CC in the News

People & Places: Cooking Up Compassion

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Catholic Charities leader explains refugee resettlement practices

Group’s leader says refugees come to Tulsa to reunite with family.

The head of eastern Oklahoma’s only refugee resettlement agency said the United States should “hit the pause button” on admitting Syrian refugees until it can ensure the safety of the American people, but after that the country should welcome the refugees.

Deacon Kevin Sartorius, executive director of Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Tulsa, said that in light of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere, it is the job of the government, including the Oklahoma governor and Tulsa mayor, to keep the citizens safe.

“That’s their job, and they should be allowed to do it,” he said. “But, having said that, if they can establish a safe mechanism to take in people, families and children especially, then we should accept some. Because this is the greatest nation on Earth. We’re made of immigrants. That’s our fabric.

“Establish safety, but once that’s done, we have an obligation to offer charity, to offer Christ’s love to those who are suffering.”

Sartorius met Monday night with about 100 people at McNellie’s downtown to explain the Catholic Charities immigration program. Members of the Muslim community and the interfaith community joined Catholics at that meeting.

Admitting Syrian refugees has become a hot-button topic in the United States since the Paris terrorist attacks.

“Most people do not understand why we do what we do, and where we’re headed from here,” Sartorius said.

In an interview after the meeting, he said that Catholic Charities brings refugees to Tulsa to be reunited with their family members who are already in the community.

“That makes us a family reunification site, as opposed to a free site, which takes individuals who don’t have any family ties in the community.”

He said it is easier to work with clients who have family in Tulsa because a network of support is already in place.

Nationwide, Catholic Charities handled about a quarter of the 65,000 refugees who entered the country last year.

Of those, 278 came to eastern Oklahoma, he said, 95 percent of them Burmese. Twenty refugees came from Russia, fleeing the conflict in Ukraine and Crimea.

“The Burmese typically request to come to Tulsa because they have family here, and the State Department honors that,” Sartorius said.

“It begins for us at the airport, but we maintain that relationship after they arrive,” he said.

Catholic Charities, working with other agencies, helps refugees with housing, employment, health screening, English lessons, school enrollment, banking, car purchases and other needs.

Sartorius said it is possible Tulsa could get some Syrian refugees.

“We don’t choose the population we serve. We don’t get to choose, or reject, Syrians,” he said.

“It’s early on in the process of certifying refugees from that area, and there are not as many Syrians interested in coming to Tulsa because there’s not a large population of Syrians here.”

He said Catholic Charities brought only one Syrian family — three people — to the Tulsa area this year following a 2012 request by a family member, a Syrian man who lives here.

Sartorius said the Catholic Church got into refugee resettlement in the 1970s when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a conglomerate of 180 dioceses, decided to help the Vietnamese boat people displaced by the war in Vietnam.

That resulted in a contract with the U.S. State Department to be a refugee resettlement agency. Oklahoma has only two such agencies, Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Tulsa and in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.



Immigration services to be offered in Muskogee

By Harrison Grimwood Phoenix Staff Writer | Posted: Monday, November 23, 2015 3:00 am

Immigration services from a charitable group in Tulsa is extending its reach to Muskogee with bimonthly meetings.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa will send an immigration lawyer to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Muskogee twice each month for consultations and follow­up appointments.

An immigration attorney with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa helps an immigrant family at their Tulsa office. People in Muskogee will be able to receive help will immigration issues through a program at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

An immigration attorney with Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Tulsa helps an immigrant family at their Tulsa office. People in Muskogee will be able to receive help will immigration issues through a program at St. Joseph Catholic Church.

“Most of what we do here is family­based immigration,” Michael Abdoveis said. “Basically, we’re either trying to keep folks here, bring them in legally or help them get legal status whenever they’re here.”

Abdoveis, the attorney taking on immigration services in Muskogee, said the services are for any immigrant who needs help. Services offered through the charity include family petitions, green card replacement, naturalization, and helping the undocumented.

Abdoveis will be at St. Joseph, 321 N. Virginia St., the first Thursday of each month for new consultations and every third Thursday for follow­ up appointments.

Abdoveis said the organization can help undocumented immigrants. He also said that any interaction with undocumented immigrants in his capacity as a lawyer is protected by client­ attorney confidentiality.

“If we can’t help them, we’ll give them an honest assessment as to why we can’t, and we’re happy to refer them to other lawyers in the area … that have expertise to offer them a second opinion,” he said. “We’d love for them to come in and try to find a way to get them documented.”

Immigration services through Catholic Charities cost a nominal fee. Abdoveis said the majority of the cost comes from court filing costs.

Michael Abdoveis

Michael Abdoveis

However, the immigration attorneys at Catholic Charities will not turn a person away because they make too little or too much money, Abdoveis said. The charity may waive fees or work with clients in other ways.

Abdoveis does not speak Spanish, but he said St. Joseph has several employees who speak Spanish and are available to interpret for Spanish­speaking immigrants. People seeking immigration services are free to bring an interpreter, he said.

Although the immigrants Catholic Charities works with are primarily Hispanic, the organization will help immigrants from any country.

Reach Harrison Grimwood at (918) 684­2926 or

Many express opinions on whether or not to pause on accepting Syrian refugees into United States

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 – KJRH Channel 2 Tulsa


Deacon Kevin on Pat Campbell Show

Click to listen to Deacon Kevin Sartorius on 1170AM – Pat Campbell Show – Wednesday, November 18, 2015, regarding Catholic Charities’ refugee program.


Syrian refugees aren’t expected in Tulsa

Tuesday, November 17, 2015 – KTUL Channel 8 – by Charles Ely



Governor Calls For Obama Administration To Suspend Accepting Syrian Refugees

November 16, 2015 – KOTV Channel 6 Tulsa