The U.S. bishops' conference has long advocated for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, with an earned legalization program, along with "targeted, proportional, and humane" enforcement measures.
The conference has also called for a temporary worker program that responds to market needs and protects against abuses, as well as the restoration of due process protections for immigrants, an emphasis on family unification, and policy changes to address the deeper causes of immigration.
Examining and addressing the things that drive people to leave their homes in the first place are key parts of a comprehensive approach to immigration, O'Keefe said.
"What needs more focused attention is how to help countries in Central America, for example, to address problems of violence, gangs, and poverty in those countries, so people don't feel like they have to flee."
This work is part of Catholic Relief Services' focus as an international agency.
In El Salvador, where extreme gang violence has forced thousands to flee their homes, Catholic Relief Services runs a gang violence reduction program for young people. The agency works to help young people complete their education, get a job, and recognize that they have alternatives to joining a gang.
"We have 15,000 youth or so who have gone through that program successfully, and a very high retention rate in terms of education and jobs," O'Keefe said.
The agency also builds relationships with local companies in El Salvador, so that young people who complete the violence reduction program can find jobs. Sometimes there is a stigma against hiring former gang members, which can contribute to the problem, as ex-gang members who find themselves unemployed may be more likely to return to violent activity.
Catholic Relief Services certifies people who have completed their program, O'Keefe said. This increases their job prospects, boosting employer confidence and trust that they will be good employees.
In poor, rural areas of Honduras, the agency is working to implement a U.S. government-supported school feeding program.
The idea, O'Keefe said, is to build prospects for education in a poor part of the country by connecting families to educational institutions, so there is less incentive for them to leave.
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"The more children are connected to schools and education, the less likely they are to fall into trouble," he said.
"In Central America, one of the most climate-impacted parts of the world, we have done a lot of work with small farmers, particularly in the coffee sector," O'Keefe continued. Coffee tends to grow on hills and mountains, he explained, and as the climate has gotten warmer, farmers have to go to higher elevations to grow the crop.
Catholic Relief Services has helped the famers make that transition, O'Keefe said, whether it be a transition to different crops, farming techniques, or elevations. As a result, the people have avoided sinking further into poverty and in some cases are moving forward economically.
"That allows them to stay on their land and not feel like they have to migrate," he said.
For Catholics, thinking about migration should always emphasize the dignity of human person, O'Keefe said. He noted the Share the Journey campaign launched in response to Pope Francis' call a year ago for Catholics to unite in solidarity with migrants.
Over the past year, Catholic Relief Services has worked with the U.S. bishops' conference and Migration and Refugee Services, as well as dioceses and Catholic universities, to organize events and activities "that highlight the plight of migrants and refugees, and just help Catholics in the United States to deepen their own understanding of…why people flee, what that experience is like, and really to have an experience of encounter."