© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fronteras: ‘Immigration is not charity; it’s necessity’ — CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service talks advocacy & compassion

Over two million migrants have sought asylum so far at the U.S. southern border during the 2023 fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Nonprofits across the country have stepped up to provide asylum seekers with physical, mental, and transportation needs.

The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) got its start in New York in 1939 by assisting Lutheran refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

It is now the country’s largest faith-based nonprofit that serves vulnerable immigrants from all over the world.

Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of LIRS, said in addition to providing resources, the organization also works to dispel harmful anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“We can play a role in political headwinds, but that means actually taking our message to the public so that the public doesn’t hear this narrative of immigrants being smugglers of fentanyl and the source behind the opioid epidemic,” she said.

Vignarajah, who also served in the White House as Policy Director for First Lady Michelle Obama, is an immigrant herself.

She immigrated to the U.S. with her family at nine months old while Sri Lanka was on the brink of civil war.

She said little in immigration policy has changed since then and government efforts to streamline the asylum-seeking process continue to be ineffective.

“We haven’t had real immigration reform for three decades and we know that the system is dysfunctional and it has been for a long time,” she said. “For us, it’s about taking (a) programmatic expertise and translating it to policy change.”

LIRS opened a Welcome Center in San Antonio in 2022 to provide trauma-informed services to asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, and humanitarian parolees.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1