Welcoming the stranger

Two months ago I wrote in this space about our refugee resettlement program and our commitment to service for those in need regardless of their faith. Today I am pleased to discuss Catholic Charities' partnership with Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

In late March, Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) announced the launch of the CJP Legal Aid Fund for Immigrants, which will help us at Catholic Charities in meeting the growing demand for legal assistance to those in the Greater Boston area facing immigration-related legal challenges.

"As Jews, and as immigrants and the children of immigrants, we have a responsibility to help preserve the rights of those who have come to America to create a better life for themselves and their families," said Barry Shrage, CJP's president. "We believe this is a critical time for our two prominent faith communities to demonstrate that we can stand and work together to assist immigrant families and individuals who are in urgent need of our help."

Our unique interfaith initiative began to take shape in the aftermath of the election and executive orders, said Shrage "there was a lot of anxiety and a feeling that we needed to do something."

When he learned that the CJP funded Jewish affiliates that provide social services to immigrants sent their clients who needed legal help to Catholic Charities, Shrage suggested to the CJP board that they raise money in support on Catholic Charities' Legal Immigration Clinic.

The Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Clinic has been providing service to the community for nearly four decades. Its goal is to provide excellent affordable legal services to people of all faiths in our community and in particular provides support for immigrant women who have been victims of domestic violence, as well as children who have been subjected to abuse. In addition, a large part of this work is devoted to family reunification.

Since the executive order was announced on Jan. 27, demand at Catholic Charities' legal clinic has at least tripled. The Monday following the announcement, the week's eight to 10 available appointments for new clients filled up within the first five or 10 minutes of the phones being open. Sadly, the panic in the community is huge. We are hearing from many mothers and children reluctant to turn to law enforcement authorities, fearing they might arrest or deport them, or separate their families. Even people who hold green cards are afraid that those aren't good enough to keep them safe.

Our Immigration Legal clinic is currently staffed by six lawyers, some of whom are part-time. If CJP is able to raise $500,000, we will be able to expand that number to allow us to serve an additional 3,000 people over the course of a four-year period -- about the length of time it takes a client to wind his or her way through the pathway to legal citizenship. The gift from CJP will also allow us to offer many more "Know Your Rights" sessions across the region, as we work to help people understand their legal rights.

We are grateful to CJP for their extraordinary support and this special opportunity to bridge our religious communities as we work together to "welcome the stranger."

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