President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration was met with both praise and concern from Catholic groups, who emphasized that more must be done to find long-term solutions for a broken immigration system. “I am happy that some temporary relief is being offered to help parents and children who right now are living in daily fear that their families will be broken up by arrests and deportations,” said Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles, the highest-ranking Hispanic bishop in the U.S. However, he cautioned, “the relief is not permanent and the problems are still not fixed.” On Thursday night, President Obama announced that he would stay the deportation of certain undocumented immigrant parents for up to three years, allowing them to work legally. Eligibility requirements include having lived in the U.S. for at least five years, having children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents, passing a criminal background check and agreeing to pay taxes. Roughly 4 million people will likely qualify for this measure, while thousands of others will benefit from other changes. The president extended benefits of temporary residence to more children of undocumented immigrants, expanding the eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and extending their temporary stay from two to three years. In addition, the president said he would increase border security resources and deport those who had illegally crossed the border recently. He said he would focus government enforcement resources on criminals and those who threaten security. Archbishop Gomez welcomed the actions as pro-family but emphasized that much more must be done for immigrant families. Similarly, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the deferred deportations while stressing the need for “a more humane view of immigrants and a legal process that respects each person’s dignity, protects human rights, and upholds the rule of law.” “They [the bishops] welcome the executive action in the sense that it would ease some of the separation of families here,” Ashley Feasley, the bishops’ Migration & Refugee Services immigration policy advisor told CNA. She added that “the bishops are still advocating for working with Congress for a more permanent solution.” In a statement responding to the president’s announcement, Archbishop Gomez insisted that “the President’s actions today are no substitute for the comprehensive immigration reform our nation needs.” “Too many families are being torn apart by deportations, uncertainty about their status, and delays in our visa process that can take years, even decades. Too many men and women who are immigrants are being exploited in the workplace and forced to live in society’s shadows,” he stated. The announcement of the executive order was met with criticism from members of the Republican Party, who said that it was an overstep of presidential authority that would encourage continued illegal immigration, with negative social consequences. CatholicVote.org, a group that works to promote Catholic principles in public life, voiced wariness about the precedent that could be set by the executive order. “We support immigration reform. But strongly oppose President Obama’s executive action announced last night,” the group said in an email to its members. It warned that if a president “may selectively enforce laws based on his or her political preferences (even policies we agree with) — our nation is in trouble.” Acknowledging the obligation for Catholics to respect the human dignity of each person, Catholic Vote said that the border situation illustrates a need for real reform. “Children are being led by criminals across the border, families are being torn apart, and gang and drug violence is rampant. It’s disgusting and it’s unsustainable,” the group said, arguing that if the GOP attempts to stall the executive order through a funding decision, they should also offer “reform proposals of their own.” The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., also pushed for a long-term solution to keep families together. “The administration’s decision will improve the lives of millions of immigrants who are already here, building communities and supporting families,” said executive director Jeanne M. Atkinson. “However, administrative relief is no substitute for legislative reform. We need a permanent fix to the immigration system that can only be achieved through bipartisan Congressional action.”
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