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Wed, Aug

State grant boosts joint ministry to asylum seekers

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COACHELLA—A joint effort of the Diocese, Catholic Charities and the Valley Missionary Program (VMP) to provide transitional assistance to Central American asylum seekers has received an important piece of stabilizing funding from the State of California, allowing the ministry to continue.

 Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in an Apr. 23 press release that he was allocating $521,000 from state Rapid Response Reserve Fund to Catholic Charities San Bernardino-Riverside for ongoing assistance to asylum seekers who are being transported to the Coachella Valley from El Centro and Blythe by the California Border Patrol. 

 Since late October 2018, “Operation Bienvenida,” as it is now named, has assisted more than 4,000 Central American people seeking asylum in the U.S. This ministry is to receive them, provide temporary food and sustenance, and help to arrange their travel to a destination in the U.S. where they will stay pending their asylum hearing.

 The Diocese, under the leadership of Deacon Luis Sanchez, has served as the coordinating agency for the ministry and the daily point of contact with federal immigration officials; Catholic Charities provides intake services and makes travel arrangements for asylum seekers; the Valley Missionary Program has offered its retreat facility for the program and provided the staffing to cook, clean and care for the asylum seekers during their stay.

 Father Guy Wilson, ST, Pastor of Our Lady of Soledad Parish, where the Valley Missionary Program is located, said the facility had nearly exhausted its staffing and funds to provide for the asylum seekers while still offering its monthly retreats.

 “We were probably a month away from not being able to continue with the ministry here due to lack of resources,” he said.

 The state grant funds, allocated to Catholic Charities because of its non-profit 501c3 status, will allow both Catholic Charities and the Valley Missionary Program to increase staffing to meet the needs of the ministry. It can also be used to help pay the cost of food, medical care, technology needs and utility costs of the VMP facility that have risen because of round-the-clock use for the ministry.

 In his Apr. 23 announcement, Gov. Newsom lauded the faith communities that have stepped forward to meet the great needs created by the humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

 “California is a state of refuge,” he said. “As the federal government demonizes legal asylum seekers, communities are coming together in California to assist those fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries. Our state sends deep appreciation to the faith leaders, nonprofit organizations and local officials who are organizing humanitarian efforts in communities across Southern California.”