Faith, Justice & Action at the Ignatian Justice Summit on Immigration

By Kelly Swan, Director of Communications, Ignatian Solidarity Network

Student participants in the 2019 Ignatian JUstice Summit on Immigration (photo by Ignatian Solidarity Network)

Student participants in the 2019 Ignatian JUstice Summit on Immigration (photo by Ignatian Solidarity Network)

When I see the news and hear about immigration issues, I feel really small—like I don’t know how I can help. But, being here this week sparks so much hope, because you feel like you have a team.
— Karletnicol Pyron, Saint Peter’s University

From July 23-26, 2019, a new “team” of immigration advocates gathered at John Carroll University for the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s (ISN) 2019 Ignatian Justice Summit on Immigration. This team was comprised of twenty-seven students from fourteen Jesuit schools across the United States, all entering the immigration justice conversation from a wide variety of life, faith and justice backgrounds and worldviews—encompassing everything from lived migration experience to allyship.

The goals of the Summit are twofold: to educate and equip students with tangible tools to create action plans and work for immigration justice on their campuses, and to connect advocates to build a network of mutual support and idea-sharing.

Students began their experience by framing the Summit in a reflective assessment of immigration and broader justice efforts on their campuses, considering what each school does well and where improvements can be made—a first step toward building a complete action plan throughout the event.

José Arnulfo Cabrera addresses participants at the Summit (photo by Ignatian Solidarity Network)

José Arnulfo Cabrera addresses participants at the Summit (photo by Ignatian Solidarity Network)

Summit participants were invited on the first evening to see justice work through an Ignatian lens in an opening session led by Marcos Gonzales, S.J. Gonzales currently works in the Office of Faith and Justice at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, where he has been involved in the humanitarian response efforts for Central Americans seeking asylum. He framed the week in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, grounding participants in the parallels between the saint’s lived reality and their own—that “Ignatius, in the 1500s was encountering a world equally broken. Equally desiring to be loved.”

Day two brought a dive into social analysis with Gonzales, followed by an immigration policy briefing with Joanna Williams, director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative. She was joined by José Arnulfo Cabrera, ISN’s director of education and advocacy for migration, who attended the 2017 Ignatian Justice Summit as a student at Xavier University; spoke at the 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice Advocacy Day Public Witness; and presented at the 2018 Summit as a recent graduate.

Cabrera also led students in a dynamic and interactive storytelling training, a new component at this year’s Summit designed to illustrate the impact of thoughtful, skilled storytelling in the context of activism and advocacy. Karletnicol Pyron, a student at Saint Peter’s University said, “I personally found the storytelling presentation really impactful because the way you tell your story is how you’re going to reach people. I liked the exercises that [Cabrera] made us do because it took me out of my comfort zone but showed me that with practice and willingness, you can do anything.”

The third and fourth days of the Summit centered around a framework for advocacy and organizing, equipping students with tools for coalition-building and campaign-planning on their campuses. This included a young alumni panel with Cabrera, Li Adorno (Saint Peter’s University ‘17) and Miriam Uribe (University of San Francisco ‘17), who discussed immigration justice work from the perspective of a college student. Michelle Nealy, vice president of communications and digital strategy at Faith in Public Life, provided a media training session in which she guided participants to consider visual and digital messaging, imagery and media engagement in their action strategies.

Students shared stories and ideas during group break-out sessions (photo by Ignatian Solidarity Network)

Students shared stories and ideas during group break-out sessions (photo by Ignatian Solidarity Network)

Marissa Ocampo, a student at Santa Clara University, discussed the ongoing engagement challenges shared by students from campuses across the country. “It is hard to get people involved,” she explained. “To get them to the same understanding—that what is happening is inhumane and unjust.” She went on to share that the big picture policy briefings were vital to her understanding of migration issues, strengthened even more by on-the-ground advocacy training. “They created the baseline to get your actual population involved,” she said. “And look at us now, more challenged than ever! That is the challenge then, to get people involved, and then you do the big picture work on the policy and advocacy itself.”

Throughout the Summit, the foundation set by Gonzales on the first evening was evident: that faith and a commitment to justice provide the framework for action. “My whole life, I’ve always been told not to mix religion and politics,” explained Pyron. “But the way ISN makes those two go hand in hand so seamlessly…I don’t even think twice about how we pray and then go off and talk about political issues.”

“I was raised traditionally Catholic. Family and faith were center,” shared Maggie Rahill, a student at John Carroll University. “I was lucky in that the sense of justice and helping one another has always been a part of our family as well. Not just go to church and pray, but go to church and pray to act. But, I never really wanted to get into immigration as an issue because I hate politics…But, the biggest takeaway for me this week is the humanness of this issue—how it is so linked to our faith, which is centered and rooted in human dignity. If you say you’re a faithful person and you believe in human dignity because of your faith, then you can’t be silent on this issue.”

Students returned home from the Ignatian Justice Summit with a complete action plan—a step-by-step map of how they plan to take action on immigration as a justice issue this fall on their campuses—and a new “team” of network-wide connections to support them in this work.

Ocampo explained that, as the daughter of a migrant farmworker, she has always been passionate about the issue of immigration, seeing how it plays out in the lives of the people she grew up around, especially in relation to labor issues connected to immigration status. “Seeing what I can actually do, what action I can bring back to Santa Clara, has been so powerful,” she shared. “I have a vision now for what action I want to take as an advocate in the future.”


The 2019 Ignatian Justice Summit was supported by a grant from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Campaign for Human Development. Additional sponsorship was provided by Faith in Public Life. Participating schools included: Boston College, Canisius College, College of the Holy Cross, Creighton University, Georgetown University, Gonzaga University, John Carroll University, Loyola University Maryland, Saint Joseph’s University, Saint Louis University, Saint Peter’s University, Santa Clara University, University of San Francisco and Xavier University.

This article is re-published here with permission from the Ignatian Solidarity Network. To learn more about ISN’s work on immigration advocacy, please write to José Arnulfo Cabrera, Director of Education and Advocacy for Migration: jacabrera@ignatiansolidarity.net.