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Our call to be a welcoming neighbor

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As our dedicated staff journey with refugees and immigrants, we witness the human impact of decades of broken U.S immigration policies.

Nearly every day, it seems that there is media coverage from so many different news outlets on the issue of immigration. We hear stories about the conditions and challenges faced by immigrants trying to make their way to the United States. We see pictures of refugees fleeing violence and living in urban ghettos or sprawling camps, searching for safety and a home. We hear and see immigrants and refugees referred to in my different ways, oftentimes in derogatory terms. What we see at Catholic Charities of Boston are our sisters and brothers; we see the face of God and an image of the Holy Family, fleeing for safety. Over 60 percent of the men, women and children we serve through our 75 programs at Catholic Charities are immigrants or refugees and we are privileged to walk alongside and learn from them.

As our dedicated staff journey with refugees and immigrants, we witness the human impact of decades of broken U.S immigration policies. Immigration policies have caused irreparable harm and pain to thousands we are called to serve. Some days, it seems that there is an outright war on the foreign-born. We see attacks on the very foundations of our faith, society and nation: the family. Children are being forcibly taken from their parents or caregivers.

Breadwinners are being deported, creating emotional and financial chaos for families. People seeking refuge are being turned away, not allowed to enter the U.S. to plead for asylum and forced to remain in purgatory. Families who have lived in the U.S. for over 20 years, paid taxes and into Social Security are at risk of removal to a country that they left long ago. Millennials brought to the U.S. as young children and consider themselves American are at the mercy of the Supreme Court and may be forced to return a country they barely lived in. The issues can seem overwhelming, and to those that we serve, they are.

Catholic Charities of Boston seeks to lift some of those burdens and help immigrants and refugees on a path to integration into society and self-sufficiency through Basic Needs, English for Speakers of Other Languages and Adult Education courses, child care, as well as other programs to meet specific needs. I am privileged to direct our Refugee and Immigration Services program, where we serve an average of 17,000 individuals each year. Through Immigration Legal Services, immigration attorneys provide consultations, referrals and representation. Our Refugee Resettlement program welcomes refugees and helps them rebuild their lives. We orient unaccompanied migrant children to the U.S. immigration court and some unaccompanied children receive case management and support services. Community Interpreter Services assists limited English speakers by providing interpreters and written translations, allowing them to access health, legal and educational services throughout the Commonwealth.

An inspiration for our work with immigrants and refugees is Sister Norma Pimentel, a religious sister of the Missionaries of Jesus and executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Sister Norma is one of the nation's strongest champions of immigrants and has dedicated her life's work to serving at the border, acting as the point person for organizing the emergency response to the surge in Central Americans seeking asylum in the United States. She has even been dubbed Pope Francis' "favorite nun" and the "Mother Teresa of Texas."

Sister Norma will be receiving our Justice and Compassion Award at our upcoming Spring Celebration for her dedication to caring for immigrants at the border.

We are also excited to welcome Sister Norma as a panelist, alongside local businessman Mohamad Ali, at our "This is My Community" speaker series event Feb. 27. The panel discussion will focus on the current state of immigration and we will hear firsthand from Sister Norma about her experiences serving at the border. Space is limited, but all are welcome to join us for this event. You can register in advance by visiting www.ccab.org/speaker-series-presents-an-evening-with-sister-norma-pimentel, or by phone at 781-380-4788.

To learn more about what we do at CCAB, please visit ccab.org or reach out to me directly at marjean_perhot@ccab.org.

MARJEAN A. PERHOT IS DIRECTOR OF THE REFUGEE AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES DIVISION AT CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF BOSTON.



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