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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

St. Joe’s group helps resettled refugees

Data courtesy of the City of Philadelphia

Philadelphia-area efforts continue despite federal pullback

The university’s Refugee & Immigrant Working Group (RIWG) is working to find ways to support new refugees in the Greater Philadelphia area after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia scaled back its own efforts.

The working group, comprised of St. Joe’s staff, faculty and students, previously operated within the Refugee Resettlement Program, which was run by Philadelphia’s branch of Catholic Social Services. The program, which ended in late December af- ter mandated cuts by the U.S. Department of State/Bureau of Population Refugees and Migrants, was responsible for helping 84 people resettle since 2015, mostly from African and Asian countries.

“It has very little to do with the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops or the arch- diocese and a lot to do with decisions be- ing made at the federal level,” said Bethany Welsh, co-chair of the Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees, which is made up of individuals from Catholic institutions in the Philadelphia region who support resettlement efforts.

For the last three years, RIWG has organized on- and off-campus events, in- cluding guest speakers, panel discussions, call-your-representative efforts, airport greetings for newly arrived refugee families and a vigil for immigrant families held at the Berks County Detention Center.

“[RIWG] didn’t really have a budget or infrastructure, so we were using [the Refugee Resettlement Program’s] infrastructure as a way of funneling our donations, energy and enthusiasm on this campus,” said Catherine Collins, a reference librarian for the Francis A. Drexel Library and an organizer of RIWG.

Despite changes in the archdiocese, St. Joe’s will continue working with Catholic Social Services and other refugee-related agencies, according to Beth Ford-McNamee, assistant director of Campus Ministry and another organizer of RIWG.

“SJU is committed to our partnership with Catholic Social Services in their ef- forts to support refugee families who have already resettled in the Philadelphia area,” McNamee said. “We also work with Jesuit Refugee Service, Catholic Relief Services, other community partners and faculty, staff and student organizations to educate our campus, pray, support and advocate for refugees and immigrants locally, nationally and globally.”

Mary Kate McNaught ’20, who interns with Aquinas Center, an organization that works with and provides services for the immigrant and refugee population of South Philadelphia, said the presence of RIWG on campus helps remind the university of its moral duty to protect and promote the well-being of every person and family.

“A person can’t be illegal,” McNaught said. “Safety is a human right. It makes me proud to be a part of this university. It’s not just about St. Joe’s campus, it’s about the Philadelphia community beyond that.”

Collins said although she and others were shocked and disappointed by the news of the elimination of the archdiocese’s program, she was relieved that the archdiocese will continue to support families already resettled in Philadelphia as well as those families who are currently approved for resettlement but have not yet arrived.

“It also opens up an opportunity for small efforts like what we do here to really reach out to some of these other communities that are doing resettlement,” Collins said. “We are going to start looking at what’s being done in the New Jersey area, what’s being done in other areas. There are also two resettlement programs remaining in Philadelphia, and we can work through them as well.”

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