Indianapolis– When Mexico native Horacio Galvez Garcia shared the story of why he came to the United States, he spoke in an even tone. When he described his feelings of being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers, he shed no tears.
But when he spoke of the impact of those who accompanied him to court proceedings, sent him cards and letters of encouragement and reached out to help him through the legal morass, Garcia’s voice choked with emotion.
“Because of your help, I knew that I was not alone,” said the member of St. Philip Neri Parish in Indianapolis. “You are the hope of many people who have possibly lost hope.”
Garcia was addressing the nearly 30 priests, religious and lay Catholics from around central and southern Indiana gathered at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis on Jan. 29.
They were attending the kick-off event for the CARE (Catholic Accompaniment and Reflection Experience) program. CARE was developed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Office of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). The archdiocese was selected as the program’s second pilot site, where it will be managed as a joint project of the USCCB, the archdiocese and Faith in Indiana.
Upholding ‘dignity of undocumented immigrants’
The CARE program connects undocumented immigrants with Catholic volunteers wanting to accompany them as they adjust to life in America or interact with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The accompaniment model builds solidarity with affected communities,” said David Bethuram, executive director of the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities. “It builds bridges of understanding and mutual interest with other community stakeholders. It’s about building relationships to uphold the human dignity of undocumented immigrants, as Pope Francis has called us to do.”
In addition to helping keep families together and building community relationships, Bethuram said CARE will initiate advocacy efforts urging lawmakers to bring about change.
Accompaniment is not a new concept for the archdiocese. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson cited his and others’ joining Erika Fierro, a former member of St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis, to her DHS meetings as she faced deportation and separation from her two young children.
“So even though [CARE] wasn’t in place during her experience, it has those same components of accompaniment, solidarity, of lifting up her dignity, the component of keeping a family together,” he said. “I think it’s a great honor that the archdiocese is only the second one in the United States to be asked to pilot this program.”
An engaged, diverse, self-starting community
The first pilot site chosen for rolling out the program was the Archdiocese of San Francisco. The choice makes sense—according to a Pew Research Center analysis of a 2016 Census Bureau survey, nearly 21 percent of America’s undocumented immigration population live in California.
The same statistic in Indiana, however, is less than 1 percent. Given the figures, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis might seem an odd choice as the second pilot site for the CARE program.
Not to the USCCB team launching the program.
“We see a lot of attention on the coasts, but … you seem to have a very special community here in terms of engagement, a lot of different communities both Catholic and ecumenical,” explained Ashley Feasley, MRS director of policy
“This is a great community because it’s self-starting. We appreciate the diversity of the community and some of the local advocacy that’s begun here. You also have a great Catholic Charities framework,” she said, particularly commending the archdiocesan Catholic Charities’ Refugee and Immigrant Services.
“The fact that we’re not on a border and a lot of important things [related to immigration, migration and refugees] are happening here speaks volumes” of the need for the program, Archbishop Thompson said.
Feasley said one more pilot program will be initiated before CARE is rolled out nationwide.
Taking CARE from concept to action
Through a grant provided by the Sisters of the Holy Childhood of Jesus to the USCCB for the initiative, the archdiocese has hired Providence Sister Tracey Horan to spearhead CARE in central and southern Indiana.
Sister Tracey is a community organizer with Faith in Indiana and the archdiocese’s liaison for the USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants campaign. Her passion for justice earned her the 2017 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award from the USCCB’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development program.
According to the plan she outlined at the meeting, undocumented immigrants in need of CARE’s assistance will contact or be referred to her. She will pass the information on to a core team of bilingual “ambassadors” who will gather information from the person in need.
From there, an ambassador will reach out to a parish CARE liaison about the possibility of accompanying the individual.
“Ideally, a parish would have 10 committed people who would go through a training, and two co-chairs who are interfacing with the person reaching out for accompaniment,” Sister Tracey explained. “The hope is if you have a team of at least 10 people, including some that have some flexibility to their schedule, that you might be able to have a couple of people be with [the individual in need].”
To help form these teams, Sister Tracey is conducting trainings “that include what accompaniment looks like, what your rights are, what your role is,” she said. Trainings could be conducted at the parish, regional or archdiocesan level, and done on-site or remotely, depending on the number of people involved, she explained.
“Another option is to do a congregational forum … to foster conversation on the topic of accompaniment, that can bring in broader participation,” Sister Tracey added.
Gatherings will be held periodically for volunteers to “share what we are learning, what our experience has been, what some of the issue opportunities are we could coalesce around, how we can take our experiences and move toward advocacy, to go to our legislators with our experiences and what we’re hearing,” she said.
Seven parishes have already been involved in accompaniment work, Sister Tracey noted, and added that “members of the Unitarian Universalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Quaker, Jewish and Mennonite traditions have also been actively involved, which brings a real richness to the work.”
‘Not responding is not an answer’
During the meeting, participants had time to share their thoughts and experiences.
One woman from St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus noted the need for CARE based on the fear families live with. She shared how children in her parish’s school “talk openly about their emergency plan” if their parents are detained. “These kids are prepared with backpacks and know who to go to if mom and dad don’t come home,” she said.
As chaplain coordinator for Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis, Father Jeffrey Dufresne has also witnessed youths living with fear.
“You can see the impact the fear has on the kids,” said Father Dufresne, associate pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis.
He also noted that “fear is a big part of the equation for those who oppose immigrants and refugees.” He expressed hope that CARE would provide a way for people to “be instruments of God’s grace and root out this fear.”
Several Benedictine Sisters from Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove were present. Their prioress, Benedictine Sister Jennifer Mechtild Horner, noted that the sisters are “called to respond to the needs of our time. We’re called to receive all as Christ, so we’re trying to discern how to respond to this situation and meet all of those [undocumented immigrants] as Christ. … Not responding is not an answer.”
Archbishop Thompson is hopeful about the impact of CARE in the archdiocese.
“I think it brings fuller and more enriching exposure to our Catholic teachings on social justice to the community, and will bring to the community even more so the plight of immigrants and refugees,” he said.
He hopes the program will effect “transformation on all sides, for people to see the stranger as not an enemy but as a fellow human being, someone not to fear but to embrace.
“And I hope this effort will help the immigrant community see that there are people who do want to help them and embrace and walk with them.
“Hopefully it will touch people all the way around.”
(The next parish CARE training will take place at St. Monica Parish, 6131 N. Michigan Road, in Indianapolis, from 7-8:30 p.m. on March 13 and is open to the public. To register, contact Providence Sister Tracey Horan at 317-319-2540 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the archdiocesan CARE program, contact Sister Tracey as listed above. For more information on the national program, accompaniment and immigration reinforcement in the U.S., go to justiceforimmigrants.org and select “CARE Program.” Undocumented immigrants in need of accompaniment can call CARE’s emergency hotline at 317-759-9474 (Note: This number is not for rapid response needs, only accompaniment).) †