Providing Welcome and Creating Hope for Child Migrants

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

On this “World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” we are called by the Holy Father to draw attention to child migrants, who “in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves.”

Inspired by the journey of the Holy Family, which fled the violence of King Herod as many refugees flee violence today, the vision of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is “creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.” MRS serves as a leader in the protection of migrant and refugee children providing them foster care and family reunification services through culturally-appropriate programs nationwide since 1980.

Providing refuge and hope to migrant and refugee children fleeing for their lives is crucial at this time where we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes– nearly 34,000 people every day.

As a member of an inter-faith, interagency delegation to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan in April of 2016 I visited informal settlements of Syrian refugees. One of the dwellings I visited in Lebanon was an abandoned building occupied by 180 Syrian refugee families, totaling 1,000 people.  Approximately half were children.  The building bordered a busy road, next to which children played, barefoot, on a concrete courtyard.  The floor of one of the common rooms, a thruway to other rooms, was covered with about one inch of water, including raw sewage.

When we asked a group of about 25 children, most under 13 years old, who attended school, two raised their hands. The rest had to work to support their families.  For many migrant and refugee families, child labor is necessary for economic survival, particularly in countries where adult refugees are not allowed to work legally, such is the case in Lebanon, where refugees are at risk of detention and deportation to Syria if they are caught working.  Children can more easily evade labor and migration enforcement than adults.   The younger and more vulnerable a child is, the more earning potential they have as beggars, and the more at risk they are to exploitation and human trafficking.

Identifying children in need of protection is a challenge in many regions of the world where refugees reside. The result is that children who are in need of protection are not proactively identified, resulting in harm, sexual assault or rape, recruitment into criminal organizations, and in the worst cases, death. Children who are unable to access protection may take upon themselves pursuit of protective measures and migrate to safety themselves in what is often a perilous journey with uncertain consequences and results.

For children who are able to access protection, that is just the beginning. The path to a durable solution is a narrow, winding road. Durable solutions for unaccompanied children include integration into countries of first asylum, repatriation to their country of origin, or resettlement. Integration and repatriation are, in most cases, not realistic options, and although unaccompanied refugee minors make up about 3-4 percent of the world’s refugees only less than half of one percent are resettled.

For a small number of children, MRS makes that hope a reality, providing durable solutions for unaccompanied children through refugee resettlement, reunification with families, and placements in foster care programs.  In 2016, MRS resettled 10,000 refugee children who arrived with family members, reunified with families 2,000 migrant children who arrived to the United States alone, and for another 500 unaccompanied children secured safe housing in a variety of settings, from small-scale shelters or group homes to foster care families.  Embodying the MRS vision, a MRS foster parent to six unaccompanied children (from Nepal, Liberia, Honduras, the Congo, and Eritrea) said, “We didn’t just welcome them into our house, we welcomed (them) into our family.”

I’m concluding with a plea from the Holy Father, “The Church too needs you and supports you in the generous service you offer. Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

Click here for information on how to help refugee and migrant children.

kristyn-professional_sept-2014Kristyn Peck is Associate Director of Children’s Services, Migration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

A Letter from the Heart of an Undocumented Immigrant

In recognition that this is National Migration Week and at the invitation of the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Voice of the Poor Committee, for the first time I am telling my story of coming to the United States as an undocumented immigrant.

Our two children, Lizza and Alfonso Jr., and I were born in Tijuana, Mexico, next to the southwest border with USA. My husband, Alfonso, was born in a small town in the State of Jalisco, México.

Margarita with her husband and children in the 1970s

Margarita with her husband and children in the 1970s

As soon we got married in 1973, he, as a lawful permanent U.S. resident (green card holder), filed a visa petition for me. In those days, the waiting period of time was 12 years.

At the time, we lived in Tijuana. Every day at 2:30 AM, Alfonso crossed the border to work in the fields in the United States, picking tomatoes, chilies, and strawberries.  He worked 10-11 hours a day, 6 days a week, and spent one and a half hours commuting each way to work and back home.

In the beginning, Alfonso worked in different, very demanding jobs – as a janitor; in factories and canneries; construction; as a laboratory technician; and so on – until he started to work in an aerospace company, first as a carpenter, then as mechanic, electrician, and welder, and now as a lead man of the maintenance department. I am sharing this with you because I need to make a point – he always worked hard, long hours and different shifts.

While he worked in the United States, I worked in a Social Security Hospital in the Human Resources Department in Tijuana, and, at the same time, took care of two children. Alfonso did everything possible for the children to have a strong father presence in their lives; it was hard for him and for us.

