For more than 100 years, the Catholic Charities ministry in the United States has provided essential services to immigrants and newcomers. The reason transcends particular time periods, exigencies or politics. As Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), remarked:
“We must move beyond the economic and security concerns and recognize the fundamental human nature of this question… People fleeing conflict, persecution, natural disasters, failed development and the effects of climate change are entitled to the full enjoyment of their human rights” (“President’s Column,” Charities USA, vol. 44, no. 2, Spring 2017, pp. 5-7).Click to tweet
Catholic Charities affirms the inherent, God-given dignity of immigrants and refugees, as well as every human person, and works to honor that dignity by helping those in need to live a healthy and fruitful life.
In the first decades of the 20th century, Catholic Charities served many immigrants and refugees from northern and western Europe including Great Britain and Ireland, as well as from Italy in the south. Later, the U.S. experienced a wave of people coming from Latin America and the Philippines. CCUSA advocated for legislation and policies that protected these newcomers and Catholic Charities agencies provided housing, job training, and English classes, among other services.
The people who came have assimilated into the U.S. culture and added to the many strengths of our country. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the United States is a nation of immigrants, a phrase President John F. Kennedy used to title his book on immigration.
More recently, the source of migration has come increasingly from below our southern border, particularly the countries of the Northern Triangle: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many people fleeing these lands do so out of fear or economic necessity, not because they want to leave their homes. They are fleeing violence and corrupt governments, and they are looking to protect and provide for their families.
As in the previous century, Catholic Charities continues to serve immigrants and refugees, welcoming them as if they were Christ himself. In addition to the basic necessities of food and housing, Catholic Charities provides medical and dental services, assistance for victims of human trafficking, immigration and legal aid, and family reunification programs.
At the same time, CCUSA also continues to advocate for comprehensive immigration legislation in the United States and policies that seek to resolve issues in the countries people are fleeing. It’s good to remember that people should have the right not only to emigrate but also to remain in their homeland, safe and secure from harm.
According to the 2019 CCUSA annual report, Catholic Charities assisted 393,000 newcomers and provided $1.6 million in funding for supportive services.