Immigrants and Sojourners

Ever since our ejection from the Garden of Eden where our earliest parents lived in the paradisiacal state for which our Creator had created us, we have been migrating “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Peter 2:11) making our way back – with God’s help – to full restoration in divine grace. Migration and its concomitant challenges are realities to which all of us, certainly those who claim lineage to Abraham, should be able to relate. Scripture, after all, chronicles the travails of our journey from the Fall to the coming of the Kingdom. These challenges of migration are evidenced in many ways: in material deprivation, abuse of personal dignity or lack of freedom. More and more they seem to manifest themselves in that self-imprisonment where desire for security and comfort becomes our jailor. Perhaps the greatest challenge, though, is the paralysis of indifference.

Those of us whose personal journey is frustrated by indifference will find a powerful antidote in Brooklyn.

Immigration services address issues such as political asylum, family reunification, domestic violence, human trafficking and legal status. Employment related services have to do with workplace exploitation of the immigrant communities, for example: employers’ non-payment of wages, employers’ failure to pay minimum wage and workplace safety violations.

In 1971 the Diocese of Brooklyn established its Catholic Migration Office (CMO). This was the first diocesan agency in the United States specifically dedicated to serving the needs of immigrants. Open to people of all faiths, CMO serves thousands of immigrants each year. Since its inception it has helped families from over 160 countries who, collectively, speak more than 80 languages. (One would be hard pressed to come up with a more compelling example of the meaning of ‘catholic’.)

In addition to its pastoral work, the Catholic Migration Office (www.dioceseofbrooklyn.org) offers an array of programs and services. These include legal aid in the critical areas of immigration, employment and housing related matters.

Immigration services address issues such as political asylum, family reunification, domestic violence, human trafficking and legal status. Employment related services have to do with workplace exploitation of the immigrant communities, for example: employers’ non-payment of wages, employers’ failure to pay minimum wage and workplace safety violations.

With regard to housing related matters, CMO in recent years and in collaboration with lawyers and community organizers has been able to launch its Immigrant Tenant Advocacy Project where the rights of immigrant tenants are defended against the abusive practices of unscrupulous landlords. These infractions of housing codes are brought to the attention of CMO by local pastors and religious orders associated with the Diocese. They concern grossly substandard housing conditions, illegal rent overcharges, harassment and illegal eviction.

Typically immigrant families do not have the means, the time or the confidence to pursue on their own legal redress to secure rights which, under the law, are already theirs. Besides working full time – at jobs unacceptable to many non-immigrants – to support their families in the States more often than not these families also send funds to support impoverished relatives in their home countries.

Anyone who witnesses both the vicissitudes faced by the men, women and children who come to this country under these circumstance and the caring response of Brooklyn’s Catholic Migration Office cannot help but experience a stirring of compassion. Perhaps this same stirring will be the catalyst that prompts the indifferent among us to get on with our own journeys. What choice irony is here: the plight of immigrants stirring the lethargy of sojourners. Such is the advance to the Kingdom.

Please follow and like us: