Catholic Charities: Welcoming the stranger in our midst

By Sara Ramirez
Catholic Charities of Central Texas

Perhaps no issue is more controversial, more divisive in our society at this point in time than the immigration policy debate currently being waged in the U.S. and even here in Central Texas. 
At Catholic Charities of Central Texas, Catholic social teaching is the foundation for why we do the work that we do. We see the face of Christ in each person who walks through our doors, and we work to ensure that they leave with the tools and resources they need to thrive in their God-given gifts and dignity.
We believe that the issues facing our society today regarding immigration should be approached from a perspective of “both/and,” not “either/or.” Catholic social teaching calls for us to encourage the community to work with a responsible government with two primary duties, both of which must be carried out and neither of which can be ignored. 
One of those obligations is to welcome the stranger, a core belief rooted in Scripture. We know that individuals migrate in an effort to search out safety and the means for a better life that they could not find in their country of origin. It is our civic and moral responsibility to assist those seeking hope for a brighter future, and to do so with dignity and respect. Pope Francis reminds us, “Despite the problems, risks, and difficulties to be faced, great numbers of migrants and refugees continue to be inspired by confidence and hope; in their hearts they long for a better future, not only for themselves but for their families and those closest to them.”
The second obligation is to work to provide security for all residents in a community. Sovereign nations have the right to enforce their laws and all persons must respect this right. Immigrants are called to respect the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
We believe that the work of Catholic Charities of Central Texas helps accomplish both of these obligations. With the support from an expanded City of Austin Immigrant Mental Health contract (see story on Page 4) and generous donors, Catholic Charities is able to help answer the needs of the poor and vulnerable by providing high quality representation to individuals who are eligible for immigration benefits, as well as mental health services to help these families overcome life challenges. As a result of our services, many individuals receive work authorization and an outlook on life that allows them to provide for their family’s basic needs and contribute to the economy.
At our core, Catholic Charities of Central Texas is called to strengthen families. Through our Immigration Legal Services program, we help individuals and families to access lawful, federally administered programs such as family based petitions, naturalization, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), asylum and victim visas. Last year our program served over 1,400 individuals, giving them the opportunity to step out of the shadows and fully live out their calling to participate in the betterment of our society.
Our organization creates opportunities for amazing people like Mireya. This young woman was the first in her family to go to college, and the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program provided her the ability to work and live in the U.S. without fear for the first time since she was 2 years old. Her degree program required studying abroad, which we were able to assist her with under DACA. She successfully graduated from the University of Texas last May, and is now employed with a highly regarded company and has amazing opportunities in the only country she has ever considered home.
In recent months our office has seen an uptick in requests for immigration services. We have partnered with other immigrant advocate groups to form the Texas Here to Stay Coalition, offering free “Know Your Rights” presentations and consultation clinics to provide accurate information and ease the concerns of the community. Though we have had hundreds of people attend the clinics, we know that our work is far from over. We will continue to educate and empower the thousands of families in Central Texas who are seeking help and hope in our great nation.
As we continue in this Lenten season, mindful of Christ’s passion and death, I encourage each of us to take up our own crosses, uniting our sorrows and sufferings with all of our sisters and brothers who are searching for a better tomorrow and joining them in the hope and promise of Christ’s resurrection.
For more information about Catholic Charities programs, including Immigration Legal Services and Counseling Services, call (512) 651-6100 (Austin) or (979) 822-9340 (Brazos Valley) or visit www.ccctx.org.