Cardinal Dolan recently visited volunteers working the phones at a local citizenship and immigration information hotline. True to form, he didn’t place on hold his appreciation as he affirmed them in their advocacy.
The cardinal, in his remarks, acknowledged the archdiocese and those fielding calls were closely aligned “in this extraordinarily noble work that you’re about today—namely, welcoming the immigrant.”
The annual Citizenship NOW! Hotline, launched by the New York Daily News and City University of New York (CUNY) to address the lack of access to free and confidential immigration information for people who need it most, operated April 25-29, with more than 400 trained volunteers available by telephone.
Since its inception in 2004, the springtime call-in program has provided more than 143,000 callers with information on immigration issues ranging from family petitions and residency to U.S. citizenship. According to organizers, the event has generated special interest during presidential election years.
The lines were open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. In addition to English and Spanish, services were available in a number of languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Korean, Polish, French, Italian, Bengali and Arabic.
The cardinal visited with the volunteers, who were supervised in their work by attorneys, in the early afternoon April 27 at CUNY Guttman Community College in Manhattan.
He expressed his gratitude to CUNY, the Daily News and numerous neighborhood and civic leaders for their “remarkable unity in promoting what is a cause so close to the American dream and to the Judeo-Christian ideal.”
When people ask the cardinal, “‘Why are you and the Church so pro-immigrant?’” his reply, he said, is “because I believe in the Bible, which teaches to love and welcome the immigrant, and because…I’m an American.”
“It’s part of my religious upbringing, and it’s part of my proud American patriotism,” Cardinal Dolan said, “that I have an obligation to welcome, embrace, defend and protect the immigrant.”
The cardinal then shared that one of the kindest compliments he and the Church received when he became archbishop of New York in 2009 came from the late Mayor Edward Koch. “He said, ‘When the immigrant arrived, there were two main women that met them: Lady Liberty and Mother Church.’”
The cardinal empathized with the hotline volunteers about what they were hearing on the other end of their phones: “Our immigrants have legal problems…financial problems…housing problems,” he said.
Their major problem, he added, is emotional. “They’re afraid. They’re scared. The day used to be that when the immigrant arrived on the docks they could shout out an ‘Alleluia.’ And now they arrive and have to hide.”
That the volunteers could create a climate of tenderness, warmth, welcome, dignity and respect in wanting to help them “means the world,” the cardinal explained.
“How many people are out there,” the cardinal said, “wondering, ‘Where can I go? Who can listen? Where will I be safe? Where will they respect my confidence? Where can I get some help?’”
“You’re doing it,” the cardinal said. “We’re doing it at Catholic Charities” of the archdiocese. “And all I can say is thank you…God bless your work. Not only your work is so valuable, the inspiration and example you give is a booster shot for all of us.”
Accompanying the cardinal was Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities. After the cardinal received a round of applause for his remarks, an organizer asked for a round of applause for Msgr. Sullivan for the work he and his colleagues do throughout the year on behalf of immigrants.
Among other leaders in attendance were Ambassador Sandra Fuentes-Berain, the Consul General of Mexico in New York; Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman and publisher of the Daily News; Arthur Browne, Daily News editorial page editor; Jaime Lucero, entrepreneur; Jay Hershenson, senior vice chancellor for university relations at CUNY; and Allan Wernick, director of CUNY Citizenship NOW!