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Archives Immigration change sends foreign priests home

May 15, 2024

By Darcy Fargo

Changes in immigration categories related to foreign-born priests and religious and a related processing backlog have lengthened the process for obtaining green cards or visas, and the delay is forcing some of those individuals to return to their home countries for a year.

Father Christopher C. Carrara, diocesan vicar for clergy, says the issue was created when a large group of individuals was added to the same immigration category as the priests and religious.

“The problem, as I understand it, is that there are a limited group of visas available,” he said. “Religious workers from all denominations fit into one category. With all the immigration issues happening, unaccompanied minors have been added to that category. So now there’s a huge group of needy kids stuck in the same category as religious workers, and now they’re all competing for the same visas. It’s a no-win situation.”

Because of the huge influx of applicants in the category, visas have taken significantly longer to process, if they’re moving at all. As a result, visas expire before further actions are taken, forcing the individual caught in the backlog to return to his or her country of origin for a year.

“USCCB (The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) is actively working on this topic with the Biden administration,” Father Carrara said. “The administration has said they plan to address that (one-year) period of time and shorten it for religious workers. The challenge is that it won’t happen quickly, likely not before the next election.”

Father Carrara noted USCCB has issued an action alert on the matter, urging Catholics to contact their U.S. representatives and senators urging them to adopt the Protect Vulnerable Immigrant Youth Act, which would put the unaccompanied minors in a humanitarian protection immigration category instead of an employment-based immigration category.

“This would ensure that abused, neglected, or abandoned youth who are deemed eligible for relief by state courts no longer need to compete with adults relying on the same category of visas,” the USCCB action alert states. “These minors are ill-suited for the EB-4 visa category, as they are seeking humanitarian protection, not employment-based immigration. Passage of the bill would simultaneously free up visas for others in the EB-4 category, including immigrant religious workers depended upon by many Catholic dioceses and other religious organizations throughout the United States.”

Father Carrara also made the New York State Catholic Conference aware of the issue, and the state Conference has been helping New York dioceses and bishops work with USCCB to contact federal officials and advocate on this issue since.

Dennis Poust, executive director of the Conference, said the issue wasn’t on the state organizations’ radar prior to an inquiry from Father Carrara, as no other diocese had brought up the issue at the state level.

After looking into the matter, Poust said it was determined “that every diocese in the state is dealing with it in some way.”

In our diocese, Father Pedro Edgardo “Jay” de la Rosa, pastor at Holy Angels Church in Altona and St. Ann’s Church in Mooers Forks, is caught in the visa delay, and he’ll be required to return to the Philippines on June 12.
While originally from the Philippines, Father de la Rosa has been incardinated and is a priest of the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

“It’s hard for me,” Father de la Rosa said. “When I go home, I’m no longer incardinated in the archdiocese there. Unlike other priests from the archdiocese who are also going home, they already know where to go. For me, who is not incardinated, I don’t have that.”

Father de la Rosa said he’s in communication with the archdiocese where he’s from, and he’s hoping to be able to celebrate Masses and assist there during his year away from the North Country.

Beyond living his vocation, Father de la Rosa said he also has to work out day-to-day concerns.

“When I was incardinated here, I sold my car (in the Philippines),” he said. “When I went home to visit last September, I was able to borrow a car. Right now, I don’t see being able to borrow a car for a year. These are the things I’m thinking about right now.”

Of Father de la Rosa’s immediate family, only his brother remains in the Philippines. The majority of his family lives in North America.

While he will remain the pastor of St. Ann’s and Holy Angels churches, a temporary administrator will be appointed, as well.

“Right now, I’m the pastor,” he said. “When I go home, I’m still the pastor. I won’t be there physically, but I plan to stay connected to the parish. With the day-to-day activities, I will not interfere, but I want to know what’s happening, so I won’t be a complete stranger when I come back.”

He also looks forward to staying in contact with his parishioners.

“They’re not just parishioners,” he said. “To me, they are family.”

Father de la Rosa said it’s not just his parishioners he’ll miss.

“I’m part of the presbyterate of the Diocese of Ogdensburg,” he said. “The priests are brothers to me. They tell me, ‘it’s only a year.’ I hope it’ll pass quickly. Am I excited and happy to go home? Of course I’m happy going home. My friends and former parishioners will be happy to have me, but it’s also hard because this is home, too.”

Unless the situation changes, Father de la Rosa will be out of the country until June 13, 2025.

“I ask the people here to pray for me while I’m home,” he said. “And I will pray for all of you.”

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