JRS Advocacy Director meets AUC policy students –

Image courtesy of Jesuit Refugee Services USA

By Justin Lamoureux

Students of Dr. Love’s course in Global Issues (POL 307) recently heard a prominent voice in the humanitarian community. Giulia McPherson is the Advocacy Director of Jesuit Refugee Service United States: a non-governmental organization founded by the Society of Jesus, and currently operates in fifty different countries. Talk to the class on Zoom video call, McPherson spoke at length about the organization’s efforts to meet the educational, health and social needs of nearly one million refugees each year. With my classmates Brian Melendez and Keenan Green, I facilitated the engagement to help start a constructive dialogue on their topic of interest: the humanitarian issues plaguing the so-called “North Triangle” in Central America.

Few Americans would question the relevance of migration as a political (or humanitarian) issue. It seems like every day, news headlines feature stories about the increased global prevalence of migration or the humanitarian crises that inspire such trends.

It is no secret that in recent years the scale of migration to the United States from Central America has increased dramatically. Between 1990 and 2020, the number of migrants from Central American countries increased by 137%. Two of the countries that have seen the greatest increase in external migration are Honduras (530%) and Guatemala (293%): both of which are considered part of the Northern Triangle. The third state in this particular region – El Salvador – also saw a much smaller (but nonetheless substantial) increase in 29% in the last three decades.

In addition to a broad overview of the humanitarian work routinely carried out by Jesuit refugee services, McPherson gave students insight into the ongoing crises which led to greater migration from the Northern Triangle. In addition to economic reasons, push factors in recent years have included gang violence and recruitment, gender-based violence, lack of economic opportunity, environmental challenges (i.e. climate change) ; and the decline of the rule of law.

McPherson also offered a plus detailed look how the demography of migrants has changed in recent years. In 2022, for the first time in history, migrants from the Northern Triangle outnumbered Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans at border crossings between the United States and Mexico. She also discussed US asylum policies and how they have evolved over the past decades. In particular, she explained how the migrant crisis has been exacerbated by restrictive protocols enacted under the former Trump administration and out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Interestingly, these new constraints prompted many residents of the Northern Triangle to seek protection from other countries, including Mexico.

In addition to viewing the presentation, students were asked to complete a short survey at the beginning and end of the course to test their knowledge of the Northern Triangle and the issues facing this region. It soon became clear that such an event resonated with those present. Junior history major Rebekah Rowe felt that this event “did a great job of making the issue of immigration very tangible” and appreciated that McPherson “was able to share personal stories about the struggles experienced in the Northern Triangle. , as well as (to) try to leave the area.” Indeed, Rowe left the classroom with a new sense of urgency to dedicate his time “to helping those who have moved to America, particularly with the process of obtaining legal documents which becomes more difficult”.

Senior policy officer Brian Melendez said he was inspired to lead this project by his personal ties to El Salvador: “I wanted to better understand the issues people face in this region that cause them to leave their homeland, and the involvement of the United States. foreign policy in the region,” he said. Melendez also noted that in Global Issues, “we learned about the importance of Catholic organizations that provide relief services around the world.” For him, hearing about Jesuit services for refugees – and Mrs. McPherson’s efforts, in particular – “illustrates this point”, allowing him “to gain insight into the evolution of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from Latin America”.

After an in-depth examination of the humanitarian issues affecting the Northern Triangle – and what Jesuit refugee services, as well as United States government policies, are doing to address them – McPherson concluded his presentation by examining different ways in which members of the public could get involved with the advocacy work of his organization. In particular, Catholic University students are encouraged to reach out to policy makers and implore them to support initiatives that would protect Ukrainian and Afghan refugees, and take action for displaced Venezuelans. Students should also promote refugee education, refugee resettlement, and prioritize refugee mental health.

Above all, this event and the project that accompanies it represent a decisive call to action. Our responsibility to engage in efforts to facilitate meaningful change in the Northern Triangle – and to provide assistance to migrants in this region – serves to embody two of our core identities. As Catholics, we have a moral obligation to “welcome the stranger” (Matthew 25:35), to respect the dignity of all human beings, and to help innocent victims of persecution. The Catholic Church too taught that all people have the right to live a dignified life in their homeland: it seems normal that we support organizations that are committed to making this possible. As Americans, we have a fundamental call to embrace the weary, poor, and huddled masses who yearn to breathe freely. It is equally important to ensure the accountability of democratically elected officials responsible for creating government policies that subscribe to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In every sense of the word, this issue transcends all partisan labels – it is a humanitarian crisis that no one can ignore.

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