Two fathers and two sons from Guatemala and Honduras were able to stay together July 10-12 at a Catholic Charities agency in the Bronx through a family reunification program.
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of the archdiocese, said in a CNY interview July 13 that he had mixed emotions about the situation. “There is a lot of frustration and, I admit, anger, at this unnecessary separating of children from their parents. And then an incredible amount of hope and warmth that even in this darkness we can respond with compassion to extend a welcome when it’s needed.”
He was gratified that the Church, through Catholic Charities, “was able to meet what I would call an out-of-the-box need, to not respond like a rigid bureaucracy, but as a caring, professional response to two families that needed us to be there for them last Tuesday night.”
Approached by the federal government to assist the weekend before, “We said we will do what we can because we’ve been doing this for a long time and, if families need something and we can provide it, we’d be very happy to provide it,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
On July 10, Msgr. Sullivan said Catholic Charities learned that two families, two fathers and their 4-year-old sons, were being reunited but had no place to stay.
Anticipating a need, one of the agencies in the Bronx prepared. “The staff there worked incredibly hard Monday, putting a place in shape that could be a place where some families could temporarily live.”
On Tuesday afternoon, when they were reunited, Catholic Charities’ legal services staff and a caseworker met the families at a Lutheran Social Services agency in Morningside Heights and brought them to the Bronx.
Msgr. Sullivan and Talia Lockspeiser, associate executive director of Catholic Charities, welcomed Javier and son William, and Adan and son Juan, upon their arrival at the Catholic Charities agency in the Bronx.
The rooms where they were going to stay “were sparkling,” Msgr. Sullivan said, and the staff made sure there were toys for the boys so “they felt at home.”
The staff also prepared a dining room for the fathers and their sons, complete with a family-style dinner that included chicken, rice and beans, mangoes and salad.
“One of the most heart-warming parts of the whole thing was that Talia lent both parents her cellphone so they could call” family, Msgr. Sullivan said. The calls included personal interaction through FaceTime.
The fathers and sons stayed Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and then they were given a ride to the airport by a Catholic Charities social worker to meet up with family in Louisiana and Kansas. “The reality is, that’s where they were heading before they were detained and picked up,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
In recent months, about 3,000 children have been separated from their undocumented parents. An estimated 350 have been brought to childcare institutions in the New York area. About 15 of those under age 5 were reportedly in the New York metropolitan area and staying at nine different agencies, including some Catholic Charities agencies.
Challenges for reunification on a broad scale remain, Msgr. Sullivan believes.
“The families who came here, they basically said, ‘We’re applying for safe haven, asylum, in the United States because the situation of violence where we’re coming from is such that we are not safe, our families are not safe.’”
What is needed, Msgr. Sullivan said, is a plan to review and hear those cases in a timely fashion “to make sure that we judge the credibility, the legitimacy of the claim, so that people understand their status as quickly as possible.”
Immigration reform is needed for the system to operate in “a better way” overall, he said. “The Catholic Church, Catholic Charities, is in favor of secure borders; we’re not in favor of illegal immigration,” Msgr. Sullivan said.
“But we also think we need a generous and fair legal immigration policy, and when there are people in the country without the right documents, we need to come up with a way to remedy that situation so we don’t have a permanent situation of those without the right documents. We need a way that people can earn their right documents, so that they don’t remain in the shadows.”
Asked how the faithful of the archdiocese can assist with the cause, Msgr. Sullivan said, “They should just basically share their experience about how New York thrives because of the vitality, the industriousness of so many immigrants. And that story needs to be told across the nation.
“I do think for the most part, New Yorkers understand that, that we are an immigrant city, we are an immigrant metropolitan area.”