Until we arrive at comprehensive immigration reform, we will continue to experience a crisis at the border. Thousands of people are fleeing from their home countries to seek refuge in the United States, and face a lot of complications once they arrive. Lives are at stake.
We wanted to hear a first-hand account of what’s really going on at the border and how we can help, so we spoke with Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania. He participated in a convoy of Catholic bishops that visited the US-Mexico border in 2018 to show their support for immigrants and to witness volunteers who are working to help people there.
He had great suggestions for how we can make a difference in the lives of vulnerable people seeking refuge. Here are five ways you can help immigrants right now:
The most direct way you can help people crossing the border is to actually go to the place of crisis and serve them in person. Bishop shared the story of a young man who recently finished his master’s degree and went to the border to volunteer for a week before starting a new job.
Many people have been inspired by the work of Sister Norma Pimentel, MJ and have traveled there to volunteer with Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “She is our Mother Teresa,” shares Bishop Bambera on Sister Norma and her work with immigrants at the border.
“There are always those individuals who will be willing to go the extra mile, literally, and travel to the borders to work with Sister Norma or others like her. That’s a good thing,” he says. “Be that presence of Jesus in our world and on the peripheries, as Pope Francis says.”
If you can’t get to the border to welcome immigrants in their first few days in the United States, there are still plenty of opportunities to support new immigrants in your local community.
“We are blessed with a new wave of immigrants in our country who are contributing to the richness and beauty of the United States, just like my grandparents did a hundred years ago,” shares Bishop Bambera. “I encourage young people to participate in opportunities to volunteer with new immigrants who are coming into the regions where they live.”
If you’re interested in working with immigrants, Catholic Volunteer Network’s volunteering opportunities feature both short- and long-term possibilities. Here are five lessons to keep in mind from someone who took the step to serve as a mentor to refugees in her hometown.
Making a difference person-to-person is an important part of living out the Catholic faith, but so too is civil participation. Catholics are also called to be the voice of the voiceless and challenge leaders to govern in a way that upholds the rights and inherent dignity of all people.
“Certainly, we need immigration reform,” says Bishop Bambera. “Write your members of Congress and let your voice be heard! We have the right to do that, thank God, in this country.”
There are many websites that can help you identify and contact your elected officials, from your mayor to the President. Justice for Immigrants was organized by the Catholic bishops of the U.S. to help people advocate and take action when legislation and policies are being debated by our elected leaders.
Open your heart
Before we can make change happen in society, we have to make change happen within ourselves. We may support immigration reform in theory, but are we ready to put that into practice by how we live each day?
A great way to start is to follow Share the Journey posts from Catholic outlets (#sharejourney), or to follow those outlets themselves. Incorporate into your feed posts from Caritas or Catholic Relief Services or Catholic Charities and you’ll find images and experiences from the marginalized, especially migrants and refugees, populating your imagination.
“Above all, simply recognize the richness of our world, our Church, and our society with new immigrants in our midst and treat them with the respect that we all deserve as children of God,” Bishop Bambera says. “That goes a long way in making a difference in our world for good.”
Change starts in the hearts of people who care.
If you’re feeling inspired to be generous, Sister Norma’s group does have a GoFundMe page where people can contribute to the development of a humanitarian respite center. Donating to the campaign supports the work of thousands of volunteers at the border. To have an even more immediate impact, check out their Amazon wish list and have needed goods shipped directly there.
Every little bit counts as we work to build a better world. As Bishop Bambera reminds us, “There’s a lot of things that we can do where we are.”