On Thursday, June 29, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend hosted its 6th Immigration Conference. With federal immigration policies continuing to evolve, this year’s conference brought together national speakers to educate attendees on these changes and the possible effects on the community.
Catholic Charities originally began the local conference to teach service providers about immigration policies that affected the local population and enhance community services. This year, employers were welcomed to learn about the economic impact immigrants bring to our community.
Kicking off the event to a packed room at the Mirro Center in Fort Wayne, Catholic Charities CEO Dan Florin shared the history of the immigration
program, dating back to 2002 when the Fort Wayne office became recognized as an approved agency by the Department of Justice.
Luz Ostrognai, Director of Immigration Service at Catholic Charities, painted a picture of the work Catholic Charities does in welcoming the stranger to our community. “Our immigration department does not work for the pursuit of popularity, for glory, or fortune. There’s nothing glamorous about this kind of work. Representing clients who are going through difficult times in their lives and with people who feel scared or nervous about the prospect of being removed from the country, or frustrated with the long and complex immigration processes puts increased pressure on us.”
Mayor Tom Henry shared his appreciation for those who have answered this calling. “The call you all accepted to help those who want to call the U.S. home is a tremendous calling,” he remarked.
After years of research, economist and Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University, Michael Hicks debunked common myths surrounding the impact of immigration. “There is no economic study that I have seen that has shown a fiscal drain due to immigration,” said Hicks. “In the U.S., $12 billion a year in social security and $65 million a year in state and local taxes comes from immigrant taxes. When you look at the contributions they will make to social security, though they will not be eligible to withdraw on later, and you look at their local taxes, they pretty much pay for themselves as soon as they arrive.”
The all-day training event also included speakers from the National Immigrant Justice Center, Barnes and Thornburg, and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC). The speakers shared an overview of the legal differences in status, work authorization, and border issues. “It is really important to have a conversation about new neighbors. We want to welcome and help rebuild their lives,” said Lisa Koop, speaker for the National Immigrant Justice Center. “We as legal counselors have to tell people, ‘You qualify for immigration protection – it will be a decade before we can get it to you, but we can start the process today.’ That is little comfort for people looking to put down roots and watch their children graduate from high school.”
The event brought professionals from across the state of Indiana. “This is the largest Immigration Conference we have held,” said Ostrognai. “We look forward to hosting another next year.”
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