Immigration crisis goes beyond the border; collaboration is key to help immigrants in need Immigration crisis goes beyond the border; collaboration is key to help immigrants in need

Immigration crisis goes beyond the border; collaboration is key to help immigrants in need


As Humphrey Bogart said in Casablanca, “this is the start of a beautiful friendship.” Leaders from Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton met yesterday with Jennifer Thompson, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) of New Jersey, to brainstorm ways the two social service nonprofits can collaborate to better serve people in need – especially the immigrant population.

As the immigration crisis worsens and continues to dominate the headlines, leaders of the two agencies agreed that much can be done, here in New Jersey, to help immigrants overcome their trauma and begin a new, thriving life here.

Beyond the border

“People think about the immigration crisis as a crisis at the border. They say: ‘oh, there’s this crisis at the border. We have to go there to help.’ But truly, that’s just the start of the crisis. The crisis then carries on into our communities, because these people are leaving the border, they’re being put on buses, and then they arrive in New Jersey (and other communities throughout the U.S.), where they face navigating complicated systems to get the support services they need,” Thompson said.

Helping people in crisis is the mission of both nonprofits, and serving immigrants in particular is a shared goal. Almost 25 percent of New Jersey’s nearly 9 million residents are foreign-born.

“There’s a great need within the immigrant population and the undocumented population for the types of services we provide, whether that’s family strengthening, trauma counseling, domestic violence, mental health, substance use,” said Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton Executive Director Marlene Laó-Collins (pictured, left). “It’s really important for us to be present, serve, and tell their story. And that’s a key part of educating our community – telling the immigrant story and the transformation that takes place when we meet their needs.”

A shared mission

Catholic Charities has many programs that serve immigrants, including El Centro and Familia Latina in Mercer County, and immigrant services (including ESL and citizenship classes and legal assistance) at Community Services in Ocean County, as well as many mental health, addiction and family strengthening services – including the Family Access Center, Family Growth Program, Mobile Response & Stabilization Services, and Partial Care – with bilingual staff.

The NASW-NJ, meanwhile, represents 23,000 licensed social workers in New Jersey who often work in immigrant communities. NASW-NJ also sent a team to the southern border in McAllen, Texas, in July – and plans a return trip in February to visit asylum-seekers being held in detention centers.

“There’s a lot of synergy in the work we do and ways we can partner together,” said Thompson (pictured, right).

Specifically, leaders talked about teaming up to make our collective voice louder in advocacy and legislative lobbying.

They also discussed ways to help social workers improve their skills to better serve people in need. For example, NASW-NJ is creating a speakers’ bureau to educate the public on immigration matters and other issues social workers encounter. The group also invited Catholic Charities staffers to take advantage of continuing education they offer. And NASW-NJ plans to pull together a social workers’ salary survey to encourage more competitive compensation.

Learn more

Learn more here about the NASW-NJ’s legislative priorities, including immigrants and refugees.

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