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.

Working Together Towards Immigrant Integration 

 Where migrants and refugees are concerned, the Church and her various agencies ought to avoid offering charitable services alone; they are also called to promote real integration in a society where all are active members and responsible for one another’s welfare…

– Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. (2013)

The Catholic Church and its brethren are, in part, defined by a mandate to welcome the stranger. From schools to health care to voter registration drives to food assistance, and especially to parish life, the church has developed pathways for aiding the newest members of our communities. The Church and its entities cherish this role and continue to fine-tune its efforts at reaching the newest, and often the most vulnerable, among us.

As part of the church’s efforts, Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has a 28-year history of supporting local Catholic institutions that aid immigrants. CLINIC sees the migration experience and subsequent immigration statuses (documented or otherwise) as early steps in the integration process. We know from focus groups that the journey and the engagement with U.S. immigration law and officials shape newcomers’ views of themselves in relationship to their new homeland.

We at CLINIC are doing a lot, and our network is doing a lot. But I believe we can do more to promote integration. As places of ministry and service providers, we must actively seek out what our immigrant neighbors would find most beneficial. It is especially important to involve newcomers in the decisions we make for our community and work together to create the integrated community we all desire.

This is no small task. For those of us working at charitable organizations, it is easier for us to decide ourselves what to offer our clients or members of our community, how best to help them, and what might make a difference in their lives. That’s our job, and it’s an important one. Imagine, though, what would be possible working with our clients and community members on integration. What could we do if we invited them into our office spaces and decision-making processes to decide, together, what the community collectively needs? What if we shared the power of the decision-making with our neighbors and worked together to make our community more welcoming for all?

There are many other ways to encourage immigrant integration within your community. Many of them involve reaching out to others and listening to and understanding their “joys and hopes, sorrows and anxieties.” This is part of the “culture of encounter” that Pope Francis has called us to promote.

Here are a few ideas to get started:

  1. Challenge unwelcoming remarks about immigrants in your community, at work and at home. Use facts and resources from nonpartisan sources, such as the Pew Research Center and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
  2. Invite a newcomer to your home for a meal and learn a few words in his or her native language.
  3. Volunteer to mentor English language learners or help with citizenship test preparation.
  4. Volunteer at a local refugee resettlement agency in your community to help newly arrived refugees learn English, find a job, and adjust to their new home.
  5. Ensure that members of the newcomer community are represented in leadership positions or decision-making entities at your parish, organization, or community group.
  6. Ask your local library, museum, and community center to include perspectives of immigrants in planned public events, classes that are offered, and resources that are purchased.
  7. Volunteer at a nearby Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that serves lower-income immigrant (and nonimmigrant) families in your community.
  8. Consider organizing a potluck/town hall event where residents can break bread together.
  9. Write or call your Congressional representatives to encourage action on immigration reform.
  10. Work with your local community leaders/elected officials to pass a Welcoming Resolution in your community.

Immigrant integration is a beautiful, complex, on-going process that challenges us to reach outside of the known and familiar and purposefully embrace people who are on a migratory journey. By making integration a priority for our agencies and our service programs, we can encourage the development of communities that are welcoming places for all of us.

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC

Leya Speasmaker serves as the Integration Program Manager at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. In this role, she develops CLINIC’s resources and provides technical support on integration. She works from Austin, Texas.

Versions of this article were first published by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network on its website.  Please contact Leya Speasmaker, CLINIC’s Immigrant Integration Manager, atlspeasmaker@cliniclegal.orgfor more information on how to promote and encourage immigrant integration within your community.


Going Deeper

Learn more about creating a Culture of Encounter at WeAreSaltandLight.org and promoting immigrant integration initiatives at CLINIClegal.org.