“Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.” –Romans 15:7
Sister Sharlet Ann Wagner, CSC, remembers why she decided to become an immigration attorney. “It was rooted in my belief that as Christians, as religious, we belong on the margins. And as a Sister of the Holy Cross, we go where the need is. I felt that immigrants are the most marginalized and most voiceless segment of our society.”
Now, Sister Sharlet is blending her expertise as an attorney with addressing the social issues newcomers experience in a new land. In 2020, she became the executive director of the Newcomer Network in Silver Spring, Maryland. Catholic Charities of Washington, D.C., formed the Newcomer Network that same year to integrate legal and social services for immigrants.
“Catholic Charities has had a long-established and successful Immigration Legal Services team,” Sister Sharlet said. “But clients come to us and we see that they need help with food, or shelter, or employment, or mental health counseling.”
A vision for immigrants
The legal services team refers clients to the network’s bilingual, culturally competent navigators. The attorneys and navigators work as a team on their clients’ behalf.
“I know as an immigration attorney that stronger social outcomes lead to stronger legal outcomes,” Sister Sharlet said.
The navigator strives to develop a relationship of trust with the client. With the navigator’s guidance, the client sets achievable goals. Often, a primary need is to heal trauma experienced either in their home country, on their journey, or in the U.S.—and sometimes all three.
“When we start working with clients, they don’t have much hope,” said Sister Sharlet. “In fact, it’s more likely that we see despair. Our vision is that they’ll come out of the program feeling more confident in their ability to build a good life in this country for themselves and their families.”
Fruits of Holy Cross
Every month, Fruits of Holy Cross shares the good news of the ministries of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Our “fruits” are nourished not just by the sisters’ labors or the seed of faith planted by our founder Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, they are watered by our many prayer partners, donors and benefactors—by you.
An immigrant regains hope
When “Liliana” arrived as an immigrant in the United States five years ago, her heart was filled with joy for her upcoming wedding. After her nuptials, however, her happiness evaporated when her husband began hitting her. She gave birth to a daughter, but the trauma of the domestic violence prevented her bonding with her baby.
Liliana already had been working with Catholic Charities to gain legal immigration status. In learning about her home situation, Liliana’s attorney referred her to one of the network’s navigators. In time, she regained hope for her future. “I feel like I can care for my daughter, like I have the mental capacity to manage my life,” she said.
Through Sister Sharlet and the Newcomer Network, immigrants like Liliana are finding their voices—and hope in their new home.
In the fall of 2021, a Ministry With the Poor grant allowed the Newcomer Network to provide mental health counseling to six clients who otherwise would not have been able to access family therapy services. If you would like to support this effort and others that are funded by Ministry With the Poor, please consider donating, and know your support is deeply appreciated.