Service to immigrant children doesn’t make Fort Worth a “sanctuary city”

The term sanctuary city is used by some to label municipalities that have policies or practices that somehow protect illegal immigrants, whether through restraints on law enforcement in checking a person’s citizenship status or being home to agencies that provide social services to undocumented families.

At the opening of the 2011 state legislative session, Gov. Rick Perry proclaimed, “We must abolish sanctuary cities.” Although he declared that he was making the issue an emergency item, the bill designed to prevent cities from prohibiting officers from checking the immigration status based solely on the officers’ suspicions failed in the Legislature.

The matter didn’t come up much in last year’s session, but “sanctuary cities” is a major theme — used pejoratively — of several candidates running for office this year.

To some of them, Fort Worth is a sanctuary city, partly because of work done by agencies like Catholic Charities which has long aided immigrants and their families in need of housing, food and a friend in a foreign land.

Regardless of one’s position on illegal immigration and comprehensive immigration reform, it would be difficult to object to a program offered by Catholic Charities Fort Worth which was highlighted in a front-page Sunday Star-Telegram article by Diane Smith.

“A Safe Stop on a Perilous Journey” told of the work the organization does for unaccompanied children, many from Central America, who come to this country. Some are looking for relatives who left their native land earlier to seek better opportunities, some older ones have come looking for work so they can help support their families back home, and there are those who’ve come to escape the widespread violence of their countries.

Catholic Charities Fort Worth is one of the places the U.S. Border Patrol sends youngsters, typically between ages 5 and 14, where they can be housed, fed and educated while attempts are made to locate their relatives in this country or as they await decisions by immigration authorities.

Smith reported that last year the Border Patrol encountered 8,068 undocumented and unaccompanied children from Guatemala, up from 1,115 in 2009. There were 5,990 from El Salvador and 6,747 from Honduras.

Mexico accounts for the most illegal children entering the United States (17,240 in 2013), but because that country borders the U.S., the kids are usually sent back to Mexican authorities or sheltered close to the border, Smith reported.

The Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, through partnerships with 58 agencies in 13 states, places the children in safe environments. Catholic Charities Fort Worth is one of those safe places, and has served about 100 immigrant children since June.

Does that make Fort Worth a sanctuary city?

No, it makes this city home to an organization whose mission for more than 100 years has been to “provide service for those in need, to advocate compassion and justice in the structures of society, and to call all people of goodwill to do the same.”

Catholic Charities Fort Worth has more than 40 programs that serve needy people in the Fort Worth Diocese’s 28-county area. It touches more than 110,000 individuals and families a year.

It has long been one of the strong pillars of our community, and its service to immigrant children is just one example of what makes it, and Fort Worth, special.