Welcoming and walking with newcomers

Immigration policy changes enacted in January 2021 by the Biden administration, including the dissolution of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, allowed asylum seekers to stay in the United States for the duration of their immigration proceedings, as was the policy prior to January 2019. 

This meant thousands of migrants who had waited for the next steps of their asylum proceedings in Mexico could come in to the United States, along with other migrants who sought protection from war, violence, and persecution in their countries of origin. The result was a record-breaking number of asylum-seekers entering the United States in a span of three months. 

Catholic Charities in San Diego (CCDSD) stepped up once again – as it did in 2016 and 2018 – to provide asylum-seekers with a warm welcome, temporary shelter, basic needs, and assistance in being reunited with family members.

Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego

In order to serve such a large number of people, CCDSD collaborated with its national office, Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), in making a national call for volunteers through the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), an association that represents nearly 40,000 Catholic women religious in the United Sates.  

The responses were extraordinary. 

Religious sisters from all over the country accepted the call for help. They came from Philadelphia, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Redwood City, Los Angeles, and many other places. 

The sisters have supported, and continue to support, Catholic Charities’ migrant shelter operations in both San Diego and Imperial Counties. As of April 30, 2021, the sisters have been part of the team in San Diego that has served over 6,000 asylum-seekers from countries such as Honduras, Venezuela, Brazil, Russia, and many others, as well as hundreds more from CCDSD’s Imperial County shelters as well. 

In addition to helping provide asylum-seekers with their basic needs, the sisters are the face of hope to incoming families by their motherly-like care and embodiment of CCDSD’s mission, which is to exemplify the scriptural values of mercy and hospitality through service to the vulnerable and marginalized.

Sister Luann Brown of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary came to San Diego from Chicago. She is a mental health and addictions counselor who took some time away from her normal duties to answer the call for help from CCUSA and LCWR. 

Sister Luann Brown at Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego

“It means a lot to me to be part of this face of God [welcoming people into the country],” Brown said. “I am working with lots and lots of other people. That’s been one of the greatest things: to see the many local people in San Diego who give of their time.”

Brown has packed and delivered meals to families housed temporarily in hotels, but she also volunteered for a task difficult to fill: accompanying people through the airport during the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. morning shift. “We take two groups of families through the process, from getting the boarding pass to arriving at the gate,” Brown said. She noted that about 50 families are accompanied during a four-hour shift.

Brown said that she was able to put her counseling skills to work during one of the airport runs. A woman with overwhelming feelings of anxiety asked Brown for help. “So I gave her some coping skills, ways to calm down the sympathetic nervous system and tamp down the anxiety,” Brown said. “We worked on that a little bit while we were waiting for other families, and she did seem to visibly calm down. So it was nice to be able to use some of those skills.”

CCDSD is grateful to all the sisters who have helped, whether in person or through prayer. As asylum-seeking families continue to arrive in San Diego and Imperial Counties, CCDSD looks forward to continuing its collaboration with CCUSA and the sisters of LCWR.