Migrants awake at sunrise near a baseball field after crossing the Rio Grande into La Joya, Texas, March 19. Dallas Catholic Charities is aiding up to 3,000 migrant teenagers housed at a convention centre. CNS photo/Adrees Latif, Reuters

Catholics, faith agencies aid migrant teens

By  Constanza Morales and Michael Gresham, Catholic News Service
  • March 27, 2021

DALLAS -- Dallas Catholics were quick to step up after federal officials announced that a downtown Dallas facility would house up to 3,000 migrant teenagers.

The Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center opened up March 15 to house unaccompanied migrant teens in U.S. custody, with the first few hundred arriving March 17. The convention centre will be used for up to 75 days, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press that was sent March 15 to members of the Dallas City Council.

As the unaccompanied migrant teens began to arrive — many of them fleeing violence from Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala — Catholic Charities Dallas answered the call to assist with the process.

“For Catholic Charities, we are here to help all in need and there is no question that these kids are in need — and we’re here to help,” said Dave Woodyard, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Dallas.

He said Catholic Charities’ efforts will focus on finding and screening volunteers to assist at the convention centre.

“Our service is really to channel volunteers to the site to help give aid, comfort and nurturing to the kids,” said Woodyard.

Federal agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services will run operations at the site, but “they do need us to communicate with the kids, help them feel calm and, hopefully, help provide them a little bit of safety and well-being.”

Catholic Charities is hoping to recruit 200 to 300 Spanish-speaking volunteers to deal with the surge in unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border who must now wait for a court date to determine their immigration status.

Dallas Bishop Edward J. Burns praised Catholic Charities for helping those in need.

“I am so grateful to our Catholic Charities Dallas for their lead role in co-ordinating all of the volunteers who will comfort and aid these young people who have come in search of a better life,” Burns said.

“In the Gospel, Christ asks us to welcome the stranger, so we are called to welcome the immigrants we encounter. As people of faith, we are compelled to offer comfort, aid and understanding to those who survived a perilous journey to come here.”

Burns said that while every country has a right to protect its borders, every person has a right to a better life.

“We cannot forget that Jesus, Mary and Joseph were immigrants when they fled Bethlehem and entered into Egypt in order to escape the murderous threats of King Herod,” he said. “Someone had to have welcomed and received the Holy Family. Now, we receive the immigrant person as we would receive Christ Himself.”

Woodyard said, not unsurprisingly, that so far the call for volunteers has been met with tremendous response.

“We live in a very giving community — that’s all there is to it. We are proud to be a part of a community that will do all in our power to keep kids from suffering,” said Woodyard, adding that as of March 18 they had about 180 volunteers, but stressed more likely would be needed.

In addition to Catholic Charities Dallas, other nonprofits, churches and interfaith groups have reached out to offer support, including the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugees Services and Dallas Area Interfaith.

Josephine Lopez-Paul, lead organizer for the interfaith group, said volunteers from several parishes in Dallas who have received training as community leaders from Dallas Area Interfaith will be essential volunteers, helping interview young people, making contact with their families inside the U.S. and knowing relevant details of each case.

“Parish leaders are vital in this situation,” Lopez-Paul said. “These are people who have followed a prior training process, who speak the native language of the teens arriving and have in order the documentation required by the Diocese of Dallas in relation to safe environment policies.”

In addition to the Catholic Church, Lopez-Paul said she is working with the Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Jewish and Presbyterian churches, whose leaders also have received training from Dallas Area Interfaith in the past.

“This is a co-ordinated effort for the good of a community that has experienced many difficulties and deserves respect and help,” Lopez-Paul said.

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