By Gregory Kepferle
CEO, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County and President, Charities Housing Development Corporation
As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, it is helpful to ask, “Why come to America today?”
Every day at Catholic Charities we find ourselves in conversations with people who have come to America from other parts of the world. Some are seniors, some are children, others are young adults or parents. When asked why they came to America, our guests do not say they came for our health care services, which are still too expensive, still do not cover everyone, are currently under threat of being cut and don’t have the best results compared to other countries. Nor do they say they come because of our welfare benefits for which most immigrants are ineligible anyway and which have been slashed in the past twenty-five years leaving more than a million Americans to live on $2 a day, the global definition of extreme poverty. Maybe they come for the amorphous “American Dream”, our “way of life” but which in the Bay Area leaves people working two and three jobs, living two and three families to an apartment to afford the rent, or commuting two hours each way to a job that even with wage increases barely pays a living wage. Our guests are not the tech engineers seeking economic opportunity but rather the refugee families and refugee orphans fleeing war and political oppression or laborers fleeing economic oppression or the effects of climate change on crops.
Our guests come to America to reunite with their families, to find safety and freedom from oppression, to find a new home and a sense of belonging, and yes for the economic freedom promised by the American Dream. “If I work hard, play by the rules, then at least my children can have an education and a better life.” And now it is even more urgent for these families who seek to get right with the law and hold strong family values to find a path to citizenship. For even legal permanent residents are feeling scared in the current anti-immigrant climate. Their best security is to become citizens with the full protection of the law. Many who fled dictatorships and failed states and corrupt law enforcement and military in their home countries, just want a place where their family can feel safe and welcomed regardless of their religious or political belief, regardless of their national origin or race or ethnicity. Then they can thrive and fully participate as productive engaged citizens in these great United States of America.
At Catholic Charities, it is our privilege to walk the journey toward citizenship with these courageous men and women, old and young from around the world who still see America as that shining beacon on a hill.
I invite you to help us welcome newcomers to America through Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement Program, Refugee Foster Care, and Immigration Legal Services citizenship classes. Go to www.CatholicCharitiesSCC.org for more information.