A world of good: Part 6 - welcoming the stranger
Administrations change, policies shift, and immigration and refugee services offered by Catholic Charities Fort Worth adapt to the protocols of the day.
However, the imperative to welcome the stranger is constant.
Xergio Chacin, director of Immigration Services and dental clinic at CCFW, said, “The Bible is explicit about our responsibility to immigrants, time after time [Scripture references] the orphan, the widow, and the stranger.”
Shalaina Abioye, CCFW’s director of refugee services, added, “We’re all human beings and we should respect that human dignity. Jesus was a refugee — I think people forget about that.”
CCFW provides legal assistance with immigration to individuals who are eligible to apply for immigration benefits.
Immigration services is a self-supporting department, funded by client fees. Chacin noted no one is denied services if he is unable to pay, however.
The staff of nine serves about 4,000 clients in an average year. Services begin with a consultation to determine if the immigrant is legally qualified to apply for immigration benefits, and if so, help the client prepare and file his application and provide administrative legal representation.
Chacin, a fully accredited immigration representative, said the organization focuses on keeping families together, along with humanitarian relief.
According to Chacin, immigration services at CCFW are robust yet affordable. He quipped, “We don’t have a fancy office. Bring your own Coke.”
If CCFW did not offer these services, immigrants would navigate the complex system on their own, use a different nonprofit with limited services, pay expensive fees at a private firm, or fall victim to predatory practitioners.
A special class of immigrants are refugees, who flee their country because of persecution, war, or violence. Refugees complete an extensive background check and then are invited by the U.S. government to resettle here, following an annual admissions cap set by the White House.
Refugee services at CCFW also assist special immigrant visa holders, such as the Afghans who served as interpreters, security officers, and drivers for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Abioye said, “We’re grateful that our government did the right thing, because these individuals risked their lives for our military. Evacuating them … was the right thing to do, and I’m glad that there are agencies here like Catholic Charities in Fort Worth that are ready to step in and help them rebuild their lives.”
Last year, the nonprofit helped 101 refugees, who achieved a 100 percent employment rate. This year, the agency is on pace to help resettle about 300.
Abioye described the 38-member refugee services department as compassionate and empathetic, especially when a refugee is reunited with a spouse, a sibling, or a child. She especially remembers a Somalian child separated from his mother at the age of three and reunited last year, after 13 years apart.
Immigration policy is a political minefield, and Chacin, who has worked in immigration almost 20 years, doesn’t claim to have an ideal solution. A completely open or completely closed border is impossible and unsustainable, he said, leaving it “insanely difficult” to determine who may enter.
However, he does have some suggestions based on his experience. First, he said, be aware of the facts: that 99 percent of immigrants just want to work and provide for their families, that collectively they contribute more than they take from the economy, and that immigrants are ineligible for public benefits.
Second, he recommended we remember, “We need to be Christians before we are proud Americans…. We have a higher standard, a higher calling.”