United States President Donald Trump made immigration reform a major topic of his first State of the Union address, touting an immigration reform package that has been met with concern from the U.S. bishops.
Among the guests who were recognized during the Jan. 30 speech were the parents of two girls who were killed by MS-13 gang members in 2016, as well as a Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent who has spent 15 years fighting criminal organizations.
“The United States is a compassionate nation,” Trump said. “We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling, and the underprivileged all over the world. But as President of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers, and America's forgotten communities.”
Trump laid out the four-pillar immigration reform plan that he said the House and Senate would be voting on in the next few weeks. The proposed reform package includes a “10-12 year path to citizenship, with requirements for work, education and good moral character” for 1.8 million immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children, known as Dreamers.
The Dreamers had been protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals implemented by the Obama Administration. However, the Trump Administration has announced that the policy will be rescinded in March. Without a legislative solution, hundreds of thousands could face the threat of deportation.
The immigration proposal also provides for the building of a wall on the border with Mexico, and the ending of the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, also known as the visa lottery, which allows up to 50,000 immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to enter the United States after being randomly selected and vetted.
In addition, the plan would clamp down on the practice of “chain migration,” also known as “family reunification,” a policy under which American citizens or green-card holders can petition for close family members to join them in the U.S.
In response to the President’s proposed reforms, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, called the cuts to family immigration and elimination of protections for Dreamers “deeply troubling.”
“Upholding and protecting the family unit, regardless of its national origins, is vital to our faith,” Bishop Vásquez said. “Additionally, in searching for a solution for Dreamers, we must not turn our backs on the vulnerable. We should not, for example, barter the well-being of unaccompanied children for the well-being of the Dreamers. We know them all to be children of God who need our compassion and mercy.”
In 2003, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a pastoral letter on migration in which they stressed that economically powerful nations have “a stronger obligation to accommodate migration flows” when “persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families.”
In 2013, the U.S. bishops reaffirmed their stance on immigration based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, citing two equally important duties: welcoming the foreigner out of charity and respect for the human person, while also securing national borders and enforcing the law for the sake of the common good.
The bishops have called for an earned legalization program that would “allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence;” a future worker program “to permit foreignborn workers to enter the country safely and legally;” family-based immigration reform; restoration of due process rights for illegal immigrants; long-term solutions to the “the root causes of migration, such as underdevelopment and poverty in sending countries;” and the promotion of “targeted, proportional, and humane” enforcement of immigration laws.
Bishop Vásquez called for a bipartisan, narrowly-tailored solution that respects families.
“As pastors and leaders of the Church, we see this fear and sadness in our parishes and as such, continue to call for immediate action,” he said.