Executive Director Remarks at Convening Plenary
Good afternoon, dear friends. My name is Anna Gallagher and I have the honor of leading CLINIC as executive director. It is such a pleasure to be here with you all as we officially begin our first in-person Convening since 2019.
Looking out at the sea of faces in front of me, I am filled with gratitude to finally be able to come together to engage with one another, to listen, learn and gather strength for the work ahead in support of our immigrant brothers and sisters.
Even just being in your presence I feel a sense of renewed hope and energy. I am so looking forward to the next few days, and I am certain that you will be reignited to take on the important work ahead.
In a moment I will welcome our wonderful panel of Affiliate experts, but right now I want to take a moment to recognize this moment we’re facing and my hopes for this year’s CLINIC Convening.
You all, of all people, know that immigrant communities are facing truly unprecedented challenges – and I do not use that word, unprecedented, lightly.
With the lifting of Title 42, and the camps of men, women and children along the border desperate to find welcome on the other side; the proposed USCIS fee increases which threaten to put immigration benefits out of reach for many; the newly announced delays for foreign-born religious workers and special immigrant juveniles; and, perhaps above all, our warming planet and the outbreaks of violence which force many more people to migrate around the world – these are extremely challenging times for migrants in our country and around the world.
Several months ago, the New York Times featured an op-ed that has stuck with me, entitled, “The Rich World Has a Shockingly High Tolerance for Cruelty.”
It was about how rich nations are more willing than ever to let migrants languish at their borders in sub-human conditions rather than create safe pathways for migration or address the conditions causing people to flee.
It was about how the promises that nations made after World War II to respect the dignity and rights of those who are fleeing have been eroded and now, on a practical level, forgotten.
When I read this article, in my mind I was transported back to the time I spent in North Africa several years ago, working with migrants as a representative of Jesuit Refugee Services.
I interviewed migrants who had traveled for 18 months or more to try and find safety in these countries bordering Europe. I got to know some of the migrants, who called me “grandma” – a term of endearment, as my hair was grey.
While I was talking to some of them, they showed me their hands, which were scarred with wounds. When I asked them what happened, they said their hands were repeatedly pierced while climbing barbed wire to get through to safety.
Hearing this, my heart broke – as it has many times over the years.
The idea that we are using barbed wire to keep out our fellow human beings is inconceivable, yet true. Our immigrant brothers and sisters stand at our gates, begging for our aid, and we build barbed wire fences that pierce their hands.
Many wealthy nations are founded on a concept of all human beings being equal in dignity, but we do not act like it.
As we gather in Arizona, I know we are all mindful that these kinds of camps that the op-ed author is speaking of are just several hours away on the border. We also know that immigrant communities’ dignity is denied not only in these camps, but all over the country in the various places we’ve come from.
We must be clear, this is not an “other side of the world problem,” it is our problem. It affects all of us, in our integrity as people of faith and conscience, and as a reflection of our society.
And yet today, as I recall that New York Times op-ed, and the sense of frustration and despair I felt while reading it, I feel a surge of hope.
I want you to look around the room. Look at your neighbor to your left and right. YOU are the hope that fills my heart, and YOU are the hope that reignites me in our work.
As we gather here today, I am in a room full of people who DO act like all human beings are equal. Those who spend their precious time – often too much of their time, working long hours – trying to advance the truth that every person is precious, valuable, and deserving of a safe and dignified life.
That’s why being in your presence gives me such hope. I am reminded that the CLINIC network is full of holy people.
That is why our gathering here together, and throughout this week, is so powerful: we are, to borrow the words of Bishop Seitz of El Paso, working to be a “creative counterexample” to the culture of fear and hostility, to be a network that is slowly creating a new culture of solidarity and hospitality.
At CLINIC, we also are bolstered by our faith that we do not do this hard work alone. The spirit of God is inspiring us and pushing us forward, giving us strength and magnifying our efforts, especially when we are overwhelmed by the need in front of us.
Our faith also acts as a mirror for us, forcing us to keep evaluating whether we are truly reflecting the gospel truth of God’s concern for all people.
To maintain this faith, and to maintain the energy to be this creative counterexample, we need one another. Our network is sustained through the support, advice, and solidarity we demonstrate to one another.
Throughout the next few days, we will take the time to step back, to reflect on our work and learn and share new strategies, information, and tips for the very practical day-to-day work of supporting immigrant clients and communities.
We know that this practical work – the forms, the bureaucracy, the nitty-gritty details – changes and saves lives. So how well we can do it matters, which is why we gather to learn and grow.
We also gather to enjoy one another – to laugh, share stories, and reconnect with beloved colleagues and friends.
So I also hope that over the next few days you will have some fun!
Thank you for coming here to CLINIC Convening and for your dedication to this work. I am so honored to be alongside all of you this week, and all days.
Now, I am pleased to introduce our panelists for our opening plenary, Preparing for the Lifting of Title 42: Key Insights from our Network. When we decided on “reunited and reignited” for our theme this year, we knew we wanted to do something different for our opening conversation.
This “Network Fireside Chat” will be an opportunity to highlight the work done by our network throughout the United States. During this conversation, you’ll hear how Affiliates in three distinct geographical regions are rising to meet the needs of our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters – especially during this increased time of uncertainty.
From the Border region, Joel Enriquez-Cazarez will share about the work of Jewish Family Service of San Diego.
As a transit city, Carolina Rivera will share how Catholic Charities of Dallas assists our immigrant brothers and sisters.
And Yer Vang from Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Dubuque will give an interior city perspective of welcome.
Now please join me in welcoming our keynote panelists to the stage...