These past few weeks have been hard for all of us; for some more than others. For undocumented immigrants (just like most other vulnerable communities), the crises related to COVID-19 keep coming, but the possibilities for solutions are scarce.
I work for Catholic Charities in a program that provides education, assistance, and referrals for immigrants who usually cannot find help elsewhere because they lack a Social Security Number. Generally, I get calls from families who have knocked on many doors and our program is their last hope. I used to be able to help them get assistance by overcoming the roadblocks that they encounter. However, during the age of Covid-19, funding for these families’ needs is limited, while the need is ever-growing.
Now I get several calls a day from families desperate to get money for basic needs, especially rent, utilities, and car payments. Although I am not always able to pay their bills, I have found that I can still resort to faith and human connection to uplift my clients. I have learned that finding someone to listen is half of the battle. Just being able to speak in their language and feel free to express their deepest needs helps them remember they matter.
I can give them some referrals and gift cards for food, but many times all we can do is leave their issues in God’s hands. After sharing very personal details and sometimes tears, we end the conversation with a “God bless you” and the promise that I will be there for them if they need it.
One of the things I admire the most about Catholicism is its Social Teaching, founded on the belief that all human beings have inherent dignity. Sister Norma Pimentel, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, describes her work with migrants as restoring the human dignity of those who have been mistreated and experienced trauma. I seek to recognize and uphold that dignity in every interaction with the families that call my office. However, I know that Catholicism is not alone in this belief.
Because of my interfaith experiences, I have been able to recognize that other religions and denominations also hold the dignity of all humans sacred, and I can see examples of this in their COVID-19 relief efforts; organizations like World Relief, Islamic Circle of North America, IL Muslim Civic Coalition, Syrian Community Network, and other Sikh, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish religious communities are taking care of immigrant families from all backgrounds, countries, and religions. They do this through fundraisers, online workshops, mental health services, interfaith food pantries, and many more.
It uplifts me every day to know that I can count on my Catholic and interfaith communities to give families the best service possible. Whether I can give immigrant families direct assistance, or only referrals to fulfill their needs, my conversations with them have shown me that for all of us, being treated with dignity, respect, and human connection are as necessary as food, rent, or utilities. And that’s the least I can do for them.
Laura is an Immigrant Support Program Coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Joilet. She works to educate immigrant families on their rights and help them find the resources they need.