MANHATTAN — It took four months for Jennifer to journey from her home in Venezuela to New York City to flee the economic and social turmoil in that troubled nation. The final leg was a bus trip up from the southern border with Mexico.
But the hardest part, the young woman said, was the rugged trek through Panama, where some children of fellow migrants disappeared forever in dense jungle; others died of illnesses.
“Es duro [it’s hard],” Jennifer said while dabbing tears.
Jennifer is among 1,500 migrants, most from Venezuela and Colombia, who are getting help from Catholic Charities here after arriving by bus from the border between Mexico and Texas.
She was invited to make a statement during a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 16, outside the New York Catholic Center on First Avenue. The main speakers were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities of New York.
More than 6,000 migrants have been bused to the city to date, and Catholic Charities of New York has assisted roughly 1,500 of them.
The agency’s Immigration & Refugee Services office in downtown Manhattan has provided many of them with information on their legal rights and responsibilities as migrants. The staff has also served them lunches and handed out essential items, like toiletries.
But it hasn’t been easy. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has accused Democrats of being unconcerned about how massive migrations burden the border states. He subsequently has been busing migrants to so-called “sanctuary cities” like New York.
Maryann Therappel, the agency’s lead lawyer on immigration issues, said migrants without relatives in the U.S. are being told to list Catholic Charities offices as their home addresses.
“These are not residential addresses. These are not spaces that are able to accommodate these immigrants,” she said. “And worse, the government is assuming that these are addresses that [the migrants] can receive mail at.”
Catholic Charities addresses have been used for over 300 migrants to date, according to Therappel.
“This is not their address. These are clients we have never encountered. The notices are dated for people who have entered the country within the last several weeks,” she added while noting that many of them haven’t even arrived in New York.
The local agency has been deluged with migrants — and their needs — before staffers could adequately prepare to handle them all. Consequently, helping them has been a struggle, Therappel said. She added that Catholic Charities is working with their national partners “to hold the federal government accountable.”
“I think there’s a need for greater coordination at the federal level,” Therappel said. “The federal government has a duty to ensure that all of its officers, including those at the southern border, operate with dignity and humanity for everyone that is coming onto U.S. soil.”
Jennifer said she did not know anything about how bussing migrants north had become a political dispute between Greg Abbott and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
She was just glad to have reached a destination. Jennifer has no family in New York City, but she met and bonded with other Venezuelan women on the journey.
Translating for her was Mariana Duenas, a senior case worker for Catholic Charities.
“She saw parents saying goodbye to their children because they were dying in front of them,” Duenas said. “There were people who continued on the journey, some with missing legs, on crutches.
“Definitely, she was looking for a better open window for her family.”
During the news conference, Jennifer said she was grateful to be housed in a clean, safe shelter provided by New York City. Now, she said, she’s ready to get a job and contribute to her new community.
Cardinal Dolan said while others debate political issues in this latest migrant crisis, the Church has the role to serve those in need.
“I had a statement to say, but something just changed about 45 minutes ago when I visited with some of our newly arrived families,” Cardinal Dolan said. “These are not just refugees and asylum seekers in the plural. These are people with names and with dads and moms. These are husbands and wives and kids.
“And we love them, and we welcome them. They’ve just been through turmoil.”
Msgr. Sullivan said the agency will partner with the city and other agencies to provide a “reception center” to extend services to migrants. Its opening is set for Aug. 25.
According to Cardinal Dolan, Catholic schools in the archdiocese are preparing to offer scholarships so that children of these families can attend school, just as it has done for children of Haitian, Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.
Cardinal Dolan said he saw similar challenges last spring while meeting with relief agencies in Poland that were helping people who were displaced by the war between Russia and Ukraine.
“They told us then that, ‘Right now we’re doing OK welcoming them, getting them fed, and healed, and clothed, and settled,’ ” he said. “But if this keeps up, we’re going to have a problem with capacity.”
After the briefing, Cardinal Dolan was confident that counterparts in the Diocese of Brooklyn would play an important role in helping the new migrants, adding that Msgr. Sullivan is in daily contact with them.