“We have the power to do something about this. I definitely believe we are making a difference,” said Sister Tracey Horan, pausing while heading north to take part in her annual retreat.
Pictured: Sister Tracey Horan translates at a peaceful demonstration in Brazil, Indiana, advocating for a more just immigration system.
Sister Tracey was explaining her ministry. For two years, she has served as a community organizer for Faith in Indiana, previously known as IndyCAN. According to its Facebook page, Faith in Indiana, originally based in Indianapolis and now with growing chapters in Fort Wayne, South Bend, Elkhart and Gary, is an organization that “is a catalyst for marginalized peoples and people of faith to act collectively for racial and economic justice.”
The organization partners with many churches and others to enable policy change at a regional, state and national level.
Sister Tracey — who entered the Sisters of Providence in 2014 — tells about one woman with whom she ministered through Faith in Indiana, Erika Fierro. The Beech Grove, Indiana, high school graduate had been brought to the United States by her parents when she was 5 years old and was now facing deportation. Erika was forced to self-deport to Mexico with her family, a country her U.S.-citizen children, ages three and eight, had never lived in, rather than risk being separated from her children if forcibly deported. Her husband had already been detained in the dark, early morning hours as he left for work in March.
Faith in Indiana supported a yard sale Erika conducted to sell her possessions and have money for the trip to Mexico. A local priest offered support by driving Erika and her children to the border. Her plight ended up being shared by thousands of people.
Sister Tracey laments that this current immigration crisis is not just a passing topic but is about an ongoing movement to keep families together.
Not just an issue
“This is not just an issue,” Sister Tracey said. “This is about people. Right now, a lot of this is about narrative and what people are choosing to believe. We talk a lot about making sure no one stands alone. Every day, families are being separated. It’s not just happening at the border — it’s happening right here.”
It can be an emotional roller coaster for the 10 people who work at Faith in Indiana. But it is little compared to what the family of Sonia Aviles and her husband Elmer Peña have been through.
Earlier this year, Sonia was detained by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Indianapolis and taken to the only ICE Detention Center in the state of Indiana, in Brazil, waiting to be deported. She had lived in Indianapolis for more than 20 years and has three U.S.-citizen children. Prior to being detained, Sonia had regularly attended check-in meetings with ICE officials because she did not have legal status. Those officials had initially determined her case was not a high priority for deportation, especially since she had no prior criminal record.
Until a visit in May.
Sister Tracey and Faith in Indiana were aware of Sonia’s situation and immediately took action, holding a vigil in front of the center together with other Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates and other participants. About six weeks later, Sonia was deported back to El Salvador.
“Sonia was detained in May and spent weeks in prison, where she suffered from inadequate food and abusive treatment,” Sister Tracey said. “She was shackled and put on a plane for eight hours during a transfer from one immigrant prison to another.”
Sister Tracey explained how through FaceTime, Sonia shared with some Faith in Indiana leaders how traumatic the situation was.
“She showed us the bruising she had on her wrists and ankles from the shackles,” Sister Tracey said.
Sister Tracey said since Sonia’s deportation, her husband is still living in Indianapolis making money for his family. Their children traveled back to El Salvador to be with Sonia.
“They wanted to be with their mother,” Sister Tracey said. “These are the kind of decisions no one should have to make. A family that is living in daily fear of deportation could be at risk to come to a public action or a daily meeting (with Faith in Indiana). That is a real fear that I process with our leaders, weighing the risk and what is the greater good we are working for. In some of the fights that we are in right now, the odds are stacked against us.
“But the challenge is how can we focus on a positive vision. I believe people of faith are being called to take the lead and imagine how we can be together — how we can offer alternatives to hate and division. But it can be really emotional, especially hearing families share their stories.”
As she neared the end of her second year with the Sisters of Providence, Sister Tracey began to discern what ministry she wanted to be in. Sister Tracey said the call to minister with Faith in Indiana has been a “lifelong process.”
“I’ve always been a person who asks a lot of questions,” she said. “I remember growing up and a lot of things I was learning about my faith, it felt like direct service just wasn’t enough. And after conversations with other sisters, it became clear Faith in Indiana was a way for me to work with others who shared a common vision for building more just communities.”
Since helping reform the public transit situation in Indianapolis, which ultimately helped improve mass transit for low-income workers, Sister Tracey said Faith in Indiana has gained a lot of attention.
“We put a lot of institutional weight in that for a couple of years,” she said. “Obviously, since we won that, we moved on to the next thing. The biggest challenge that I am seeing is overcoming some of the fear, despair and cynicism. But I think we’ve had a lot of folks reach out and want to get involved. I think we’re in a moment where we are redefining what victory or success looks like. We know to realize the just communities we envision, we have to not just pull a chair up to the table, but actually set the table.”