Aug 14, 2013

UPDATED: Catholic Charities responds to mayor’s comments about refugees



(Iobserve file photos by Rebecca Drake)

Staff report

SPRINGFIELD – In a statement released this afternoon by the Catholic Communications office of the Springfield Diocese, the executive director of the local Catholic Charities Agency, Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, has responded to recently publicized concerns of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno regarding the situation of refugees in the city.

In a letter sent to the U.S. State Department, dated Aug. 14, Sarno requests that the department deny "permission and funding to settle refugees in our city, as the matter has become a pressing issue of public safety."

In the letter, and in interviews with local media, Sarno has stated that "Springfield has been disproportionately targeted for the settlement of refugees by agencies supported with State Department funds." The mayor has also stated that many of the refugees have been placed into "housing not fit for human habitation" and have been frequent victims of crime.

In her statement, Buckley-Brawner (pictured at left) refutes the mayor’s claim that Catholic Charities is presently involved in placing refugees in Springfield; she also expresses the need for the mayor and local agencies aiding refugees to meet in person to address the mayor’s concerns.

The text of Buckley-Brawner’s statement follows:

“On behalf of Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell, the Diocese of Springfield and our Catholic Charities Agency (CCA), I would like to address Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno’s recent request to the federal government to end refugee resettlement in this city.

“First, in comments to local news media the mayor stated that Catholic Charities was in the process of placing 156 adult refugees. The mayor has been gravely misinformed. 

“Catholic Charities is not a refugee resettlement agency and does not engage in resettlement efforts. We do provide, as we do for the general community in need, assistance in meeting everyday expenses and immigration services for those wishing to apply for citizenship.

(Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno is pictured at right with Robert Marmor, president and CEO of Jewish Family Service, at a 2010 Citizenship Open House for refugees held at the Bishop Marshall Center in Springfield.)

“Based on this critical misstatement, we are concerned that Mayor Sarno may have been provided with erroneous and incomplete information on other parts of his statement.

“While we applaud his genuine concern for the well-being of these refugees, many who are escaping life-threatening and extremely dangerous situations of civil wars and mass executions, it is important that these refugees not be re-victimized and punished for the actions of unscrupulous local landlords and criminals, who pose a threat to all the most vulnerable in Springfield.

“Our country has a long and rich tradition of welcoming people of all races, nationalities and languages to our shores. Western Massachusetts is far richer for this great tradition, one that the Catholic Church fully supports.

“We encourage those involved, including Mayor Sarno, to meet and address the legitimate concerns raised so that our community does not adopt a reputation of being unwelcoming to those most in need.” 

Similar statements have also been released this afternoon by the chief administrators of Jewish Family Service of Western Massachusetts and the Worcester, Mass.-based Lutheran Social Services, the two agencies specifically cited in Mayor Sarno's letter to the Sate Department.

Robert Marmor, president and chief executive office of Jewish Family Service (JFS) of Western Massachusetts, in a statement posted on the organization's website,, states that JFS "does not place any individual or family in 'uninhabitable' residences or unsafe conditions."

Noting that Sarno met with JFS and Lutheran Family Services on July 17, Marmor states, "That week I personally went on eight home visits, spoke to refugees and found that two apartments were in poor condition due to landlord negligence. The JFS staff have been advocating for these families to improve conditions."

In her statement, Angela Bovill, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of New England, states that the organization has investigated the properties alleged to be in poor condition. "LSS does not place any refugees in uninhabitable residences or unsafe conditions and regularly monitors its clients during their resettlement period."

Bovill also states that "several statements made in Mayor Sarno's letter to Barbara Day in the U.S. State Department are inaccurate." She states that LSS will respond to the inaccuracies in a letter to the mayor's office.

Both Marmor and Bovill express their commitment to continue working with local and state authorities to ensure successful resettlement of refugees and to preserve Springfield's reputation as a welcoming city to newcomers.