Fr. Matthew Kuczora, C.S.C. is currently a civil law student at the University of Notre Dame Law School with a focus on education law and human rights. As part of his summer internship, he worked along the US-Mexico border with Catholic Charities assisting refugees in the asylum process.
The United States has always guaranteed the right to seek asylum to those pleading for refuge from persecution; however, as widely reported in the international news, since March 2020 that right has largely been suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, 1.8 million would be asylum-seekers were turned away since 2020. Despite this ban, legal arrangements still remain in place to allow particularly vulnerable refugees to petition for asylum.
Fr. Matt has met people from all over the world who have been persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views. Braving scorching temperatures, roving criminal gangs, and a lack of water and basic medical care, Fr. Matt says “They wait for their chance to make the asylum claim afforded to them by the law and basic human dignity.”
Fr. Matt recounts, in particular, one success story he had of a young Haitian couple, Jean and Denise. After the 2010 earthquake, subsequent hurricanes, and specific threats, they decided to accept separate asylum offers in Brazil and Chile, dividing them just after their marriage. Unfortunately, they still suffered targeted violence because of their race and country of origin. Deciding to seek asylum in the U.S., they took buses, caught rides, and largely walked the entire way to northern Mexico.
“When they arrived at the border,” Fr. Matt said, “Denise was eight months pregnant. As her due date approached, she faced the increasing prospect of being forced to give birth in a refugee shelter. The Catholic Charities legal team and I heard about her plight, and we became their legal advocate to present their case to the authorities. Shortly thereafter, Jean and Denise were granted permission to enter the US, make their asylum plea, and now they reside with family in Florida.”
According to Fr. Matt, unfortunately, cases like Jean and Denise are the exception while hundreds of families, many with small children, remain in Mexico under brutal conditions and few resources.
Amid this reality, faith-based groups on both sides of the US-Mexico border seek to recognize the dignity of these asylum-seekers, and the legal efforts of Catholic Charities play a key role through advocacy to bring about a just solution to this humanitarian crisis.
Looking back on his experience, Fr. Matt reflects, “This much suffering can be overwhelming, but advocating for one family at a time, sharing their story, and fighting on their behalf has shown me how being an attorney and a religious can bring justice for the most vulnerable through knowledge of the law and hope to the desperate through witnessing God's love for every human being."