Crossing Borders: Conference Celebrates International Human Rights Day

Russell Testa In the Headlines


Julian Jagudilla makes a point during the “Looking Beyond Our Borders” conference. (Photo courtesy of Noel T. Pangilinan)

NEW YORK — What links climate change and human trafficking? A lot more than one might think.

The intersection of these issues was explored on Saturday, Dec. 13, through “Looking Beyond Our Borders,” a conference sponsored by The Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, West 31st Street. More than 100 people listened to the keynote address and participated in a panel discussion and workshops that delved into the topics.

The keynote speaker, Sr. Winifred Doherty, RGS, an expert on human trafficking, shared how the effects of poverty and other conflicts lead to women, men, girls and boys being trafficked, turned into modern-day slaves. She reflected on how environmental degradation, in particular that caused by climate change, builds up pressure on people to migrate which, in turn, increases the potential for human trafficking. The speaker concluded by imploring social activists to work beyond their issues and to recognize how their various areas of action intersect.

The workshops and discussion, held in the Province’s San Damiano Hall, enabled participants to look more deeply at this intersection between environmental degradation and human migration. Presenter Dr. Gerry Gacioch, a climate change ambassador for the Catholic Climate Covenant and a cardiologist, shared how an estimated 600 million to 1 billion people are likely to be displaced by climate change disruptions. With this level of forced migration, conflict and human suffering are almost guaranteed. He went further to suggest that no more than 15 years are available to reverse the current course to avoid the worst of the impact.

In addition to providing important information, the conference worked to build a sense of community among the various attendees – a key component to the conference’s success. Participants left the workshop feeling that they could do something to make a difference and that they were not alone. This type of empowerment enables people to take steps to engage in social action.

“Looking Beyond Our Borders” was the first conference of its kind presented by the Migrant Center at the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, which opened in fall 2013. When asked about the impact of the conference, Julian Jagudilla, OFM, director of the Migrant Center, pointed out, “The center is more than just a place for our immigrant brothers and sisters to come and get quality services. At its best, the center can serve as a place of action and organizing to bring lasting change to our world. This aspect is very much in the spirit of our Franciscan tradition.”

As a part of the call to action at the conference’s conclusion, participants were invited to attend another program of the Migrant Center — “Be Informed, Be Prepared, Be Protected” — being held at 6 p.m. tonight, Dec. 17 in San Damiano Hall. This event will explore ways to take advantage of President Obama’s recent executive relief for undocumented immigrants and to avoid the fraud that often accompanies such opportunities.

The center’s first program was a public forum on immigration, held Nov. 2, 2013.

— Russell Testa is the justice, peace and integrity of creation animator for Holy Name Province. Resources about a variety of JPIC issues can be found on the Justice and Peace page of the HNP website