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Catholic Charities immigrant aid compelled Landry to cut state money for its homeless shelter

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Catholic Charities immigrant aid compelled Landry to cut state money for its homeless shelter

Jun 26, 2024 | 8:10 pm ET
By Julie O'Donoghue
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Catholic Charities immigrant aid compelled Landry to cut state money for its homeless shelter
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Louisiana Gov. Jeff Landry vetoed $1 million for an emergency homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities of Acadiana over the organization's work with immigrants.

Gov. Jeff Landry cut $1 million in state funding from the largest homeless shelter in Lafayette because of the help its operator, Catholic Charities of Acadiana, provides to immigrants.

“Part of Catholic Charities mission is to support the influx of illegal aliens into our country. Taxpayers should never foot the bill for nonprofits who are contributing to the illegal immigration crisis our nation is facing,” Landry said in a written statement Wednesday. “I don’t believe the majority of our legislators would support this either.” 

Landry removed the money for the organization after state lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to include it earlier this month. The funding was not intended for the group’s immigrant services. It would have helped pay for an emergency homeless shelter serving eight parishes in Acadiana.

Catholic Charities is now scrambling for a new source of support to help keep its shelter open just a few days before its new budget cycle starts July 1. Spokesman Ben Broussard said the cut will have a “crippling impact” on the largest shelter for homeless people in the Lafayette region. 

The facility overwhelmingly serves Louisiana citizens. More than 80% of the people who used it last year came from the Acadiana area, and over 90% were state residents. In total, it housed 410 people last year and has 87 people under its roof currently, Broussard said. 

Landry, who is a Catholic and a Lafayette Parish resident, said he wasn’t convinced the charity should receive government support.  

“I look forward to understanding in greater detail why Catholic Charities needs taxpayers dollars and how they would use that money,” he said. 

Since Landry took office in January, he has made fighting illegal immigration a priority, even though states generally have to concede enforcement to the federal government.  

One of his first acts as governor was to require the state to track and collect data on immigrants. Landry then spent $3 million to send 150 Louisiana National Guard members to Texas to help monitor the Mexico border. 

His efforts to hold a local Catholic Charities chapter responsible for the church’s long-held views on immigration is in keeping with national conservatives. 

Republicans in Congress threatened to pull federal funding from Catholic Charities last year over the nonprofit’s aid to immigrants at the Mexico border. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, announced an investigation into a Catholic organization assisting migrant workers in El Paso last winter. 

The New York Times reported earlier this month that people who work for Catholic Charities and other religious-based groups that assist immigrants are being harassed and attacked by right-leaning extremists across the country. 

Locally, Catholic Charities of Acadiana offers legal services to immigrants, including help with seeking citizenship, protected status and work authorization. The group also works with people who qualify for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which prevents deportation of immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. 

Catholic Charities of Acadiana lists these programs on its website, but its webpage for immigrant programs disappeared from public view for a few hours Wednesday after Landry vetoed the group’s shelter funding. When a reporter asked for more information about the services, the page came back online. 

Broussard declined to comment on the changes to the website or to provide more information about the group’s immigration outreach.

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents the church and charity organizations statewide, has clashed with Landry on other immigration policies.

The bishops opposed two new laws Landry backed. The first empowers local law enforcement officials to arrest people they suspect of entering the country illegally. The second is a so-called anti-sanctuary city provision, meant to force cities, such as New Orleans, to police immigrants aggressively if they are undocumented.

“[Help for] immigrants and refugees has been a core service of the Catholic Church forever,” said Tom Costanza, the chief state lobbyist for the Catholic Church in Louisiana.

The governor might have targeted Catholic Charities of Acadiana for a cut, but he didn’t remove all the money in the state budget for the organization. The group is still slated to receive $2.7 million in public funding to purchase generators for its buildings, including its shelter facility and soup kitchen that serves free, hot meals to people experiencing hunger.