Several years passed, and we were told that the waiting time to become a permanent resident had increased to 14-17 years. So, Alfonso made the hard decision to resign his Mexican citizenship to become a US citizen.  In those days, it was not like today where you can have dual citizenship – you had to surrender your citizenship in your own country.  Alfonso also needed to speak English well and go to school for the U.S. citizenship classes.

Can you image when he could find time to attend the daily two-hour English and Citizenship classes?

We needed to move to the United States, because it was the only way he could have time to attend his classes and have a little more family time. It was a hard decision – to continue in the same pattern or try to be a real family.  We decided to come to live here.  In the mid-1980s, my two small children and I came to the United States without permission to reside here.  My husband had a resident card so he had the right to live and work here. Thanks to God, we did not come through the desert, a tunnel, or in a car’s trunk.  We had short-term visitors’ visas to come and visit the United States and we were supposed to stay no more than three days and keep within a certain area.

I started to feel bad about myself, as if I was not good enough, because I was not able to work or have a driver’s license or walk freely on the streets. I had always worked.  I needed to be productive and was worried about how I could help support the family financially, too.

I started to help working mothers with the care of their children after school for a small fee. In the evening, I went to learn English as a second language at my children’s school.  But I did not like those classes.  They were too slow, and I need to learn a little faster.  In order to do this, my English teacher told me to go to a community college, but she did not know that I did not have the proper documents.  I attended community college briefly, but since I was not a resident, I did not qualify for reduced tuition.  Instead, I would have had to pay full foreign student tuition, even though we paid taxes for community schools.  I could not afford full tuition and still help my husband provide for the family.

From the time he started working in the United States, Alfonso paid taxes to the IRS. Once we moved to the United States, we saved some money, with family help we eventually bought our house, and we paid property taxes. I always lived in fear of deportation and the consequences for my family. Our children were in a household where our status was a secret; you did not want anyone to know it, because it was dangerous. For most undocumented immigrants, fear, and the stress that comes with it, is a constant part of life.  We had to keep our situation a secret from nearly everyone we encountered, afraid to be reported and sent back to Mexico

It was time full of frustration, learning, adapting, and growing in many ways, but mostly full of joy because we were together.

Not long after my children and I came to the United States, my husband applied for citizenship. He passed the test, and, in three months, he became a U.S. citizen.  He next petitioned for our under-age children, Lizza and Alonso Jr., to become U.S. citizens, and in 6 months they were.  It was not easy for us to pay in a single year the very expensive fee for the three of them to become U.S. citizens.  So again, Alfonso needed to work overtime to afford the house payment and all the immigration fees.

Several months passed before we could change the status of my first petition which, when it was filed back in 1973, was done by my husband in his then-status as a U.S. resident. As a U.S. citizen, he could file an updated petition on my behalf and the waiting period would be shortened.  Finally, that was accepted, and I was granted an official U.S. resident card.  Then I had to wait three more years to be able to apply and pay more fees for the U.S. citizenship process.  Eventually, I was able to apply for it.  I passed the test, and finally, after all the risks, tears, frustrations, low self-esteem, and 20 years, thanks to God, I became a U.S. citizen in 1994 – Hurray!!!

For us, it was extremely important to work hard. I really appreciate this country and its people.  We made a real pledge to making this country our home.

Margarita, her husband, Alfonso, and their extended family at Christmas 2016

Margarita, her husband, Alfonso, and their extended family at Christmas 2016

On the other hand, we continue to maintain strong relationships in our birth country. We are the lucky ones to have had the opportunity to access the best from both countries and to celebrate both cultures – not assimilate the USA culture, but to blend both.

I believe we need to share our stories. Some, like mine, are relatively easy, but others are very hard, sad, and dangerous.

We are human beings, created in the image of God, too, with dreams and hopes like every other person. We simply wish to be able to do better for our family, our communities, for the poor, and for our country.

Margarita Galindo is Vice-President for Hispanic Involvement at the National Council of the United States Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Become an ally for our immigrant brothers and sisters

national-migration-weekAs we celebrate National Migration Week from Jan. 8-14, let us bring to the forefront the most pressing issues immigrants face and support them in their efforts to overcome those challenges.

The theme for this year is “Creating a Culture of Encounter,” based on an appeal by Pope Francis which calls us to “look beyond our needs and wants to those of others around us.”  Justice for Immigrants’ toolkit features many ways to support migrants, including prayer cards and event ideas.

Here are a few more tips to continue supporting immigrants all year long.

