The Border is Everywhere: Collaborating with Catholic Charities for immigration reform
It is written in the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration constitutions of Unity in Diversity #40: “True to our Franciscan calling, we commit ourselves to building Christ’s Kingdom of justice and peace.” Our challenge is to see the image of God in others and to construct bridges to meet them, wherever they are.
These faces — hundreds of thousands of women, children and men — are found at the southern border of the United States. They are fleeing humanitarian crisis in their home countries only to be barred from asylum by hundreds of miles of barbed wire and red tape. The FSPA Encuentro@theBorder Team is missioned to honor the sacredness and dignity of these people, to call for comprehensive immigration reform and to join in the work of others to enact change.
The Encuentro@theBorder Team supports Catholic Charities USA, a network of organizations advocating and acting for immigration reform and a just means of welcoming our neighbors from around the world. In her article, “‘The Border is Everywhere’ Initiative” (reprinted with permission), Kat Kelley, Catholic Charities of Oregon Director of Strategic Initiatives, provides us with a snapshot of the domestic settlement program in the U.S. for asylum seekers crossing the southern border.
“‘The Border is Everywhere’ Initiative”
By Kat Kelley, Catholic Charities of Oregon Director of Strategic Initiatives
The humanitarian crisis on the southern U.S. border has garnered national and international attention over the last few years. Images of unaccompanied minors in massive congregate shelters and young families traumatized and weary after crossing multiple international borders, often on foot, have rightly horrified any supporter of human rights the world over.
To better coordinate and improve the extremely limited services currently provided to asylum seekers in the interior, Catholic Charities USA, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network and Catholic Charities of Oregon have partnered to create and implement a service network unique to the needs and experiences of asylum-seeking families and individuals. The project, named The Border is Everywhere, supports access to wraparound services that promote the healthy integration and wellbeing of our newest neighbors as they start their lives in the United States.
For decades, the Catholic migration services community has been a leader in welcoming the stranger and providing essential support to newly arriving families. Many asylum seekers leaving detention on the border pass through a Catholic Charities humanitarian respite center. At the respite center, they receive food, clothing, showers, basic health care and other fundamental services.
While immediate humanitarian support in respite centers post-release is absolutely essential to the wellbeing of asylum seekers in their first days in their new country, it is imperative that asylum advocates and allies recognize the enormous challenges faced by asylum seekers as they enter their next step in the asylum process in communities around the country.
Contrary to common misperceptions, asylum seekers are not eligible for federally-funded benefits or resources, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid or HUD. In addition to being ineligible for federal benefits, they also face enormous barriers to employment — asylum seekers must wait 365 days after filing an asylum application before they can apply for employment authorization.
Original watercolor art, "The Border is Everywhere," by Annemarie Erb Barrett
Moreover, while the majority of asylum-granting nations place certain limitations on rights to work for asylum seekers, the United States is the only country that denies both employment authorization and benefits. Without access to employment or benefits — including legitimate options for housing, food or health care — asylum seekers are forced to the margins of our society to live in a state of abject poverty and are often criminalized for simply trying to survive.
These restrictions are not unique today and have impeded the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of asylum seekers for many decades. For asylum seekers, crossing the border is just the beginning of the barriers they will face in attempting to establish safety and security in the United States. These barriers only increase as they go deeper into the country. For asylum seekers, the border is everywhere.
In response, The Border is Everywhere project supports the Catholic Charities humanitarian respite centers by offering direct referrals to Catholic Charities migration services programs at the destination locale. At the locale, asylum seekers are connected with social workers with specialized skills in the following areas: trauma due to forced migration, systems navigation across heavy barriers and culturally-responsive services.
The social workers partner closely with immigration legal services and other providers to support asylum seekers in addressing and breaking down barriers that impact their ability to comply with immigration court requirements. They also guide asylum seekers throughout the confusing and complex process of establishing asylum.
By better coordinating trauma-informed wraparound services and supports to asylum seekers, The Border is Everywhere and the Catholic migration services community lead by example in responding to the Church’s call to “Welcome the Stranger” and to contribute to the creation of a world that treats all human beings according to their inherent dignity.
To learn more about Catholic Charities USA, visit catholiccharitiesusa.org.
Of the collaboration between Catholic Charities USA and FSPA, Kat Kelley, Director of Strategic Initiatives in the organization’s Oregon agency shares, “The funding resources provided by FSPA have helped The Border is Everywhere project expand its regional footprint. At its beginning, The Border is Everywhere included four border sites and four interior sites and has expanded to include an additional five interior sites across the country. This has helped to expand service capacity and, to date, The Border is Everywhere has had over 300,000 people pass through respite centers, including over 400 served with comprehensive case management services in the interior.”
Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration Fran Ferder, a member of the congregation’s Encuentro@theBorder Team, reflects on the call to support those fleeing from oppression and violence. “Early in 2019, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious called all U.S. sisters to offer volunteer service at our southern border. FSPA had been monitoring conditions there and were appalled at the reports of men, women and children arrested for exercising their international right to seek asylum as they fled the life-threatening effects of climate change, gang violence and governmental deterioration in the home countries they loved. In partnership with Catholic Charities USA, we went to the border, listened to the stories of the migrants who had recently been released from detention centers and offered assistance to those waiting on the Mexico side of the border as well. FSPA is committed to walking with these mothers, fathers, children and individuals.”