Catholic Charities Hawai‘i President & CEO Issues Statement in Support of Refugees and Immigrants

Conversing-with-client-from-the-philippinesHONOLULU, HAWAII – Catholic Charities Hawai‘i is deeply committed to serving immigrants and refugees who come to the United States to start a new life for themselves and their families. In light of recent national activities, Terry Walsh, president and CEO of Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, offers the following perspective:

Where would we be as a country if not for its rich history of welcoming immigrants from all over the world?  Most of us would not even be here

My wife wasn't born in this country.  We have seven foster sons who are Sudanese refugees.  My mother-in-law is a Vietnamese immigrant.  My wife’s aunt is a Vietnamese refugee.  My great-great grandparents were immigrants from Ireland. This, in many ways, is a typical American family, made up of a quilt work of different languages, cultures and ethnicities.

In Hawai‘i, this is more evident than on the mainland. Hawai‘i’s population is the most diverse in the nation, 75 percent of which is comprised of a mixture of different ethnicities. These citizens are here in Hawai‘i today because their forbearers were immigrants. In Hawai‘i, diversity within the ‘ohana is the norm, not the exception.

I have had the unique opportunity to work with refugee and immigration programs for over 20 years and from many different perspectives as the Director of Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration programs in Newark, NJ, and Lansing and Grand Rapids, MI.  I was also a consultant for the United Nations Refugee agency (UNHCR) as a Child Welfare expert and I served as the Division Director for the Refugee Resettlement program for the Overseas Processing Entity in Ghana, where we interviewed refugees from West Africa before they came to the United States.

With this perspective, I can say with confidence that the vetting process for refugees coming into the U.S. is comprehensive and exhaustive, with refugees going through a score of interviews with several different agencies. The process is actually comprised of at least 20 independent steps with several rounds of background checks. Very few refugees make it all the way through the vetting process, with less than half of one percent of all of the world’s refugees eventually resettled in the U.S.

At Catholic Charities Hawai’i, we have a tradition of welcoming refugees and immigrants. Today our General Immigration Services program provides free citizenship classes, English as a Second Language classes and assistance in navigating the complicated maze of immigration forms and documentation. We employ the only U.S. Department of Justice recognized immigration counselors in the State of Hawai‘i.

Catholic Charities Hawai‘i will continue to advocate on behalf of all people, especially those with the greatest need, regardless of their faith or culture, and serve them with the greatest care and compassion.
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