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US bishops’ agency denied federal grant to help trafficking victims

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Since 2006, the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services has helped more than 2,700 victims of human trafficking obtain food, clothing and access to medical care.
That service came to an abrupt halt when the agency recently learned that it would no longer receive a federal grant for this work from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement.
The Catholic Church in the United States has been assisting immigrants and refugees adjust to their new lives since the founding of the nation.  Until the early twentieth century, these efforts were organized at the local diocesan and parish levels and, typically, involved the provision of pastoral care, social services, and education.  Since 1975, MRS has coordinated the resettlement of more than 800,000 refugees through dioceses throughout the country. It has also administered an office in Miami to work with migrants and refugees arriving directly to the U.S. from Cuba and Haiti.
An Historical Timeline:
  • 1920 -1930.  National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) establishes a Department of Immigration which assists more than 100,000 immigrants in their efforts to immigrate.
  • 1948.   Under the Displaced Persons Admissions Act, the Church assisted in the resettlement of more than 100,000 European refugees through Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and the Catholic Committee for Refugees.
  • 1965.   United States Catholic Conference (USCC) established and with it, a new department called Migration and Refugee Services (MRS). Responsible for several functions, including refugee resettlement activities, public policy development and advocacy, and the provision of legal immigration services.
MRS officials had no immediate comment on the contract’s discontinuation.
Mercy Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service Oct. 11 that she hoped the Catholic Church’s “position against abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception has not entered into this decision, especially since this administration has said it stands fully behind freedom of conscience.”
She noted that the MRS’s anti-trafficking program “ran quite well without these services” and said it would be “tragic if abortion politics harmed the men, women and children already at risk because of the crime and scandal of human trafficking.”
HHS officials contacted by Catholic News Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for not making the U.S. Catholic bishops’ agency include referrals for abortion, sterilization and artificial contraception in its anti-trafficking program. That case is still pending.
Sister Mary Ann said in an email to CNS that MRS officials are concerned about their clients and hope they will “not suffer from a clumsy transition to new agencies or from limited or lack of services.”
MRS worked with numerous agencies in its anti-trafficking program across the United States. About one-third of these subcontractors were Catholic agencies; others included Lutheran Family Services, Jewish Family Services and anti-domestic violence groups.
A newly arrived Somali woman waits in line July 27 for food to be distributed at the reception center of the Dagahaley refugee camp, part of the Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
A newly arrived Somali woman waits in line July 27 for food to be distributed at the reception center of the Dagahaley refugee camp, part of the Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya. (CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey)
Safe Passages – Family Reunification and Foster Care Grant
This US Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement (DHHS/ORR) federal grant provides long-term foster care placements, transitional foster care services, suitability assessments and related follow up services to unaccompanied alien children who have been apprehended and are in federal custody.  Services for foster care placement are through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) network, which consists of child welfare agencies throughout the United States, working with USCCB/MRS to provide services to undocumented children.
Bridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) Grant
This national technical assistance project funded under a US Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement (DHHS/ORR) grant works to broaden the scope of information and collaboration among service providers in order to strengthen services to refugee youth, children, and their families.
Reception and Placement Program Grant
This program is funded on a per capita basis by the US Department of State/Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (DOS/PRM).  The grant supports basic resettlement services to newly arriving refugees sponsored under USCCB/MRS auspices.
Match Grant Program Grant
This US Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement (DHHS/ORR) Voluntary Agency Matching Grant program facilitates early economic self-sufficiency through intensive employment and other services for newly-arrived refugees.  USCCB/MRS and the more than sixty participating dioceses generate at least a 50% match in cash and in-kind contributions for each $2.25 in federal funds expended.
Three groups were awarded federal grants for anti-trafficking programs. The groups are Tapestri, based in Atlanta, Heartland Human Care Services in Chicago and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants based in Washington. The groups have each been awarded $5 million contracts per year with the possibility of adding two additional years.
The U.S. bishops spoke of the relationship between MRS and HHS when they formed an Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty in late September to specifically address actions at various levels of government that pose dangers to the free exercise of religion.
In announcing the new committee, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the USCCB, called into question the HHS requirement that MRS provide the “full range of reproductive service” — including abortion and contraception — to trafficking victims in its cooperative agreements and government contracts.
Archbishop Dolan also reiterated the U.S. bishops’ concern about HHS regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception and sterilization in all private health insurance plans while failing to adequately exempt insurers and individuals that have religious or moral objections to the mandate.
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Meanwhile, Catholic Charities agencies are listed as recipients of grants announced in early October for organizations that help support poor and vulnerable families and especially focus on responsible fatherhood. The grants are distributed by HHS’ Administration for Children and Families


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