Catholic Charities USA has taken on a major role in helping the federal government find temporary housing for the droves of Central Americans illegally crossing the border into the United States.
And it’s also helping finance the operation.
A woman at Catholic Charities headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, told WND Friday that nobody on the group’s staff was available to talk about the border crisis outreach program because they were “all out on travel,” including the charity’s media relations officer.
“Everyone’s on travel down to the border and she is down there as well,” the woman said. “They’re going in shifts. And many of the diocesan people (from the local Catholic diocese) are down there as well.”
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities USA is making a plea for people to donate money to the cause of helping the thousands of children who continue to stream across the border.
“If you are calling to make a donation to our humanitarian immigration appeal, please press one,” said a recording of a male voice with a Spanish accent in a call to the charity’s main line in Alexandria on Friday.
Catholic Charities USA also posted the plea for donations on its website Friday, saying it was responding to a humanitarian crisis at the border “with respect, care and compassion.” The group has been working to provide aid to border crossers since June at a facility in McAllen, Texas, but it’s not clear how long it has been raising money for the aid program.
Victor Brabele, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Arizona, said he could not comment on whether the Catholic Church or any other church groups were working with the government to place illegal immigrants in temporary shelters.
But NBC4 News in Los Angeles reported Thursday that St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Fontana, California, was receiving daily busloads of illegal immigrants and housing them in a former convent that is not even zoned for overnight stays. The report opens with concerns about whether the church’s helping hand for the illegals “is even legal.”
John Andrews, communications director for the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino, told WND that the diocese is working directly with the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily house the illegal immigrants. A DHS busload of 46 Central American women and children arrived Thursday. They are being housed in a former convent until they can be transported to various communities around the U.S., mostly by Greyhound bus.
Andrews said the church was told by the government to expect a new busload of illegal immigrants every 72 hours. He said the initiative grew out of a meeting last week with a representative of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I guess I would say they contacted us. We were wondering, we wanted to be involved in helping the people who were coming but didn’t have any specific information on how it would go,” he told WND. “We were actually looking at just going to the Greyhound bus station and helping them there. But we were able to have a meeting with a representative of ICE last week, and so then out of that meeting came this idea that we would find some transition centers for the folks who are coming. Really the main thrust of it is to help them make contact with their family member and get hooked up with public transportation to get them there.”
Andrews said most of the immigrants are being sent out of state, to cities throughout the Midwest and along the Eastern Seaboard. “There was only one family yesterday that was even staying in California,” he said.
He said the church is only receiving groups of young people with at least one parent. Unaccompanied children are being bussed to another Catholic church in Ventura County north of Los Angeles.
He said St. Joseph’s is the only church in the San Bernardino diocese that is participating at this time.
Andrews said neither St. Joseph’s nor the arch diocese is getting reimbursed by the government for any expenses, whether it be for food, clothing or bus fares.
“We didn’t ask to get reimbursed,” he said.
And what would the church members say to those who might question their actions in light of America’s problem with illegal immigration?
“I would say that we’re called to do this by our Catholic faith, which says that we should come to the aid of the stranger, to the migrant. We see the humanity of these people, the fact that they’re in trouble and need help and we see that as being more important than the public policy side,” Andrews said. “They are here and they need our help. There’s lots of good places in the Scriptures where you find that message, and we’re following it. The good Samaritan was one. It doesn’t matter if that person lying on the side of the road has his documentation. You still have to help.”
The U.S. Catholic Bishops declined to comment Friday with respect to the work being performed by the church at the southern border, referring all questions to Catholic Charities USA, whose designated spokeswoman did not respond.
The Catholic Church has long been a supporter of amnesty proposals in the United States. The Catholic Bishops lay out their position on immigration here.
A woman by the name of “Ann” called into the Rush Limbaugh show on July 8 and said she is a Catholic who lives in the San Bernardino area. She said her priest was “ordered” to take in the illegal immigrants by the bishop over the arch diocese of San Bernardino.
“They have made the decision that they’re going to absorb the immigrants that are coming through because the federal government called the bishop’s office on Monday and they’re gonna be busing these immigrants to our communities and asking us to open our homes and to house them for up to a month,” the woman said. “The church will reimburse us for any out-of-pocket expenses and we were told not to talk to anybody about it, especially the media. I’m not especially happy about it.”
Brabele said Border Patrol’s job is to apprehend and process the illegals, and then have them turned over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which runs a child welfare agency called the Administration for Children and Families.
“We do not work directly with the Catholic Church,” Brabele said. “That would be HHS. Obviously we’re apprehending these children and we’re processing them and then turning them over to ICE and ICE then works directly with HHS for placement. But as far as Catholic Services, HHS is responsible for working with NGO groups like that.”
HHS referred all questions on the issue of working with church groups to Kenneth Wolfe, whose calls were being screening Friday. A call screener, who would only identify herself as “Pat,” told WND that Wolf was “deluged” with inquiries and could only respond by email.
“It has been constant yesterday and today but he is the one with expertise on this,” said Pat. “It gets intense and it gets very, very hectic. We are doing the best that we can.”
WND emailed Wolfe asking what cities and states the children were being transported to and what church groups were helping with the operation. Wolfe responded with a list of links to government websites giving general information about HHS’s “undocumented and unaccompanied children” program but did not answer any of the questions.
Some members of Congress are also worried about the lack of information being released on the young immigrants who are transported to various American cities. The concern is that some may have gang affiliations.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, sent letters on July 10 to the U.S. ambassadors to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras requesting information that would document whether or not those embassies had conducted criminal background checks on the 429 Central American children who recently were transported to Chicago. Kirk said in a statement July 10 that he was not even notified before the illegals showed up in his state.
“I just learned that 429 unaccompanied minors from the Mexican border crisis are now in Chicago and currently in Health and Human Services custody, but our State Department is unable to confirm if any of these individuals has a criminal record or background,” Kirk said. “If any of these individuals has a criminal record in their home country, our government owes it to the American people to facilitate a sharing of records and reassure our nation that these individuals pose no threat.”
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-California, represents the city of Murrieta in Riverside County, where citizen groups have blocked DHS busloads carrying illegals into their community.
Calvert has also complained of not being notified by DHS that the illegal immigrants would be transported into his district. He learned of the plan only when his staff called local Border Patrol agents.
“Instead of solving the immigration problems along our border in Texas, President Obama has decided to spread that problem into communities in my congressional district and throughout Southern California,” Calvert said in a statement.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, traveled to the Texas border in late June to assess the situation.
“Some of them are the cutest little kids you could ever see, you just want to pick them up and hug them,” he told Watchdog.org.
“Then there are kids who are 15, 16, 17, you don’t know for sure. They could be over 20, but they don’t have any ID and you just have to take their word for it.”
Gohmert said he talked to two women who said the fathers of their children were in North Carolina with good jobs and that they wanted to go there.
“Not only did they think they could come and get to stay, they had heard that the U.S. government would transport the children to wherever the parents were,” Gohmert said. “What’s going to happen is that they will be provided with health care, anything to meet their needs, and food stamps.”
Numbers USA, a group advocating for lower immigration numbers in the U.S., launched a petition drive Friday to ask Congress to deny the relocation of illegal immigrants within their districts.
“Ask Congress to Fight Plans to House Illegal Aliens Across the Country,” the site’s headline said, followed by a form that could be filled out and sent to members of Congress. The group asks each petition signer send the form to three members of Congress.
“Please do not allow the federal government to house illegal aliens in our state,” the form letter say. “The Obama administration is responsible for the influx at the border and should not be forcing our state to deal with the consequences.”