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Opinion: Immigrants and Today’s Faith Response

The presence of increasing numbers of immigrants is a challenge to the Fairfax County faith community commitments. The challenge is to be a faith community with open arms. Historically the churches in the United States have been immigrant churches. Who among us cannot trace one’s ancestors back to a country outside the U.S.? The church’s care and concern for countless European immigrants is well known. Today, we the faith community are called to welcome immigrants with similar hospitality.

The situation of immigrants is often desperate. Entering a culturally strange and different land, and struggling financially is as scary today as it ever was in the past. Perhaps it is even more so because of the quickened pace of American life. Those who are fortunate to connect with helpers are settled within a few years. Others remain in transition the rest of their lives as families struggle with complex adjustments. All face major problems in housing, employment, health care, legal assistance, and a difficult new language.

Immigrants frequently face the additional obstacle of cruel prejudice and racism. Non-immigrants often want to exclude them from the benefits of a free country, yet are eager to use cheap and reliable labor of immigrants. The immigrants and other refugees keep coming, not necessarily because they want to, but as one, fleeing from war and persecution, put it, because of “the persistent advantage of life over death.”

Presently, many Hispanics from Central America are located in Northern Virginia. About 65 percent are Salvadoran, 15 percent Honduran, and 10 percent each are Guatemalan and Nicaraguan. The faith community in Northern Virginia has not been unaware of the presence and plight of these immigrant refugees.

Nationally, for more than 65 years, Catholic Charities agencies have responded to the needs of people who come to this country in search of a better life. Thousands of refugees have been settled. Over 90 percent of Catholic resettlement services are provided through Catholic Charities, which is one of the keys to the future of migration ministry in the U.S. In Northern Virginia, one of the responses of the faith community has been through Hogar Immigrant Services, a program of Catholic Charities. Hogar assists immigrants in participating more fully in their everyday lives. Information referrals, legal information services, and educational opportunities are just some of the aids. The aim is to help the Northern Virginia immigrant population become knowledgeable, participating individuals in society.

Yet much remains to be done, especially in and by the faith community. What are the elements of this challenge?

  • Recognizing the contributions of the immigrants to the community;

  • Providing a greater voice to the immigrant community in decision-making within the community;

  • Supporting programs designed to improve the quality of life for newcomers;

  • Serving as advocates to create a favorable public opinion out of which good things can happen; and

  • Seeking to raise consciousness for solidarity with the poor and the stranger. Our response must be to acknowledge by word and action that the spirituality of the faith community and the spirituality of the immigrant communities are interdependent. Through love, kindness, service and advocacy for each other both stand to gain.