National News

Sacramento Diocese ‘Shocked’ as Migrants Abandoned at Pastoral Center

U.S. Border Patrol agents escort migrants through the Lerdo Stanton International Border Bridge Dec. 14, 2021, near El Paso, Texas, to be returned to Mexico to continue with their asylum application. (OSV News photo)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — When a van dropped off 16 migrants at the Diocese of Sacramento’s pastoral center on Friday, June 2, staff responded as the Church routinely does in emergency situations — help first, ask questions later. The migrants were brought to a parish and eventually given a hotel room.

Days later, however, as the diocese works with the migrants and partner organizations on the next steps, a number of questions remain unanswered, including: Why Sacramento? Why the diocesan offices? And will something similar happen again as it has in cities nationwide?

No matter the answers, Miriam Sammartino, the diocese’s director of Catholic Charities and Social Concerns, said the act was heartbreaking, especially considering it appears that Sacramento wasn’t the migrants’ final destination, nor was it on the way to where they intended to go after they were processed into the United States. A few of them needed to get to San Diego and Chicago, she said.

“I don’t believe the migrants themselves even understood that they were being brought to Sacramento, so that’s a priority for us,” Sammartino told The Tablet.

“It just adds to a sense of cruelty. How are you going to move folks to a place that is potentially further away from where they needed to be?” she continued. “When you hear that the migrants in their mind are going to be processed and given the information, looking for help and for hope, and instead they’re given a location where they have no one to rely on … it’s completely heartbreaking.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on June 3 that the state was investigating the circumstances of the migrants’ arrival. According to Bonta, the migrants were flown to Sacramento via a private plane and were carrying documentation purporting to be from the state of Florida.

The investigation remains ongoing, and the state of California is evaluating potential criminal or civil actions against those who transported or arranged for the transport of the migrants, Bonta said. He alleged the act was “state-sanctioned kidnapping,” which is “immoral and disgusting.”

He added, “We are a nation built by immigrants, and we must condemn the cruelty and hateful rhetoric of those, whether they are state leaders or private parties, who refuse to recognize humanity and who turn their backs on extending dignity and care to fellow human beings.”

After reports began to surface on June 5 that the state of Florida allegedly flew a second plane of migrants to Sacramento, California’s Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, now a Republican presidential candidate, a “small, pathetic man,” and suggested the state could pursue kidnapping charges.

DeSantis’ office did not respond to The Tablet’s request for comment.

The flights come amid a national immigration crisis, in which DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have routinely arranged for migrants to be transported out of state, usually to Democratic-run “sanctuary cities” such as New York, Washington, and Chicago.

The latest flights to Sacramento appear similar to a flight the state of Florida funded last year that brought 49 migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, an upscale island off the coast of Massachusetts.

From Sammartino’s vantage point, everyone at the diocesan offices was shocked.

“[We were] completely astounded and shocked that this was actually happening right at our doorstep, and the manner that this van pulls up alludes to having people in need, and then we see these folks coming out of a van, and the van just leaving, which is complete abandonment,” she said.

After the migrants were dropped off, the diocese worked with a partner organization to transport them to Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Sacramento. There, the migrants received food and water, and an initial intake was done. From there, the diocese secured space at a hotel for the migrants to stay.

As of June 5, the diocese was still working through the next steps. Sammartino said they’re working with other faith-based organizations to see if any can provide shelter and help with other resources.

At the same time, they’re trying to figure out a plan and identify resources — donations, funding, sites for housing, food, and legal services — for if more migrants are dropped off unannounced, which Sammartino didn’t rule out, adding that “it’s hard to say if we’re going to be ready.”

Sammartino said the diocese hasn’t spoken to city or state officials. She said they’re going to stay out of how the state and city should or shouldn’t help and instead focus on “making sure that folks aren’t alone and that they get the help and support that they need while they’re here in Sacramento.”

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento said the diocese stands by the migrants.

“Within each of the 16 migrants transported to Sacramento on Friday, we recognize the humble presence of Jesus, and we hear His call to stand by them. The urgency to respond was heard by Catholics and people of goodwill,” Bishop Soto said in a statement.