As the conclusion of a lengthy discussion on migration, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops decided Monday to draft a statement from their president expressing the need for humane and just immigration reform.
The Nov. 13 proposal was first floated by Archbishop Michael Sheehan, Archbishop Emeritus of Santa Fe. After debating how to go about preparing a statement, it was agreed by oral assent that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the conference, would issue a statement with the assistance of the Committee on Migration, chaired by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, assisted by Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.
The discussion followed brief presentations from Archbishop Gomez and Bishop Vasquez. The Los Angeles archbishop outlined the principles which guide the US bishops' work on migration, which come from Strangers No Longer, a 2003 pastoral letter issued jointly by the US and Mexican bishops' conferences.
“This is a time when newcomers [to the US] are fleeing violence or persecution or cannot find a livelihood in their own country,” he reflected, adding that the Trump administration has taken several steps on immigration that demand a response from the Church because they “have a direct impact on our pastoral care of immigrants, refugees, and DACA youth.”
The first of these is the decision to allow only 45,000 refugees in the coming fiscal year — the lowest level since the program's founding in 1980, and the second consecutive year in which the number of refugees admitted will be reduced.
This move, Archbishop Gomez said, “is simply inhumane, particularly when our great nation has the resources and ability to do more” for those “fleeing tyranny and persecution.”
He urged the preservation of DACA, which provides reprieve from the threat of deportation for undocumented persons who were brought to the US as minors, many of whom only know the US “and are by every social measure, American youth.”
Bishop Vasquez then spoke, saying the bishops are advocating for a solution for the DACA youth in the form of the DREAM Act, which would provide those young people with residency in the US.
He encouraged the bishops to contact their legislators to pass the DREAM Act or similar legislation as a prompt and humane solution, noting that 85 percent of Dreamers have lived in the US 10 years or longer, 89 percent have gainful employment, and 93 percent have a high school degree.
The Bishop of Austin also addressed temporary protected status, which has been extended to migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti because of acute conditions of insecurity in their home countries.
“It is not the proper time to return 300,000 individuals” to their home countries when they remain insecure due to natural and man-made disasters, he said. These individuals have jobs and support their families, many have mortgages, and they have some 270,000 children who are US citizens.
“ A longer term legislative solution for these brothers and sisters” is necessary, he said.
The US bishops' “vigorous opposition” to many of the administration's actions on immigration has been taken because the Gospels “compel us to do so,” Bishop Vasquez stated.
“ Along with the right choices on refugee resettlement, DACA, and TPS, we also need comprehensive immigration reform,” he added, saying there is a need for a path to legalization and citizenship, acknowledging at the same time that “our country also has the right, and the responsibility, to secure its borders.”
Responding to the migration committee's presentation, Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento maintained that “the existence of the TPS population is in a certain sense a condemnation of the inability of Congress and administrations over the past 21 years to provide comprehensive immigration reform,” saying that having held them “in this holding pattern for decades is unconscionable.”
Archbishop Gomez stated that “all of us have to have a conversion, and that's why it's so important to talk about this, because people don't know what the Church teaches,” which echoed comments made by Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago.
The Chicago archbishop had lamented the “the poisoning rhetoric that is degrading of immigrants, and even demonizing of them,” which “is having an effect on our own people, because they pick up that language … there's something wrong in our churches when the gospel is proclaimed but people leave parishes with that rhetoric still in their hearts.”
Archbishop Gomez commented that “it's important for us to call people to conversion, and explain to them what is it we teach; it's so essential for the future of our country.”
Bishop Vasquez reiterated the importance of conveying the Church's teaching, and also of fostering personal encounters with immigrants or refugees. “Once you do that you understand the situation of persons … just like us, therefore we empathize and are in solidarity with them; that's what brings conversion and change of mind.”
Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces raised the question of how to counter charges that immigration policy is a matter of prudential judgment, and that the faithful may therefore in good conscience come to a judgment which differs from that of the bishops.
Bishop Thomas Wenski of Miami responded that “we're making our prudential judgment, too … in the light of Catholic teaching.” He emphasized that “immigrants are not problems, but brothers and sisters; strangers, but strangers who should be embraced as brothers and sisters. We're offering what we think is best, not only for the immigrants, but for our society as a whole. We can make America great, but you don't make America great by making America mean.”
Immigration reform, he maintained, must “include the common good of everyone: Americans and those who wish to be Americans.”
Bishop Soto responded that deportations do not fall under the category of prudential judgement, but rather were included by St. John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae among the sins which cry out to heaven, and so is not merely “consistent with Church teaching,” but “to discard it as a prudential judgement doesn't reflect our tradition.”
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco recommended the five principles from Strangers No Longer as a sine qua non, on which “there can be no disagreement” among Catholics. “While there's room for prudential judgment, it's not something that can be taken lightly” because it “involves such basic considerations of justice.”