Saint Louis University

Immigration Conference Reflects University’s Jesuit Mission

Saint Louis University hosted a major conference on immigrants and refugees May 22-23, drawing nearly two dozen notable speakers from religion, academia, law and politics.

Approximately 200 people registered for “Immigrants and Refugees Conference: Social, Political, Legal, and Ethical Problems and Solutions,” which was held in the University’s Busch Student Center.

“The conference included a variety of panels and personal reflections, with speakers who represented a wide spectrum of standpoints on these important issues, having to do with some of the most vulnerable people in our society and world,” said Michael Barber, S.J., dean of the SLU’s College of Arts and Sciences, which organized the event.

His Beatitude Bechara Peter Rai, Patriarch of Antioch, leader of the Maronite Catholic Church and strong proponent for peace in the Middle East, was one of the conference’s keynote speakers. The leader of nearly 15 million Catholics worldwide, the Patriarch addressed the refugee crisis in Lebanon.

The conference’s other keynote speaker was U.S. Rep Luis Vicente Gutiérrez of Illinois who discussed his experiences growing up in Chicago as the son of migrant workers as well as his efforts on Capitol Hill to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

Other speakers included Carlos Sevilla, S.J., the retired bishop of Yakima, Wash.; Sonal Ambegaokar, an attorney for the National Immigration Law Center; Peter Neeley, S.J., director of education for the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Ariz.; Gene McNary, J.D., former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; William O'Neill, S.J., associate professor of social ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University; and Robert Fox, chairman of the board of Casa de Salud, a new health initiative sponsored by Saint Louis University.

"I don't know that I have ever been in a room with the breadth of expertise on immigration -- personal, policy and academic -- that this conference brought together,” said Joel Jennings, Ph.D., an assistant professor of sociology at SLU.

The conference was sponsored by the Marchetti Endowment Fund at Saint Louis University. Named for the late Jerome J. Marchetti, S.J., an alumnus and longtime professor and administrator at the University, the fund is supported through contributions from the salaries of Jesuits who teach and minister at SLU. The fund was created to advance the Jesuit and Catholic character of the University.