ROCKFORD—The regular “all-hands” meeting of Catholic Charities in the diocese on Feb. 24 welcomed speakers on the multifaceted issues of justice and human trafficking.
Bishop David Malloy opened the meeting in the Fellowship Hall at the Cathedral of St. Peter. Justice is “first and foremost” something rendered to God and what He created, he said.
Regarding migrants, the bishop quoted Pope Francis on the need to protect them as well as accompany and integrate them into society. Long term solutions that address situations that made them refugees and a need for prudence combined with generosity on the part of leaders in the receiving countries “all come together with the love of Christ,” Bishop Malloy quoted.
Three influences that work against migrant justice, he added, are employers who want to pay low, non-rising salaries, countries that don’t collect taxes to assist their poor, and the situation of legal immigrants who are waiting in line only to have their place taken by persons who do not go through the system.
Regarding trafficking, the bishop quoted studies showing that trafficking funnels money to drug cartels, which are “financed by our own consumption of drugs.”
“We need to reflect, pray and be aware of how complicated” the issues are, Bishop Malloy said, adding,
“I am very proud of the work we (through Catholic Charities) do here … I’m very grateful for what this gathering represents.”
After a customary mingling of staffers to discuss strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to their work, the meeting welcomed two outside speakers to speak about justice.
State of Illinois Director of Refugee and Immigration, Ms. Ngoan Le, began by saying that justice is both a “very big challenge” and “fluid.”
She shared a bit of the history of the founding of the United Nations after World War II when 60 million people were killed and 11-20 million were displaced. Eleanor Roosevelt, Le said, “took on an impossible task,” but her efforts resulted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those 30 rights were eventually signed by 193 nations.
When the U.N. High Commissioner on Refugees was formed in 1950, it was supposed to be needed for three years, Le said. Currently 65.3 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, 21.3 of those are considered refugees, and of those, the U.N. can settle only around 100,000 each year, she added.
The first question asked, she said, is: How might people return to their home countries? If that is impossible, the hope is to integrate them into the country where they fled. Only as a third option are refugees sent elsewhere.
She acknowledged the stress on three countries with the largest refugee populations – Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon – and said, “We have to recognize the challenges and we have to deal with reality.”
Le is optimistic, saying that people “can be extremely creative and problem-solving. We actually have fewer wars in the world today. When we work together, we will contribute to long term solutions. It will bring out the best in all of us.”
Hon. Rosemary Collins, a judge with the 17th District Circuit Court of the State of Illinois, shared about justice from a legal systems perspective.
“We can never take (the justice system) for granted,” she said. “We must always work toward that goal of justice.”
Fundamentally, it is a system of fairness, she said, acknowledging that judges are going to be wrong at times. But they strive, she said, for a “fair and proper administration of law … We’re only as good as the information that comes in. When (the system) fails, it is usually because it is not well funded.”
Federal judges are appointed for life to prevent them from being threatened with undue influences, Judge Collins said. But threats to the system include the exorbitant cost of running for the Illinois Supreme Court, she said, adding that candidates must accept campaign funds from others, which can make their decisions suspect.
“Judges strive to be impartial,” she said, but “warning signs are everywhere,” and “we must strive” to protect the integrity of judges and look closely at how to revamp the system.
The two women were asked then to speak about human trafficking.
“It has increased,” Le said, noting that her office now is “able to give victims all the services as if they were refugees.” But the desperation of people who are trying to flee from danger supports the trafficking system, with no ultimate solution yet found, she said.
“I call (traffickers) predators … (they are) awful, evil people,” Judge Collens said bluntly.
She described how trucks full of young girls in trucks are parked at big sporting events, and an internet trafficking site for Rockford includes comments that are “brutal” and “always demeaning.” One area massage parlor that was raided had 20 girls from China that were kept inside the building and were literally slaves.
But trafficking “is very difficult to prove,” she said, noting the girls are being drugged up, which poses a credibility problem.
“The only way to really get rid of trafficking,” Judge Collins said, “is to end the demand. (The buyers) view women and boys as merchandize … They are people who are living in our community.”
Winn expressed willingness to provide assistance through Catholic Charities.
Judge Collins noted the need for safe houses, including some located out of town. The victims also need counseling to understand what has happened to them.
The culture itself needs to be changed. “We need our priests and leaders” to preach and teach against domestic violence and against any sexual misuse of others, she said.
Both speakers stated their willingness to connect Catholic Charities to the right organizations and groups.
“We have to get good people together,” Le said. “Life is like this marathon – we fall, but we have to get up and keep going, constantly working very hard.”