Do Not Oppress a Foreigner

“Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt,” (Exodus 23:9).

“Migrants seeking a better life in other countries must not be viewed with suspicion but rather defended and protected, no matter their status,” Pope Francis.

“Freedom of mobility is a human right. Migrants have their rights; they do not lose them when cross a border,” (Article 13 Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

These past few weeks, we have been overwhelmed by the media showing us multiple disturbing pictures of families divided, parents deported, children left behind, immigrant toddlers ordered to appear in court alone, fathers heartbroken and mothers in tears. In the midst of those images we cannot ignore the psychological trauma endured by these families fleeing violence in their countries and enduring the arduous journey with smugglers and criminals preying on them as these families to try to survive together.

Last year, a Syrian-American medical organization announced that the severity of PTSD suffered by migrant Syrian children surpassed the clinical definition and should be renamed “human devastation syndrome.” Children crossing our borders and separated from their families may also be suffering this type of PTSD.

An annual report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released this past week estimates that there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. This includes individuals who are fleeing violence, persecution, conflict, and now climate change. The global number of refugees grew by a record 2.9 million in 2017.

However, we cannot ignore that those who cross borders bring both challenges and opportunities for their new host countries.

“The cliché that international migration is associated with economic ‘burden’ can be dispelled,” wrote the scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research, the University of Clermont-Auvergne and Paris-Nanterre University. The research analyzed data from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The research found that asylum seekers contributed most to a country’s gross domestic product after three to seven years in the country. They also lowered unemployment rates and had a near-zero impact on public finances.

Refugees’ Impact on the US

“The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, A Return to First Principles: How Refugees Help to Define, Strengthen, and Revitalize the United States” was released June 20, 2018, the 18th anniversary of World Refugee Day.

The report looked at the 1.1 million refugees who arrived in the U.S. between 1987 and 2016 via the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Most of the refugees considered in the report moved quickly to self-sufficiency through gainful employment, English proficiency, and the attainment of college degrees and/or vocational training. The report stated that USRAP “has saved countless lives, put millions of impoverished persons on a path to work, self-sufficiency, and integration, and advanced U.S. standing in the world.”

It described some of their achievements and contributions, including:

  • 68 percent participate in the labor force (compared to 63 percent of the overall U.S. population);
  • 67 percent have naturalized;
  • 40 percent are married to U.S. citizens;
  • 10 percent are self-employed and have created jobs;
  • They achieved a median household income of $43,000.

The report was conceived and commissioned by Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of Migration and Refugee Services. It was released at a symposium hosted by the Georgetown University Human Rights Institute in Washington, D.C. To read the full report, click here.

Hostility Fuels the Migrant Crisis in the US

Anti-migrant attitudes have little to do with migrants themselves. The crisis is rooted in the factors of: trust, social disengagement, and political disaffection. To solve any crisis, a good place to start is to consider the factors in the crisis and experience those factors to come to understanding of the others’ reality. An excellent example of trying to understand and diffuse hostility occurred last week in the Catholic community of St. Ignatius, a Jesuit Parish in Baltimore, that organized a refugee camp simulation.

Speechless. Devastated. Moved. These were some of the feelings parishioners expressed after leaving Camp Peace, the Refugee Camp Simulation hosted by the Immigration Subcommittee on June 24. About 60 individuals and families participated. It included stations of the various aspects of life in a refugee camp: entry process, shelter, water, food, health services, and education. There was also a Detention Center Station, to which parishioners were diverted with little explanation which many refugees experience when they arrive in a new country and on a detention camp.

22.5 Million Refugees Live in Refugee Camps Around the World

Over 65 million people in the world are currently displaced, and 22.5 million of these are refugees in other countries, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. While some are relocated to new countries such as the United States, many must wait in various countries for long periods of time, expanding over decades and sometimes years, as I myself saw in Lebanon and Jordan.

Instead of the recommended 37 sq. ft. of space per person when camps become crowed, families of 4 sometimes live in spaces as cramped as 80 sq. ft. total. This means that they generally sleep sitting up, as there is not enough space for all family members to lie down on the blankets that are provided. Most camps are unable to provide the necessary 20 liters (5 gallons) of water per individual per day and refugees must carry this water themselves from the source to their dwellings in large buckets. These 5 gallons are used for consumption, cooking, cleaning and hygiene. By comparison, the average American uses approximately 300 gallons of water per day.

