Helping those in need
In 1855, three German immigrant women responded to the call of St. John Neumann, Bishop of Philadelphia, and founded our congregation, The Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. From that time until this day, we have ministered to the immigrant population — from providing safe housing to young women immigrants, to founding hospitals that accepted and served immigrants, to teaching immigrant children. We continue to provide shelter and instruction to those people needing our help. We morally commit ourselves to support those who need to leave their country of origin and resettle in the U.S. In spite of the struggle to politicize the issue of immigration, we remain steadfast and active in serving those who find themselves in need.
Our sisters taking action
Sister Suzanne Susany, attorney at law
For most of her religious life, Sister Suzanne Susany has ministered with Hispanics in Puerto Rico, Ohio, Georgia and presently in Pittsburgh, Pa. “I wanted to work with the immigrants,” she says, “all immigrants, documented and undocumented.” She carried out this call to ministry as she served in parishes, responding to a variety of needs.
In 2010, Sister Suzanne strengthened her ability to help when she earned a law degree from Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh. “I saw good moral people with families being picked up and put in jail and I wanted to help,” she says.
Serving within the confines of the Community Justice Project in Pittsburgh, Sister Suzanne operates as a sole practitioner dedicated to working with the immigrant population. “I have the advantage of knowing Spanish,” she says. “Many I work with are truly good people. However, I do tell them that I can only represent them, they need to do their part.”
Because some immigrants have no access to legal help, they are often whisked out of the country before they realize there is relief under the law. “The system can be so quick and does not take into account the desperation of people. Many immigrants have a strong faith,” she says, “but don’t have the means — either physical, spiritual or legal, to work in the system with dignity. My biggest frustration is that often there is nothing one can do.”
She shares an incident experienced by a family traveling with their son and daughter. When they stopped for gas, the son told the father that a policeman was watching him. When he continued driving and went through a green light he was pulled over. The son and daughter were accused of having fraudulent documents and incarcerated. The indignity was that the daughter couldn’t speak the language and she spent a month in jail. The criminal charges were later dismissed but both were then placed in deportation.
In another instance, a father, mother and a one-year-old child were awakened at 6 a.m. by the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) knocking on their door. Although ICE officers were looking for the father’s brother, ICE took the father to be fingerprinted. Though the father was not the person for whom they were looking, ICE officials placed him in removal proceedings. He was only seven weeks away from being in the states for 10 years which would have allowed him the opportunity to try for cancellation of removal under the law.
Sister Suzanne says she is always pleased when she is able to bring justice to immigrants. “It is most rewarding to be able to get visas and status for people who are deserving, especially for those who have been victims of crime, and for women brutally subjected to violence and beatings. They are so grateful because it gives them the opportunity for a new life.”
“In their new lives, most immigrants contribute significantly to the U.S. economy, pay taxes and are committed to fully contributing to our country,” says Sister Suzanne, who is grateful to have the ability to help immigrants manage the legal system with dignity. “This is what Jesus would do and what I’m called to do. I consider that to be able to do exactly what I wanted to do is the hand of God, and not a coincidence.”