Building Structures of Solidarity and Instruments of Justice: The Catholic Immigrant Integration Surveys
Donald Kerwin and Kyle Barron
The Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS) released findings from two surveys distributed to two broad sets of US Catholic institutions – (1) Catholic social and charitable agencies and (2) parishes and schools – to capture their work in helping integrate immigrants in the United States. The surveys – administered in collaboration with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church, and Catholic Charities USA – sought to:
- gain a better understanding of the Catholic Church’s institutional work on immigrant integration;
- document promising and successful practices;
- identify obstacles to this work; and
- assess how Catholic institutions measure the effectiveness of their work with immigrants.
The surveys were distributed to institutions that serve and work extensively with immigrant communities. Together, the Catholic institutions surveyed offer a broad array of social, legal, charitable, and pastoral services, including: education; bi-lingual/bi-cultural masses; language classes; legal services; counseling; scholarships; meals; clothes pantries; job training; health services; and cultural events.
- The top five parish and school services accessed by immigrants were religious education, pastoral services, youth ministry, pastoral counseling, and elementary school. Social and charitable organizations indicated that their top five services accessed by immigrants were education, naturalization services, legal services, counseling, and interpretation/translation.
- When asked to list the programs and services that most strongly advanced immigrant integration, parish and school respondents identified bilingual and bicultural mass and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and social and charitable entities said that legal services and ESL classes were their most successful integration programs.
- Nearly two thirds of parish and school respondents (63 percent) and a high percentage of social and charitable organizations conducted outreach to immigrant communities, mainly through “word of mouth.”
- Eighty-seven percent of social and charitable entities and 55 percent of parishes and schools reported that they educate their broader faith community (natives and immigrants) about issues affecting immigrants.
Among other striking findings, CMS found a disparity between immigrant participation and Catholic leadership. While immigrants constituted 39 percent of those who regularly attended mass, they constituted only 20 percent of parish and school leadership and 21 percent of paid staff. Social and charitable agencies reported that, while 75 percent of persons who accessed their services were immigrants, immigrants constituted only 31 percent of paid staff and 22 percent of program leadership.
Finally, 28 percent of social and charitable organizations identified the “receiving community” – i.e., lack of community support, racism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and restrictionist immigration policies – as the largest obstacle they faced in advancing immigrant integration.
“This report offers a portrait of how a particular faith community comes together to welcome, assist, and incorporate immigrants in its own institutions and in US society,” said Donald Kerwin, CMS’s executive director and co-author of the report. “The report highlights the extensive efforts by Catholic institutions to improve the lives of newcomers. The nation can learn a lot from an institution that continues to integrate immigrants and unify newcomers and natives around shared values.”