One of the best ways a community member can help their immigrant neighbors is to partner with a local immigration services program. There are many non-profit legal service providers that are willing to give workshops and informational sessions, but often lack the space or volunteers to do so. Community partners can help by offering available meeting space, time to volunteer, or assistance with outreach. To find a local immigration service provider, visit https://cliniclegal.org/directory.  Paola Marquez, CLINIC’s Legalization Outreach Manager, focuses on building strong relationships between legal service providers and the communities they serve and can help you brainstorm new ways to be an ally. For more ideas on how you can help immigrants have access to legal services, you can reach out to her.

Another way to help is to ensure that your community is a welcoming one. CLINIC offers a number of resources on Catholic social teachings and the ties between Catholic values and immigration.  For example, CLINIC recently created a free resource inspired by Las Posadas Navideñas for communities to use during the holiday season. A celebration around Las Posadas provides an excellent opportunity for dialogue, but you don’t have to wait until next Christmas to hold such an event.  Consider using any of CLINIC’s resources on Catholic social teaching to inspire community-building events: https://cliniclegal.org/cst.

We should also seek to raise awareness about immigration issues. Consider hosting a movie screening or inviting a prominent lecturer on immigration to come speak at your next event. Plan or participate in a vigil for immigrants being held in detention.  Reach out to both your Catholic Conference and local community leaders to see if you can participate in or host an event.  Above all, do not be afraid to engage in a constructive dialogue with people who may disagree with you- CLINIC has you covered.

From an advocacy perspective, it is vital that we help immigrants become aware of their legal rights. Many immigrants are not aware that although they may be undocumented, they still have civil rights that are protected by federal and state laws. Share CLINIC’s Know Your Rights guides for students and workers with parishioners and neighbors. These resources also provide ways immigrants can report incidents they encountered at school and work.

Bolster this work by becoming an advocate for positive immigration policies. The lack of immigration reform at the federal level has encouraged state and local leaders to legislate their own solutions to what they see as a broken system. Many states legislative sessions will begin this January and, due to the current national debate regarding immigration, we anticipate that there will be an increased number of legislation attempting to limit immigrants’ ability to fully integrate. CLINIC has prepared a guide to help you follow your state’s legislative process and offer ways you can speak up for immigrants and urge local leaders to implement positive policies. Christy Williams, CLINIC’s Advocacy Attorney, supported several state Catholic conferences and CLINIC affiliates through legal analysis and suggested talking points to address how these issues impact immigrants and the programs that serve them during the 2016 state legislative session. In addition to online resources, you can contact her for direct support to help you address immigration-related legislation in your state.

Please visit CLINIC’s website for more resources to help you understand the challenges immigrants face. Be sure to sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on pressing immigration issues and new ways to help.

 paola-marquez-croppedPaola Marquez is the Outreach Manager for CLINIC’s Legalization section. In addition to conducting outreach to parishes, Catholic schools, and immigrant communities, she also manages the Southeast Fellows Project. She can be reached via e-mail at pmarquez@cliniclegal.org.

 christy-williamsChristy Williams is an Advocacy Attorney at CLINIC who leads the State and Local Immigration Project. Christy monitors legislation in all 50 states that impact immigrants and provides advocacy support to state Catholic Conferences, Diocesan advocates and CLINIC affiliates in responding to these issues. She can be reached via e-mail at cwilliams@cliniclegal.org.

Hope “pierces the heart” of a diocese new to organizing

yard-signs-header

The closing of the liturgical year and the Feast of Christ the King fell, this year, just after the U.S. presidential elections. Such timing prompts me to ask, what does God’s reign look like on earth? Among a divided world, how does one rule with peace and justice? Who would be better equipped to ensure the good of his people than one who knows suffering, family poverty, and being outcast?

prophetic-voting-hitting-the-streetsIn my diocese here in the Northeastern corner of Indiana, the sovereignty of Christ’s power has been made manifest in new ways throughout the last six months. A humble group– immigrants, returning citizens, foreign priests, low-income lay leaders, and average every-day parishioners – heard God’s call for justice and participation and took on new habits, words, and ways of seeing themselves and the world.

What does their love look like in public? Here are a few freeze frames:

  • Pastors dismayed by their parishioners’ disinterest in current events, slimmed attention spans, and even illiteracy issued calls from the pulpit about the need to consider the entirety of Church teaching when forming their consciences and challenged them to move beyond partisan comfort camps;
  • Ethnicities unfamiliar with working together shared stories of similar pain and worry with each other and partnered to knock on the doors of some of the most destitute neighborhoods in our diocese;
  • Undocumented immigrants, who cannot vote and barely survive in the shadows, held voter registration tables and conducted hundreds of calls to encourage those who can to vote their values, even when those values stood in stark contrast to their own;
  • Men and women working multiple part-time jobs made time, often despite family criticism, to be trained in Catholic social teaching, the parameters of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, and the kinds of decisions local and state governments make every day that determine the conditions of our lives.

