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Panel discussion considers immigration from the local, national levels

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Nearly 90 parishioners and guests attended a panel discussion at St. Agnes Church in Arlington on immigration from the standpoint of Catholic social teaching and how the church is involved at a local, state and national level.

Panelists included: Father Frederick H. Edlefsen, pastor of St. Agnes Church; Ashley Feasley, director of policy, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Jeff Caruso, executive director, Virginia Catholic Conference; and Gregory McKinney, associate director of community engagement, Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services.

Father Edlefsen said the panel was an important way to highlight a timely issue. “Catholic social teaching begins with the person,” he said in an interview prior to the event. “A poor or refugee family is a vulnerable group of people and society is there to serve the common good.”

Covering it from a Catholic social teaching perspective, Father Edlefsen shared key principles, including common good, universal destination of goods, subsidiarity and solidarity.

Feasley continued by sharing three principles her organization tries to implement. “Everyone has a right to be free of persecution; ensure laws are just and humanely enforced; and the right to access due process and protection. We talk about policies in the abstract but need to remember the human consequences of those policies,” she said.

Caruso addressed immigration issues that the Virginia Catholic Conference anticipates the Virginia General Assembly may consider in 2019, including in-state tuition for DACA and Dreamers.

McKinney explained that his office works only with those from formal refugee programs or people who are approved for asylum. He said the numbers of Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan and Iraqi citizens who served the United States military have fallen. 

Jean Shirhall, the parish migrant and refugee outreach coordinator, said, “We feel the people who are newly arriving into the country deserve a helping hand. They have left family, homes, all their connections to come here because it is safe for them,” she said. “It must be overwhelming to arrive in a new country, not know anyone, not know where you are going to live. As Christians that’s what we are about — helping others.”

The parish did a weekend donation drive, collecting $3,500 in gift cards and additional money from the offertory collection. “With the cash we have been buying mattresses for the refugees’ apartments,” said Shirhall. “With remaining money, we are giving the money to MRS to help pay the fees to progress along to citizenship.”

“Like many of the issues in our society, the discussion is dominated by extremes and I wanted to hear another view to understand the Catholic perspective on this,” said parishioner Mike Barbero.

For Sally Diaz-Wells, social justice and outreach minister at Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Arlington, the panel discussion was an opportunity to learn more. “It is good to know what’s out there, how we can continue to help, and how other people are seeing and viewing how we are using our Catholic social teachings to help find better ideas.”

“This is what I do for a living. Learning and having a primer reinforces the work,” she said. “For me it was interesting because we have a large immigrant population we help with our food pantry and with financial assistance and clothing.” 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018