The migration of peoples is a reality that continues to grow and the challenges of migration are increasing. In order to respond to this globalization and to the magnitude of this phenomenon, it is essential to plan  responses that promote and show respect, charity, hospitality and generosity towards the most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.

We must do more for migrants

“We are encouraged by the national outcry railing against the cruel splintering of families at the border. The president recently ended the practice, but there is no system or even governmental will to reunite these traumatized families. Furthermore, the dehumanization of people who are seeking safety continues. Our country has a long history of vicious disregard for family bonds–let us not be seduced by a ‘lesser evil,’ a ‘solution’ that is better than what was happening but that remains immoral. Let us demand more; we have an opportunity to move from a callous history of colonialism and individualism to a new vision of whom we can be as a country. Making room for, and welcoming with grace, those who need a safe place may impact our comfortable spaces, but it is what we must do, what we are called to do, not just as Christians, but simply as human beings,” (“Philadelphia Inquirer editor” – Sunday  July 1, 2018).

We can DO more day by day

  • Be choosing 2 or 3 credible sources to follow regularly to deepen your understanding of the changing realities of migrants and refugees;
  • By raising awareness of refugee and migrant realities both in the US and the world and sharing those through your use of social media;
  • By calling legislators’ offices and voicing your support for policies that change the situation of migrants and refugees in a positive way;
  • By taking action to defend the rights of refugees when we see those rights violated e.g. separating families;
  • By using a model like the Jesuit Catholic community in Baltimore to educate persons into the realities of migrants and refugees;

By joining in prayer as we contemplate the call of Jesus today to welcome the foreigner, “for just as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for Me,” (Matthew 25: 40).

Multiple Problems at the Border

These past weeks, you may have seen or heard horrifying stories: children missing and feared to be in the hands of traffickers, families separated at the border, and death of 19-year-old Guatemalan woman at the hands of border patrol. All are depressing situations and I have been shocked by each of these cruel realities.

However, it seems that there has been some confusion about these situations, especially of the disappearance of children. These situations are not connected. Rather, the missing children mostly came to the U.S. alone in 2017. They were put into custody of the Office of Refugees and Resettlement (ORR) and were then released to sponsors. Until recently, ORR has been unable to contact a significant number of these children by way of their sponsors.

Another compelling but separate issue is that of the separations of children from their families at the border. These parents often are unable to find their child again and may be deported by the time the child’s advocate locates the parents.

While migration and trafficking are inherently related topics, claiming that immigration restrictions are a necessary means to end trafficking is a false pretense and connection. In reality, limiting immigration policies can actually fuel the exploitation and marginalization at the basis of the global trafficking problem, creating a culture that is harmful to identifying and protecting victims of human trafficking. Ending trafficking requires and approach that prioritizes the human rights of migrants facing exploitation rather than simply “cracking down on illegal migration.”

Flippin’ (Pancakes) for a Cause

The Daughters of Charity at St. Louise House in Albany, NY have been raising funds to assist building a safe house for trafficked women in the area. The first event fundraiser was a pancake breakfast and 50/50 drawing.

This collaborative project began as the sisters listened to the personal dream of their invited speaker, Debbie Fowler. Debbie spoke of her years in Kuwait where her husband was on a work assignment. It was in that desert country that she learned of maids who had been lured there from their native countries. They had gone to obtain employment but quickly had their papers taken away, finding themselves working for little or no pay and being beaten and sexually assaulted. After volunteering in a shelter for these women, Debbie returned to New York and, upon further research, learned of the great number of women being trafficked just in the United States. That is when she decided to take action.

Debbie was brought to us to speak after meeting Linda Rivard, activities coordinator for the Albany campus of Daughters of Charity, during their time as volunteers at Her Treasure Box, a creative arts thrift store. The thrift store provides “creative arts with a purpose–to provide hope and healing” for women survivors of human trafficking.

I follow the anti-trafficking effort via our local Coalition to End Human Trafficking, which is made up mostly of faith-based and religious here in the Albany area. We are in support of both Her Treasure Box and Eyes Wide Open, another local start up. We are beginning to partner with the Homeland Security arm, The Blue Campaign, and other state agencies for the purpose of education via leafletting at public events and other options yet to be developed.

