Children separated from families at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent weeks have sparked outrage at home and internationally, but their situation highlights the perpetual plight of immigrants, refugees and asylum-seekers. Being a stranger in a foreign land is a difficult transition. For years, Catholic Extension has been present to these immigrants and supported initiatives to offer pastoral and charitable help. In the last ten years, we have funded more than $20 million in assistance to border regions.
Sister Zita Telkamp is director of La Posada Providencia in San Benito, Texas, a border town that provides emergency shelter for men, women and children fleeing from political oppression, violence and poverty and seeking asylum in the United States. The shelter opened in 1989 and now has five full-time employees and 20 volunteers who serve 400 immigrants annually. They offer housing, food, English classes and transportation.
“We teach life skills,” said Sister Telkamp, of the Congregation of Divine Providence. “We don’t preach the Gospel, but we live it by what we do.” The shelter operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and has served immigrants from nearly 80 countries. Catholic Extension supports her welcoming ministry.
Spanning the Mexican border town of Nogales, Sonora, and its neighbor, Nogales, Arizona, the Kino Border Initiative was founded in 2009 as a binational Catholic presence on the border. Its mission is to provide practical and pastoral services to asylum seekers and to promote human dignity in immigration policies. Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director, and his staff offer basics necessities to their traumatized clients, many of whom have been recently deported.
With help from Catholic Extension in 2017, this initiative added a new dimension to its services: providing legal assistance. With this help, immigrants have a much greater chance of achieving asylum.
Sister Norma Pimentel and our chancellor, Cardinal Blase Cupich, speak with families at the Humanitarian Respite Center in 2017.
The Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, provides another opportunity for the Church to dignify immigrants. For the last few years, this way-station for asylum seekers has been housed in Sacred Heart Church to serve families whose asylum applications are being processed. With Catholic Extension support, a new facility was recently built to meet growing demand. The center provides showers, beds, phone service, safety courses on traveling in the U.S., clothing and essentials, such as diapers. For those who pass through, it is a comforting stop that strengthens them before they continue their journey.
Leading the center, Sister Norma Pimentel, a Missionary Sister of Jesus, and a team of volunteers work tirelessly to welcome thousands of visitors each year, including many children. Sister Pimentel, a daughter of immigrants, understands the hopes of those she serves and their eagerness to find a more prosperous life here. “They want a chance to live extraordinary lives, to attend school and find work and a home, and to contribute to the welfare of this country,” she said. But she knows immigrants face a tough road. She wants their first impression of this country to be positive and full of compassion. “We restore human dignity,” she said.
Immigrants who have traveled for miles over dangerous territory to come to the United States, fleeing dire situations in pursuit of safety and a fuller life, are scared and suffering. They are also courageous. They face legal and humanitarian challenges. Children at the border remind us of the ongoing perils of immigrants. Our response continues to be: How can we help?
Catholic Extension's Family Reunification Fund is a response to the human tragedy unfolding on our southern border, where recent family separations and policy debates have exposed the profound misery of those fleeing their countries and coming to the U.S.
The fund will support ministries that provide direct outreach and advocacy for immigrant families separated as a consequence of our broken immigration system. The fund will mainly benefit existing ministries on the southern U.S. border with Mexico, specifically those that are actively sheltering, defending, and caring for immigrants and their families.