Even the night when our country finally elected its president, Christ’s kingship still rang out across our land. Amid moments of frailty and fragility, as those same leaders from the voting effort were working the third shift at a manufacturing plant and their co-workers exchanged excitement for the time when “immigrants will go running like cock-roaches”; or, in the days that followed, as students hid in lockers as kids chanted brazen slogans in the hallways and parents were caught speechless as their children gaze into their eyes asking “what is going to happen to us?” – the Kingdom keeps yeasting.

stpatligandbrothersIn the quiet solitude of our hearts, we remember a reality that is unchanged – God is the King of the World. We let the truth radiate outward from there, and soon we cannot help but recommit to the work of overcoming hate, indifference, and ignorance through the hallmarks of mercy and the audacity of hope.

As people of faith, we must continue our efforts to keep immigrant families together, promote religious liberty, ensure the vulnerable have access to adequate health care and emergency assistance, work for racial justice, reform the criminal justice system, and care for all God’s creation.

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28). And organize!

 

audrey-davisAudrey Davis is the Director for the Office of Social Justice for the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend, Indiana.

This pocket of former manufacturing and agricultural glory is today home to the 17th highest incarceration rate on the globe, and where only 30% of jobs pay a family wage. Through the Prophetic Voting Campaign, the diocese partnered with IndyCAN to make its foray into community organizing, through which four low-income parishes joined together to hold sacred conversations with 1,787 low-income voters, register 80 new voters, and spread the message of human dignity and justice through 6 news stories.


Going Deeper

Visit the PovertyUSA.org map to find out where people of faith are organizing for and with those who are poor and vulnerable in your community. Join them!

 

Bishop Blaire of Stockton Issues Strong Statement on Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

Pilgrims hold up images of Our Lady of Guadalupe during an annual pilgrimage in her honor (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

The journey of life is difficult at this time for Hispanics in the United States.  Many have friends and family members who are without papers; many are without papers themselves; children in school are being bullied; and young immigrants who signed up for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are anxious that they might lose their opportunity to work and their protection from deportation; racism has raised its ugly head in many communities; and so many of our neighborhoods and homes are plagued with violence. Many who have jobs often find themselves having to work two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

To all of you this day I remind you that OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE COMES TO MEET YOU TO LEAD YOU TO JESUS.  She says to each of you what she said to St. Juan Diego: “Do not be disturbed in your heart; do not be afraid.  Am I not with you, I who am your mother?” We need to hear these words of comfort and strength when there is so much hostility in the public conversation about immigration and immigrants.

I wish to say loudly and clearly to all of you that as your bishop I am with you.  You are the Church.  I will walk with you no matter how hard it gets. Please God, things will go better than our worst fears about what might happen.  Regardless, the Church is with you.  I am here to accompany you.  I also wish to announce to our immigrants, to our refugees, to our migrants, from wherever you come, that we will do everything we can to help you through our Catholic Charities and the community organizations of which we are a part. As Catholics we embrace our American traditions of welcome, of unity in diversity, and our care for all.

I also wish to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters, and to our Jewish elder brothers and sisters, and to all our inter-faith friends that the hate which destroys the unity and solidarity of the human family cannot be tolerated in any way. The way of God is the way of love.

As you know so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East have been slaughtered by ISIS or lost their homes in war torn areas and have suffered as refugees from their ancient lands.  I ask you to join with our Holy Father Pope Francis, in doing whatever you can in any way to support the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Christian and Muslim refugees at this time, and to bring calm to their homelands.

The causes of war and cruelty cannot be ignored.  The injustices that give rise to radical evils must be alleviated. The forces of evil must be stopped. Ultimately, evil will only be overcome by good, by the hard work of good people working together to bring about peace.  And there will be no peace if there is no justice which respects the dignity and worth of every human being.  As long as the gods of money and power and unrestrained impulses found in the idols of greed and corruption rule on the face of the earth there will be no lasting peace.  Sad to say, an even greater threat to peace that looms over our heads would be the unrestrained advance in nuclear weapons which could destroy all creation.

I sincerely believe that unless God is accepted as sovereign Lord over the earth and over our lives, communities will continue to deteriorate, the earth will be devastated, and family coherence will be diminished.  Your devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe keeps us close to her as our Mother.  She leads us to Christ Who is the all just One; the all merciful One; the Hope for the world when all seems hopeless.

The world does not need any more walls.  It needs bridges of compassion and mutual understanding.  Yes, proper respect for borders or boundaries, but not barriers of hostility and division.  Let there be peace at our borders.