Written by Sister Faith Colligan, D.C.

Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2018

Recently, I attended the Ecumenical Advocacy Days 2018 which focused on the uprootedness of our world and the needs of our brothers and sisters who are migrants, refugees, or displaced people.

As people of faith, we can do more. We believe God is with Dreamers, the migrants, and the outcasts. We believe He calls us to create places of sanctuary to offer hospitality to the stranger and to welcome all, regardless of their faith, race, gender, or nationality. We believe he calls us to break down the dividing walls that separate us.

During these days, the emphasis was placed on analyzing current policy and envisioning ways to more fully and justly respond to the global and local needs of displaced communities. Through prayer, worship, advocacy training, and networking, we prepared and analyzed policy changes that advance hope and overcome the devastating impacts of conflict, climate change, and corruption of God’s people. We learned, through worship and theological reflection, how to strengthen our Christian voice and mobilize for advocacy on a wide array of domestic and international policy issues.

The interactive plenary sessions and workshops addressed specific issues on a global scale, including focuses on Africa, Asia-Pacific, Domestic US, Eco-Justice, Global Economic Justice, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Peace and Global Security. The conference includes a Lobby Day conversation with members of Congress and the Senate, during which we were placed in advocate groups based on geographic location. The legislative act around which this conversation was held was carefully prepared by policy experts to help us to articulate solid policy rooted in our common Christian social justice traditions.

Federal Government Seizes Backpage

By now, you’ve probably heard that, on April 6, the federal government has seized and disabled Backpage.com and affiliated websites. This is a huge step forward as the nation recognizes sexual exploitation as intolerable; however, there is still much work to be done.

Over the past several years, Backpage and other websites have posted an online environment where it is as easy to purchase a human being for sex as it is to order a pizza. Buyers will no longer be able to easily access such websites and the rates of exploitation of vulnerable people will sharply decline.

“Backpage has earned hundreds of millions of dollars from facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking, placing profits over the well-being and safety of the many thousands of women and children who were victimized by its practices,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth A. Strange. “It is appropriate that Backpage is now facing criminal charges in Arizona, where the company was founded, and I applaud the tremendous efforts of the agents who contributed to last Friday’s enforcement action and who assisted in obtaining the indictment in this case. Some of the internal emails and company documents described in the indictment are shocking in their callousness.”

Currently, Backpage is the world’s second largest classified advertising website. It is valued at more than $500 million and is operating in 97 countries and 943 locations worldwide.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), Backpage is involved in 73% of the suspected child trafficking reports it receives from the public. In the words of Massachusetts Attorney General, Maura Healey, “the vast majority of prosecutions for sex trafficking now involve online advertising, and most of those advertisements appear on Backpage.”

Last year, the NCMEC reported an 846& increased from 2010-2015 in reports of suspected child sex trafficking which they surmised to be “directly correlated to the increased use of the internet to sell children for sex,” said Amy Zimmerman in the Daily Beast.

I applaud those who have helped in any way to accomplishing this feat! This is one giant leap forward in the fight against modern day slavery!

Survivors Are Victims

Human trafficking survivors are just that–survivors. They were, and still are, victims. They should be treated as such. Rather, a lot of times, our justice system treats them as criminals. They are thrown in jail for their roles as “prostitutes” even though it wasn’t a life they chose for themselves.

Even children are treated this way. They are called “child prostitutes” and judged for selling their bodies at pre-pubecent ages. There is no such thing as a child prostitute.

Rather than treating these victims as criminals, we need to treat them as the survivors that they are. How? Here are some tips for treating human trafficking survivors.

  • Provide support and encourage self-sufficiency for survivors. Many survivors don’t have training to hold a job. Giving them access to vocational training and other longterm support is vital to their future success.
  • Focus on the individual and use a trauma-informed approach. It’s important to remember the trauma they’ve experienced in order to avoid re-traumatization.
  • Utilize their experience. Survivors are the only ones with true firsthand experience. They are experts on the topic of human trafficking and their knowledge should be put to use to help others. Survivors also deserve to be compensated for this expertise and their confidentiality should be respected.
  • Don’t force them to do anything. Self-sufficiency should be encouraged and forcing a survivor to participate in activities or programs takes that freedom away.

You can read more tips on treatment of survivors here.