Catholic Charities assisting separated immigrant families

Six families separated under President Trump’s controversial immigration policy earlier this year now are receiving services from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton.

Immigration agents separated the families, comprising about 20 people including children from toddlers to teens, when they crossed the U.S. border last spring seeking asylum.

More than 2,000 families were separated under a policy, first implemented in April, that was intended to deter illegal immigration but instead sparked national protest when authorities began incarcerating the parents and detaining their children – some as young as infancy – in shelters. A judge in June ordered an end to the policy and the reunification of separated families. But hundreds of parents already had been deported or accepted voluntary removal.

How we’re helping

In the cases of the families Catholic Charities is helping here, they have been reunited and are working to achieve stability.

Catholic Charities is assisting them in several ways:

  • Basic needs: We link them to community resources, such as food, housing, and healthcare. With the new school year right around the corner, we are helping the families enroll their children in school, making sure they have the proper immunizations schools require and supplies needed for the classroom.
  • Immigration rights: We help educate them on their rights and responsibilities, emphasizing the need to comply with their Notice to Appear before immigration authorities.
  • Legal assistance: Several attorneys work with Catholic Charities to provide free legal assistance to immigrants on immigration matters. We also work to connect them with other legal representation as needed.
  • Mental health services: Family separation can traumatize both children and parents, so we are working to link families to therapy and other stabilizing mental health treatment to begin healing.

“These families were separated from each other for months, and they have nothing,” said Carmen Pagan, program director of Community Services in Ocean County (pictured, above right). “We are working to address their immediate, physical needs. But they may be more at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and other psychological impacts from the separation. This is especially concerning when it comes to children, because childhood trauma can have lifelong effects on a person’s mental and physical health. So the mental health component is especially important.”

Embracing strangers

Pope Francis has called on Catholics to treat immigrants and refugees with respect and generosity.

And Marlene Laó-Collins, Catholic Charities executive director (pictured, left), has echoed that call for compassion.

“This is the foundation of our Christian faith: We are one human family, and we are expected to respect the dignity of every person as part of that one human family,” Laó-Collins said. “Jesus and his family Mary and Joseph were immigrants. They went from land to land to escape King Herod. We are called to love strangers as we love ourselves, as we once were all strangers.”

Catholic Charities also this summer launched a “Welcoming the Stranger” drive to collect household items and other donations for refugee families. Details are here. The drive is not specifically for separated families, but is intended to help create safe and comfortable homes for new immigrants.

For help: Immigrants who need any assistance can call (732) 363-5322, ext. 3236 and speak with Giselle Gonzalez, who can connect them with services.

For more information, contact Dana DiFilippo, communications, at (609) 394-5181, ext. 1153.

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