Catholic Sisters Lead Call for Congress to Invest in Welcoming Communities  

For Immediate Release: September 13, 2023 

WASHINGTON – With the House of Representatives set to vote on a Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill that would shut down the border to people seeking asylum and reinforce militarization along the borderlands, Catholic Sisters from across the U.S. joined with NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and the #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign on Capitol Hill on September 13 to call on Congress to invest in welcoming communities and move away from the path of militarization that causes so much harm both at the U.S.-Mexico border and in communities across the U.S. 

At a media event across from the Russell Senate Office Building, coalition partners called on Congress to ensure that the Shelter and Services Program (SSP) is fully funded at $800 million in FY24, for the equitable and transparent distribution of funding across border and interior organizations, and for funding to be made available as a grant or contract, not exclusively as a reimbursement. Three members of Congress spoke at the event: Rep. Luis Correa (CA-46); Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), and Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28). 

“”Instead of embracing our rich immigrant heritage, too many politicians have used our immigrant communities as political pawns by fearmongering and peddling harmful, dangerous, political rhetoric. And the human cost is immense,” said Rep. Chu in her remarks.

“Every city and state… should get the help from the federal government they need to help provide for these folks and treat them like people,” said Rep. Castro. “I think our basic responsibility as elected officials is to treat people like human beings, not livestock.”

“One human being suffering around the world is one human being too much,” said Rep. Correa, who also cited the leadership and vision of Pope Francis.

Ronnate Asirwatham, NETWORK Government Relations Director, decried increased militarization in response to people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, noting, “In Arizona people are being arrested for leaving water out in the desert; in Florida people are afraid to take their neighbors to the doctor lest they be arrested; and in Texas people seeking safety are pushed back, and Texans who want to provide them with water and safety are barred from doing so.” 

Juanita Cabrera Lopez, Executive Director, International Mayan League, reflected on her own experience leaving Guatemala decades ago. 

“I know the terror, the hunger and the vulnerability that one faces when they are forced to flee,” she said, noting that even today Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have the highest rates of forced migration, with Black, Brown, and Indigenous people disproportionately impacted. 

NETWORK presented a letter signed by over 7,000 Catholics – 3,300 of them Sisters – from all 50 states, calling on Congress to fund the SSP. Sr. Eilis McCulloh, HM, Sr. Alicia Zapata, RSM, and Sr. Karen Burke, CSJ, blessed the sign-on letter before going on lobby visits to Members of Congress to deliver the letter. 

“Abundant life does not end at our borders. It does not stop with improper documents and waiting in line simply for a chance at a different life. Abundant life is God’s hope for all of us. And we will continue to respond to that call,” said McCulloh, who serves as NETWORK Education and Organizing Specialist. 

Sr. Susan Wilcox, a Sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, N.Y., shared her account of preparing and serving meals to welcome migrant people who’d been bussed to New York City from Texas, and how such work would benefit from funding under the SSP. 

“It could continue in a sustainable way with a little help. It wouldn’t take much to fund a professional delivery service to fill the gaps when a volunteer isn’t available such as we have experienced this summer,” she noted. “New Yorkers across the state have proven they do want to welcome immigrants and provide for those in need in our communities. We want to work with our non-profit service providers and with government; we just need a little help.” 

“We are all connected. As a universal human family, when one part suffers, the whole body suffers,” said Mary J. Novak, NETWORK Executive Director. “Some Members of Congress may think this is just some little program that does not really matter. But when funding to this program is cut, we feel it. It is hurtful. Because the whole body suffers.” 

“Even with the most meager of investments, the Shelter and Services Program has grown to become a lifeline for those doing the work of welcome over the past four years,” said Danilo Zak, Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy for Church World Service. “It has led to more humane, orderly, and cost-effective processing at the border. It has helped our new neighbors to find steady ground, to connect with sponsors and services for which they are eligible, to begin to integrate and thrive in their new communities. It has lifted a financial burden off of localities responding to increasing arrivals.” 

“We must reject the anti-immigrant narratives filling our airwaves, and policies that seek to deny or punish families and people for exercising their legal right to seek asylum. Across the United States, there has been a heartwarming outpouring of support for people seeking asylum,” said Melina Roche, Campaign Manager, #WelcomeWithDignity Campaign. “It’s time for the President and Congress to embrace America’s welcoming spirit by adopting just, fair, and humane solutions. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.  Communities thrive when you invest in people.” 

“Attempts to shut down the border or even punish those seeking protection will never stop those who are making the wrenching decision to leave their homes and seek safety in another country,” said Katharina Obser, director of the Migrant Rights and Justice program at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “Rather than respond with misguided attempts at deterrence, Women’s Refugee Commission calls on Congress and the Administration to support humane and just border policies. Congress should invest in those organizations at the border and in the interior of the United States doing the critical work of welcoming and supporting those seeking asylum. Together, and with Congress’s support, the United States can finally welcome those seeking protection with dignity.”

“When Texas Governor Greg Abbott began busing asylum seekers to Washington DC in April 2022, the community turned this racist publicity stunt into an act of beautiful welcome,” said Amy Fischer, Core Organizer with Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid. “Washington DC joins communities across the country who are ready and willing to welcome people seeking safety into our communities, but we can’t do it alone. People seeking asylum make our communities richer and more vibrant, and Congress must urgently reject cruel attempts to close the border to those seeking safety, and instead invest in communities who are ready and willing to welcome people with dignity and open arms.”

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