by Bill McCarthy 

“The love of one’s country is a natural thing. But why should love stop at the border?” Pablo Casals

The foundation of everything we do at Catholic Charities is the belief that every person has an inherent dignity worthy of our respect, care and concern. Our mission and values compel us to meet the needs of vulnerable people, regardless of their external circumstances – and this includes their immigration status. Our work with newcomers to the United States is nothing new for Catholic Charities.

Throughout the 19th century, the work of Catholic Charities involved caring for orphaned immigrant children. And for the last 50 years, we have been providing comprehensive services to immigrants. At the Esperanza Center, located in the heart of a largely Latino immigrant neighborhood in Fells Point, our dedicated staff and volunteers offer English as a Second Language, computer literacy and citizenship classes; medical and dental care in our Health Clinic; Immigration Legal Services; and information and referrals to immigrants and refugees of all ages throughout the State of Maryland.

As you have undoubtedly read, we are facing a humanitarian crisis in the United States, as more than 60,000 unaccompanied children and youth have fled Central America, traveled through Mexico and arrived at the southern border of our country. Most of these youth are coming from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras in an effort to escape dangerous situations and in hopes of reuniting with family members already in the U.S.  Some of them have found their way to Maryland and are waiting for their immigration status to be determined by the courts. Since last August, the Esperanza Center has facilitated the reunification of more than 450 minor children with family members or other qualified sponsors in Maryland. Additionally, these children and sponsors have come to the Esperanza Center for legal consultation services, health care services, case management services and other assistance. The number of children and/or family members seeking assistance has grown from 15 per month last year to approximately 100 per month currently.

When the federal government recently requested proposals from providers who could assist with providing temporary shelter care and support to these youth, many of whom have experienced significant trauma back home and in their travels from their countries of origin to the U.S, I am proud to say we responded. Because we have both expertise in providing services to immigrants and the capacity to provide residential and other services to children, we applied for a federal grant that would help us care for about 50 children at a time at our St. Vincent’s Villa Campus on Dulaney Valley Road in Timonium. This site has long been used to provide residential care for children with special needs.

When we make decisions about new programs at Catholic Charities, our first considerations are always whether the proposed service or program is aligned with our mission and values and whether we are meeting a need that is otherwise unmet or not fully met. In this sense, our decision to respond in the face of this most recent humanitarian crisis was not a difficult one.