fortenberry said that in the end, he believes CNN was “very faithful” to the comments he provided, and “integrated them holistically” into the larger theme of the historic aspects of the papacy.

“I’m glad I did the show, I was impressed by the sincerity of the producers,” he said.