Remaining committed to helping refugees

At Catholic Charities, our mission to help those in need is carried out through a wide variety of programs that provide assistance to people of all ages, of all faiths, of all walks of life. One such program is our refugee resettlement program, offering new and future citizens support during the arduous process of obtaining legal clearance to migrate to the United States, and upon arrival, further assistance in adjusting to their new homes and becoming active participants in their new communities.

We at Catholic Charities expected to welcome three refugee families to the United States this February, but all three arrivals were immediately canceled on Jan. 27 when President Trump issued an executive order that blocked all refugees from entry into the United States. Because federal courts have issued and upheld a temporary restraining order on the President's decree, the arrival of two of the three arriving families were able to be rescheduled.

The third, a Congolese family, is still waiting.

As a result of the still ongoing Congolese Civil War, the M. family was forced to flee from their home in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the relative safety of refugee camps in Burundi back in 2002. The family received refugee designation from the United Nations in 2003, and in October 2014, they were finally able to begin the vetting process to be designated as refugees by the U.S. Department of State.

Having passed all the required security and medical requirements, the Congolese family received official designation from the U.S. government as refugees in October 2016 -- a full two years after that process began.

Because the older children in the family are now adults, their refugee cases were separated from the rest of their family's case. While that further complicated matters, our refugee resettlement program will also able to assist the adult children of the family once they have received clearance for their entry to the United States. The mother and her four younger children were to arrive together at a yet-to-be-determined date, while the three older children were to arrive separately in Boston for resettlement by Catholic Charities in late February.

Over the course of these nearly 15 years of waiting, the M. family has endured many hardships. Life in the refugee camps, while better than living in the midst of civil war, is challenging at best. Food is rationed, housing is primitive and dangers abound. Women living in the camps are often victims of violence of many kinds -- G. the eldest daughter -- was injured by shrapnel from an exploding grenade.

In the wake of the controversial ban, which opponents have said not only unnecessarily complicates immigration to the U.S. but also unfairly targets Muslims, Cardinal Seán O'Malley has been very active in voicing support for refugees and bringing together both government officials and Muslim community leaders to address the many concerns that have arisen in our communities.

It was extremely disheartening to see so many people in need be targeted en masse and turned away. We wholeheartedly stand with Cardinal O'Malley who wrote on his blog: "The Catholic voice in the immigration debate calls for reform based on reason, compassion and mercy for those fleeing violence and persecution."

As always, we will continue our work with our community, including our refugee resettlement program. And we will continue to advocate for sensible, compassionate immigration reform that will allow us to carry out our mission to its fullest extent.

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- Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.