How the L.A. archdiocese is supporting separated immigrant families

Archbishop Jos H Gomez at the second annual Immigration Summit at Christ Cathedral Feb 27 2016 Courtesy of the LA Archdiocese CNA 2 29 16 Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles at an immigration summit at Christ Cathedral, Feb. 27, 2016. Courtesy of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Through Guadalupe Radio the Archdiocese of Los Angeles raised more than $90,000 last month to help reunited separated immigrant families in southern California.

"It was Archbishop [Jose] Gomez's vision to have us be the leaders in treating immigration not as a political topic, but that it was important for the human dignity of people, first and foremost," said Isaac Cuevas, the archdiocese's director of immigration affairs.

A two-day campaign was held on Guadalupe Radio at the end of August, raising $92,000 in support of humanitarian efforts by Catholic Charities. Then, Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles approved a virtual collection plate for the same efforts, which went into effect this week.

Cuevas told CNA that the money will be used to help families with a three-month transitional process and legal fees.

The families were affected by the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy: immigrants found illegally crossing the border would be held in a federal jail until they go before a federal judge, who must determine whether immigrants will receive prison sentences for crossing the border illegally.

This shift lead to family separation, because children cannot be held legally in a federal jail for more than 20 days per the 1997 Flores Settlement. These children were placed in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services while their parents' cases were processed.

Cuevas said he received a call in August by the USCCB stating that 20 reunited families would be coming to the Los Angeles. He said these people came to the city with "literally nothing."

"These families were arriving in the city - some didn't have any connections, some did have connections but they were arriving with zero resources," he said.

The radio fundraiser was a small miracle, he said, noting the money raised far exceeded the original goal. The diocese first sought to support 20 reunited families, but raised enough money to support 56 families throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

"I consider it a small miracle that even though we were modest with our $30,000-50,000 goal with the radio efforts alone we reached $92,000 in two days."

Cuevas said the money would be used to help the families with basic necessities, including food, clothing, and school supplies. While the families find places to live and the children get placed in schools, the funds will also contribute to mental health services and proposals for self-sufficiency.

The other part of the project will aid Esperanza Legal Services, a legal non-profit underneath Catholic Charities. According to Angelus News, the money will be used to hire more legal staff for Esperanza to serve these families.

Angelus reported that a majority of the families are still undergoing deportation proceedings and require attorneys to fight their cases, which may allow them to apply for asylum status.

Cuevas gave CNA an example of one of the families the agency has been able to help - a mother and her two sons, ages 15 and 7. He said that after their detention, the eldest expressed doubts that he would see his mother again and the youngest still struggles with separation issues.

"They assumed that the two boys would be kept together, even though they were being separated from their mom. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case and the three of them were separated individually. The eldest talks about … [that] he believed he would never get to see his mom again because he saw her go be taken away in handcuffs," he said.

"The three were reunited. [But,] the youngest has a really hard time of even being away from his mom, like just having her be in another room makes him panic."

Cuevas said the immigration system in United States is broken and needs to be addressed. He added that immigration policy needs to be seen foremost as a responsibility toward vulnerable persons.

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"Before you get into the politics of any topic, it's identifying with the necessities from a humanistic standpoint. The topic of immigration is exactly that – it's people in need," he said.

"As the Church, obviously, we believe in the country and the responsibility for us to protect its borders, but we also believe that people deserve human dignity. And that is where we would push and remind people to start with that first."

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