Category: Archive

Dakota deportee

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

The standoff between Fr. Gallagher, his parishioners and the immigration system was the subject of a hearing in Lincoln, Nebraska, this week the nearest offices of the immigration authorities to De Smet, a small town in eastern South Dakota made famous by author Laura Ingalls Wilder whose written works inspired the “Little House on the Prairie” television series.
Fr. Gallagher’s situation has lately been playing out like a small screen drama, much to his discomfort.
“I’m only one case,” he told the Echo.
But was far as the faithful in the four parishes that he has served, over 2,000 people who have sent him messages of support, and the entire South Dakota congressional delegation, two senators and one House member, Fr. Gallagher’s case is one of federal law being applied too harshly.
“He’s one in a million. We want so badly to keep him here in De Smet,” one anxious parishioner told the Echo.
“The decision in my case can’t be appealed but the immigration authorities can pick up my case and reopen and reevaluate it,” said Fr. Gallagher, who is 58 and was ordained a Columban missionary in Ireland in 1974.
According to a report by the Catholic News Service, Fr. Gallagher arrived in South Dakota a decade ago at the invitation of Bishop Robert J. Carlson, then-head of the Diocese of Sioux Falls.
It was quite a change for a priest who had spent 22 in Japan. But Fr. Gallagher quickly fell in love with the prairie, its small towns and people.
“I like it because of its simplicity,” he said.
“You know everybody, their stories and their lives. People here depend on each other. One needs a loan of a combine from another. People trust each other, there’s nothing fancy about it,” he said.
As soon as he was eligible, that being five years after his arrival, Fr. Gallagher applied for permanent U.S. residence, a process that can be fancy and then some.
In 2003, two years after applying, he was informed that he had been successful and that a green card was in the mail. It never arrived. Instead, Fr. Gallagher’s application had, it turned out, become victim of what he feels might be a more literal, post 9/11 interpretation of immigration law.
Fr. Gallagher’s presence in the country has been on the basis of a religious worker’s visa. But with that now expired, and his permanent residence application rejected, he faces an unwilling exit from the U.S. as early as July 1.
The reason for this is that the Department of Homeland Security’s office of Citizenship and Immigration Services has decided that somewhere along the line, Fr. Gallagher’s legal status had lapsed for a period of a few weeks.
According to Catholic News Service, Fr. Gallagher’s effort to stay in De Smet, and to see out his working years there, is being supported by the Sioux
Falls Diocese and a Washington-based attorney with the Catholic Legal
Immigration Network, known as CLINIC.
“Anne Marie Gibbons, director of CLINIC’s program for religious worker
visas, did not work on Father Gallagher’s case. However, explaining
some of the general problems she and her staff encounter, she said
it’s common for someone’s visa that authorizes him to live and work in
the U.S. to expire while he’s waiting to hear the results of an
application for another visa or for permanent residency,” CNS stated in an online report highlighting the Gallagher case.
“Gibbons said religious workers are especially prone to out-of-status
problems because, unlike other categories of workers or family-visa
holders, they are not permitted to submit simultaneous applications
that might protect them from a lapse in coverage. It can take years
for some kinds of visa applications to be processed. Recently,
backlogged fingerprint checks alone have bogged down cases for as long
as four or five years.”
The ways of the federal government’s bureaucracy cuts little ice with the members of St. Thomas Aquinas parish in De Smet, a town actually founded by a Catholic priest, Fr. Pierre De Smet, who came from Belgium.
Parishioners have been petitioning their elected representatives and in South Dakota that includes a congressional delegation comprised of Senators John Thune, a Republican, Tim Johnson, a Democrat and Rep. Stephanie Herseth, the state’s sole House of Representatives member who is also a Democrat.
Senator Thune has contacted Fr. Gallagher offering to intercede with the White House.
Fr. Gallagher told the Echo that it was very important to him that any political effort on his behalf be through “one pipeline,” by that meaning it’s a bipartisan one.
And that is what is now taking place as the days tick down to July. What is also occurring is an outpouring of support from ministers and people of other faiths in De Smet and neighboring towns.
“While immigration is a complicated subject these days, it would seem that Father Gallagher has only relieved burdens on our society, and personifies our historical strength as a nation of immigrants. With a society so in need of such a giving example, and a church so in need of vocations, it seems an injustice to deny his right to willingly serve his parishioners,” one online statement of support for Fr. Gallagher stated.
Fr. Gallagher, meanwhile, said he had been told to expect word from the meeting in Lincoln within seven days.
In the meantime, he is preparing for a departure from his prairie home that nobody but the letter of the law seems to want.

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