BY MARY SOLBERG | FAITHLIFE
Joe Haas, executive director of Catholic Charities Counseling and Adoption Services (CCCAS) of the Diocese of Erie, challenges elected leaders “to do what is right, not what is politically expedient” in the face of uncertain U.S. immigration policies.
Two executive orders on immigration issued by President Donald Trump since January have been widely criticized at home and abroad, resulting in dozens of legal challenges. Meanwhile, the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program in Erie already has seen the effects of the travel restrictions.
In the fiscal year ending this coming September, the number of refugees arriving in Erie is expected to drop to 197, a decrease of nearly 40 percent from the previous year, according to Haas, who also serves as coordinator of the Charities resettlement program.
He expects to see his refugee resettlement staff permanently downsized by at least half as a result of the decrease.
The travel ban of refugees from several majority Muslim countries continues to be challenged in court. However, a 120-day freeze on all new refugee arrivals remains in effect.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which oversees Catholic Charities programs nationwide, has seen a number of refugee resettlement programs close due to lack of referrals.
“Our politicians are tasked with keeping us safe, being mindful of economic costs of service delivery, but also living up to the principles of who we are as a nation of immigrants,” Haas said.
In his position, Haas sees up-close the effect the executive orders have had on the lives of displaced people. On Feb. 22, he shared his viewpoint at an immigration vigil sponsored by the Benedictines for Peace outside the Federal Building in downtown Erie.
The vigil was one of many held throughout the country that week, calling for the U.S. to follow Pope Francis’ call to “build bridges” instead of walls. President Trump, after taking office in January, had issued his first executive order calling for the immediate construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
In his statement at the vigil, Haas said: “Religious leaders of all faiths have condemned this action, not based on politics, but based upon human dignity and living up to who we are as a country.”
Since its founding 40 years ago, CCCAS, an affiliate of Catholic Charities, has helped more than 3,000 people establish a new life in Erie, Haas said. These individuals were forced out of their homes across the globe due to war, persecution or natural disaster.
“Usually within less than a year, they [refugees] are entirely self-sufficient, productive members of our community,” he said.
Haas agrees that there is room to enhance and improve the system by which refugees are welcomed to the United States. Yet, he disagrees with the assertion that refugees do not undergo a vigorous review process.
“Every refugee entering the United States has undergone a thorough vetting process that lasts, on average, between 18 to 24 months,” Haas said.
Haas acknowledged the work of other organizations in Erie that have committed to helping the refugee community: the St. Benedict Education Center, the Sisters of St. Joseph Neighborhood Network, the International Institute, the Multicultural Resource Center, and the Erie School District.
He asked the larger community to pray for those refugees settled in Erie who are separated from family in other parts of the world.
“Help our elected officials to properly discern how to keep our country safe, but to also allow families and loved ones to be reunited,” he said.