The world cannot continue to endure more violence.  It needs restraint, words of peace and perseverance in the hard efforts to create the just structures that are the foundation for peace.  In our community the answer to gang violence is good education and decent jobs.

The world must not tolerate racism.   It needs to honor the diversity of God’s human family by building a unity which embraces and respects all races on the face of the earth.  Unity in diversity!

bishop-blaire-5x7Today we venerate Our Lady of Guadalupe who comes to meet us as our mother.  Nuestra Señora will show us the way to peace and goodness and justice.  Mary is the mother of all peoples.  She will give us the courage not to be afraid.  She will lead us to Jesus, the Lord of peace and justice.   Viva Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe!  Viva Cristo Rey!

Stephen E. Blaire is bishop of Stockton, California.


 

Welcome Migrants and Refugees This Advent

“Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” Rom. 15:7.
Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Forced migration is a stark reality facing millions. With more displaced persons than ever before, the need for countries and communities to offer protection, understanding, and welcome is great. In the midst of this global crisis and as the year comes to an end, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our country’s record of welcoming migrants and refugees.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, including 12,000 Syrians. Through partnership with states and nongovernmental organizations, the United States has been able to provide crucial services to these resettled refugees in order to help them achieve self-sufficiency.  While the United States made some welcome progress during the past fiscal year in terms of creating and expanding programs to process Central American refugees, the current system has failed to address the needs of many individuals and families with valid protection concerns. This is evidenced by the fact that during FY 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended over 59,000 unaccompanied children and more than 77,000 family members at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of these families and children were fleeing violence and lack of state protection in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Our treatment of these groups is an issue which has divided many in our country, including our leaders and lawmakers. Over the past year, we have witnessed the unfortunate toll fear can take on our country, causing some to view vulnerable migrants and refugees unfavorably. In light of this rhetoric, it is more important than ever that we as Catholics heed Pope Francis’s call: “Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

The holiday season can be a great opportunity to welcome migrants and refugees in your community and educate your parish on the plights faced by many of these individuals.

How can you help create a community of welcome?  You can consider hosting a solidarity event. These events are a way to make migrants and refugees in your community feel supported. They can also be a way to further educate your fellow parishioners and community members about these issues. In addition, you can host a multicultural potluck event as a fun way to promote cultural awareness and foster a community of welcome.

How can you help educate your fellow parishioners on this issue?  Start a dialogue with your community around Catholic social teaching on migration. Share a copy of and discuss the pastoral letter Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. You can also share a link to the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) website with members of your community so they can learn more about JFI’s work to support refugees and immigrants.

Through these actions, we can engage with and show support for our migrant and refugee neighbors. Learn about other ways to welcome these individuals here.

Melissa Hastings is policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB.


Going Deeper
Get ready to celebrate National Migration Week on January 8-14, 2017.  This year’s theme is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” During the week, you can reflect with others on the circumstances confronting refugees and immigrants and our Catholic call to encounter and welcome.

For more information on intercultural dialogue, visit USCCB’s Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church’s resources on intercultural competencies.

Standing with Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

Catholics know that every person is made in the image of God. Everyone is due our respect and our love. We’re called to care especially for those who most need our welcome, including newcomers to our country. Because the Church in America has always been an immigrant Church, Catholics feel this responsibility in a particular way.
The Catholic story in America is a story of immigrants, from the first Catholics who arrived here hundreds of years ago, to the waves of European immigrants whose nickels and dimes built so many churches and schools across this country, to those arriving today in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This is who we are.

We are also a family – a family whose life is enriched by the gift of our diversity. Every Sunday, in parishes across the country, people from different backgrounds come together to celebrate Mass. Many cities have Masses offered in twenty or more languages. Catholics of all backgrounds—Chinese, Polish, Guatemalan, Irish, Mexican, Ghanaian, Korean, Honduran, Lithuanian, Vietnamese —come together and are enriched by the Eucharist and by one another.

As a family, we take care of each other and our neighbors. Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service ministries care for immigrants every day, from language classes to job training programs to offering a helping hand when someone’s in need. We’ve been helping integrate immigrants into American life since Catholics first arrived on our shores. This is what we do.

Given who we are and what we do, we have a special responsibility to reject the hostility that dominates the public conversation about immigration today. The language we use in the public square matters. It should reflect the best of our American traditions – traditions of welcome; of unity in diversity; of care for those in need.

Pope Francis reminds us that immigrants are no different than our own family members and friends; each “has a name, a face, and a story.” Let us remember that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were also immigrants in a foreign land when they fled from King Herod to Egypt. When we warmly welcome newcomers we open our hearts wider to Christ.

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo is Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.