Home Christian News Threats to Catholic Charities Staffers Increase Amid Far-Right Anti-Migrant Campaign

Threats to Catholic Charities Staffers Increase Amid Far-Right Anti-Migrant Campaign

Catholic Charities
FILE - Immigrants from Honduras, Gerarado Reconco Lara, center, with his children Maria, 6, and Gerardo, 8, leave a Catholic Charities facility July 23, 2018, in San Antonio. The family was reunited the night before. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

(RNS) — The man who left a recording on Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor’s voicemail earlier this month spoke with an even keel, but his message was anything but calm. Over the course of roughly 40 seconds, the caller accused Pajanor, the head of Catholic Charities San Diego, of “facilitating illegal immigration,” “breaking the law” and being “not really Christian.”

The man saved his most volatile remarks for last, calling Pajanor, an immigrant and U.S. citizen, “scum” and much worse before ending with “Go back to India, you piece of garbage,” according to a recording provided to Religion News Service.

Over the past few months, Pajanor and staffers at Catholic Charities across the country, a decentralized, 113-year-old faith-based non-profit, have become the targets of right-leaning media personalities, conspiracy theorists and even members of Congress. The smear campaign is rooted in opposition to offering aid to immigrants, which critics frame as incentivizing illegal immigration, while sometimes accusing faith groups of breaking the law or working with drug cartels.

The result has been a series of unsettling incidents that have transpired near or even inside Catholic Charities facilities in what officials say is a rapidly growing threat to their safety.

“We have never seen this level,” Pajanor said, referring to the avalanche of vitriol he and his staff have received. “Some of our team members have been here for 20, 30 years, and they have said they have never seen such a thing happen.”

Some local agencies of Catholic Charities assist migrants after they’ve been processed by Customs and Border Protection, providing resources such as food, clothing and short-term housing before asylum-seekers depart for other parts of the country ahead of a scheduled court date with immigration officials. The Catholic group is one of several faith-based organizations — including Lutheran and Jewish groups, among others — that have long partnered with the federal government to offer such services.

“Catholic Charities agencies staff and volunteers all around the country choose to spend their time serving those most in need, like families whose homes were destroyed by a natural disaster, seniors who can’t afford their medicine, and hungry children in need of a nutritious meal,” Kerry Alys Robinson, president and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, the national membership organization that advocates for local agencies, said in a statement.

“Their work should earn respect and admiration, not demonization.”

For Pajanor, whose group operates homeless shelters and 14 food pantries in the city, the recent avalanche of hate followed a visit by James O’Keefe, a far-right provocateur who was recently forced out of Project Veritas, the activist organization he founded, following complaints regarding his treatment of staff. O’Keefe appeared earlier this month with a film crew outside a hotel that was being used by Catholic Charities San Diego to house migrants who had been processed by CBP.

In videos posted to social media, O’Keefe and his team can be seen questioning security guards outside the hotel. O’Keefe even posed as an exterminator to try to gain entry. On multiple occasions, O’Keefe suggests migrants in the hotel came into the country illegally and speculates, without offering evidence, that some were being trafficked.

Pajanor reacted to the allegations with exasperation.

“We are helping those individuals who are here legally,” he said. “Every one of them has a notice to appear in a court of law.”