Catholic Charities of Oregon is committed to helping refugees rebuild their lives in their new homes. That commitment stems from a core Catholic teaching that every human being is created in the image of God and is, therefore, entitled to human dignity and respect. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “The Catholic Church views assisting those in need as a fundamental Christian duty that is derived directly from the life of mercy of Christ, who himself was an immigrant and a child of refugees. We as Christians
are called to welcome our new neighbors with the same love and compassion we would want ourselves to be shown.”
Catholic Social teaching calls for empathy, understanding, and justice and dignity for all, and that means “Welcoming the Stranger.” In the end, it is not “they,” the immigrant or refugee, because we are a nation of immigrants and refugees. We are “they.” We are all children of God.
As one of only three refugee resettlement agencies in Oregon, our resettlement work dates back to the 1940s. Since the 1980s, we have resettled more than 10,500 individuals. Our Refugee Services Program provides resettlement and case management services to individuals and families who are resettled in Oregon.
Refugees are forced to flee their home countries due to the fear of (or experienced) persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, and/or political opinion. Refugees do not voluntarily choose to migrate, but instead do so due to civil unrest or violence.
For better and worse, U.S. policy changes have affected refugees’ ability to find safety and freedom
Annually, the President authorizes the admission of a certain number of refugees into the U.S. After a rigorous and thorough application, screening, and vetting process, admitted refugees are assigned to an experienced resettlement agency in the U.S. prior to arrival in order to help ensure their welcome and successful integration. Federal policy changes over the last four years created a lack of infrastructure for refugee resettlement and stunted the growth of our Refugee Services Program, leaving our team at 50% less capacity than we were in 2017. Many other refugee resettlement programs across the country were similarly impacted.
With fewer refugee families arriving, Catholic Charities of Oregon adapted to help more established residents in new ways. Through our Refugee Services Employment Services Program (ESP), our agency connected individuals to higher paid jobs and served as a bridge to employers. Catholic Charities of Oregon also partnered with the two other refugee resettlement agencies in Oregon—Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and Lutheran Community Services Northwest—as well as Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), and Unite Oregon to work together on the Welcoming Refugees Bill, HB 2508, which was passed in 2019.
HB 2508 made Oregon one of the first states to adopt Extended Case Management (ECM) and enabled Catholic Charities of Oregon to implement this new and needed model. ECM provides refugees with case management services, such as employment services and supports to school aged children, for up to two years. Those supports have been even more necessary during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Newly arriving refugees are greeted at the airport and settled into their new homes. Soon thereafter, they partner with our case management staff to work toward establishing themselves in their new community. Case managers help refugees navigate critical systems, including health care, school, social services, and other resources. They also coordinate referrals to other service providers and community organizations. Case managers also provide psycho-social care to help clients navigate new cultural norms in the United States, process traumatic life experiences, and prepare for their new futures in Oregon.
More recently, the Biden Administration revised the U.S. annual refugee admissions cap to 62,500 for this fiscal year. As a result, we are rebuilding our Refugee Services Program team quickly to meet the rapidly increasing needs of newly arriving refugees by providing critical services and resources to help navigate health, education, housing, public safety, financial systems and so much more:
- Newly arriving refugees are greeted at the airport and settled into their new homes. Soon thereafter, they partner with our case management staff to work toward establishing themselves in their new community.
- Case managers help refugees navigate critical systems, including health care, school, social services, and other resources. They also coordinate referrals to other service providers and community organizations.
- Case managers also provide psycho-social care to help clients navigate new cultural norms in the United States, process traumatic life experiences, and prepare for their new futures in Oregon.
- We ensure that our refugee clients are properly resettled and connected to necessary services in Oregon, including health care, job training, English language instruction, and other public benefits. In fact, our refugee-specific Employment Services program ensures that over 80 percent of the families we welcome are employed within the first six months of their arrival.
Catholic Charities of Oregon responds with expanded services
We are ramping up our volunteer engagement program, hiring case managers, and planning to add more program support staff to the team. We are also partnering with property managers and owners to create easier access to housing, and we are restarting our in-person Cultural Orientation curriculum that focuses on ensuring new refugee arrivals are provided instruction on, and can demonstrate they can, navigate their daily lives in the U.S.
In addition, because of Catholic Charities of Oregon’s depth and breadth of wraparound services, our Refugee Services Program partners with our other Catholic Charities’ programs to provide refugees comprehensive support to meet their unique needs. That includes mental health and counseling, financial wellness, and immigration legal services to help families reunite through the immigration process.
Refugees bring immense contributions to the economy, diversity, and social fabric of our country, and we are excited that Oregon continues to remain a welcoming state. Thank you for your continued support in our mission to bring help and hope to those in greatest need.