Bishop pens letter to support Migrant Support Center

(Editor’s note: Bishop Joseph Kopacz used the recent developments surrounding DACA to call attention to the Catholic Charities’ Migrant Support Center. The following is an excerpt of a letter sent along with some case studies to supporters describing the work of the center.)
The Migrant Support Center is providing critical services to the immigrant and migrant populations who have pressing needs as recent arrivals, or as long standing residents. Now more than ever in an openly hostile and suspicious climate throughout our nation, this population requires the social services and legal expertise of our staff. The documented and undocumented immigrants often do not know their rights, and our team of two lawyers and interns work tirelessly to defend their causes in court, while at the same time providing education and information programs throughout our diocese. This is a formidable task, because the Catholic Diocese of Jackson is the largest east of the Mississippi River, a territory of 38,000 square miles. In addition, often they receive calls for other social services and the staff directs these clients to the appropriate programs.
I thank you for considering the request from our Migrant Support Center Staff to assist them in the work they do with vulnerable immigrant and migrant populations. May the living God continue to prosper the work you do on behalf of those in need.
When large numbers of unaccompanied immigrant children, primarily from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, sought refuge in the United States beginning in 2013, His Holiness, Pope Francis, said, “This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected.” At the Catholic Charities, Inc., Migrant Support Center, we take up the Holy Father’s call to arms.
It is our agency’s mission “to be a visible sign of Christ’s love by helping the vulnerable and those in need, especially children, women, and families.” At the Migrant Support Center, we defend migrants of all backgrounds, focusing on those central to our mission. These clients range from survivors of domestic violence working to build new lives for themselves and their families, to Venezuelan families fleeing persecution based on their political opinions, and to unaccompanied minors from Central America seeking safety in the United States from societal and family violence.
These unaccompanied children are our most vulnerable clients, as many have already suffered extensive harm in their home countries despite their tender age, and undertook the perilous journey from their home countries to the United States all alone. U.S. immigration law provides certain legal remedies to children who are fleeing persecution, or have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their parents; however, applying for these remedies involves several complicated steps, often while facing an Immigration Judge in adversarial court proceedings. Children who are unable to afford counsel or find free legal assistance must face these proceedings alone, meaning an almost certain return to the dangers from which they fled.
For such children in Mississippi, few legal resources exist, especially for children who are unable to pay the hefty legal fees for private attorneys, which can easily exceed $5,000. Therefore, the Migrant Support Center is working diligently to ensure that all unaccompanied Mississippi children in need have quality pro bono immigration representation, protecting their rights to due process and helping them create new lives of healing and freedom in the United States.
Such is the case of Julio, an indigenous Guatemalan teenager who fled his native country as an unaccompanied minor after his town’s mayor forcibly recruited him to take up arms against a foreign mining company that was excavating in his area. Of great importance was the fact that the Guatemalan government recruited foreign mining companies to excavate traditionally indigenous lands (such as Julio’s town), preventing indigenous communities from enjoying and cultivating the land and its resources, and deepening the historic rift between indigenous Guatemalans and the federal government.
During one skirmish, a miner slashed Julio’s arm with a machete, leaving him physically and emotionally scarred. Neither Julio nor his friends could seek help from the Guatemalan government, as federal troops provided support to the mining companies. With the assistance of Catholic Charities and our partners at the Immigration Clinic of Mississippi College School of Law, Julio now has asylum and is enjoying his new-found freedom in the United States.
The Migrant Support Center also represented four young Honduran siblings, the Garcias, who fled Honduras after being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused and later abandoned by their father. Migrant Support Center attorneys represented the children in state court proceedings to ensure they had appropriate protection in their new home, and secured Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and Lawful Permanent Residence (green cards) for the children on the basis of the trauma they suffered in Honduras. The children are now attending school, making friends, learning English, and receiving counseling services in their new home.
Through your generous support, the Migrant Support Center can ensure that all immigrant children in Mississippi receive the warm welcome and protection that Pope Francis requires. Your donation will not only ensure that Catholic Charities can continue representing unaccompanied children such as Julio and the Garcia children on a pro bono basis, but it will also assist Migrant Support Center attorneys in recruiting, training, and mentoring a strong network private practitioners to defend immigrant children as well.