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Biden’s New Border Restrictions Will Have ‘Serious Human Consequences,’ Catholic Leaders Say

Asylum-seekers wait on the banks of the Rio Grande in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Sept. 26, 2023, after crossing during their journey through Mexico to Eagle Pass, Texas. U.S President Joe Biden June 4 signed an executive order temporarily shutting down asylum requests. (Photo: OSV News/Daniel Becerril, Reuters)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS – While President Joe Biden touts new executive actions that limit illegal immigration as necessary to gain control of the southern border, Catholic leaders argue the president’s decision disregards U.S. asylum law, and will have serious human consequences.

Most notably, Biden’s executive actions will bar migrants who cross the southern border unlawfully from receiving asylum, at least until the numbers of people trying to enter are reduced to meet certain thresholds. Migrants who apply at ports of entry are exempt from the new rules.

Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, chair of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Committee on Migration, said in a June 4 statement that the conference is “deeply disturbed” by Biden’s executive actions, and called on the president to “reverse course and recommit his administration to policies that respect the human life and dignity of migrants, both within and beyond our borders.”

Seitz argues that while a country has a right and responsibility to maintain its borders and regulate immigration, it cannot come at the expense of humanitarian needs of those who flee their countries.

“As defenders of human life and dignity, which we hold sacred and inviolable from the moment of conception, we cannot accept unjust conditions on the right to migrate for those fleeing life-threatening situations,” Seitz said. “We especially worry for those compelled by these policies to traverse more treacherous terrain, further endangering their lives and the lives of Border Patrol agents.”

Seitz said the conference shares the concerns of those worried about violent gangs, drug smugglers, and human traffickers entering the country. However, he argues that these kinds of executive actions will only empower and embolden these criminal actors, and put migrants at more of a risk.

“Imposing arbitrary limits on asylum access and curtailing due process will only empower and embolden those who seek to exploit the most vulnerable,” Seitz said. “These measures will not sustainably reduce the increased levels of forced migration seen worldwide.”

Speaking to Crux about Biden’s executive actions on June 4, Sister Norma Pimentel, the executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley – the charitable branch of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas – said they will have serious human consequences.

“Today, President Biden issued a regulation that will curtail the ability of certain people to access asylum,” Pimentel said. “While the regulation will not impact all people crossing our border – it exempts those applying at ports of entry – it will have serious human consequences and will greatly limit vulnerable people from accessing protection.”

Biden announced the slew of border security measures on June 4, a few weeks after bipartisan immigration legislation again failed to pass in Congress. In June 4 remarks, Biden said the actions will “help gain control of our border, and restore order to the process.”

“We must face a simple truth that to protect America as a land that welcomes immigrants we must first secure the border and secure it now,” Biden said. “The simple truth is there is a worldwide migrant crisis, and if the United States doesn’t secure our border, there is no limit to the number of people who might try to come here because there’s no better place on the planet than the United States of America.”

The move, however, comes as the number of migrant encounters at the southern border by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have declined through the first part of 2024. After a record 301,980 encounters in December 2023, monthly totals for January-April have not surpassed 190,000, according to US CBP data. While still high, those figures are in general lower than those of recent years.

Pimentel questioned Biden’s move in-part for that reason. She said “numbers have been the lowest in many years” at the CCRGV’s Humanitarian Respite Center.

“My first reaction was that I don’t understand the purpose of him doing this because the actual number of people coming to the country that are allowed to remain in the country is very few,” Pimentel said. “A great number of people who attempt to enter are sent back home.”

Biden blamed Congressional Republicans for his decision, saying that they blocked the “strongest border security agreement in decades” only because former President Donald Trump told them to. Even with the executive actions, Biden still said it’s imperative for Congress to act to provide the necessary funding to hire thousands of border workers – border patrol agents, immigration judges, and asylum officers.

Pimentel acknowledged, as well, that Biden’s actions are a direct consequence of Congressional inaction.

“This enforcement-only action by the Administration saddens me but is also a direct consequence of years of bipartisan Congressional inaction. Congress must act,” Pimentel said. “As the bishops have long said – we must pass comprehensive immigration reform. Through legislative reform we can achieve meaningful change that upholds our values and also enhances our security.”

Pimentel also noted that these actions will not change the work of the church at the border.

“Our focus at the [Humanitarian Respite Center], CCRGV, and the diocese remains the same – to assist, accompany and serve vulnerable families who are seeking protection as they are all God’s children,” Pimentel said. “Today’s events will not change the work we do nor the people we serve. The Catholic Church will be here and in Mexico to assist.”

Archbishop Gustavo Garciá-Siller of San Antonio told Crux that he, too, is disappointed in the actions.

“While recognizing the near impossibility of passing meaningful comprehensive immigration reform prior to the November election, the U.S. bishops continue to call for common sense solutions which seek to realistically address the situations of those seeking entry in this country, including working with other countries on the root causes for the mass exodus of their people, García-Siller said in a statement.

Other Catholic immigration advocates denounced Biden’s executive actions, as well.

Dylan Corbett, the executive director of the Hope Border Institute migrant ministry in El Paso, Texas, said the executive actions are a “real step backward in our nation’s commitment to human rights and asylum protections as well as humane and orderly process at the border.”

Anna Gallagher, the executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, meanwhile, said in a statement that the executive actions are “dangerous, immoral, and illegal.” Questions have surfaced about the legality of Biden’s executive actions. Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, has already said the organization intends to sue.

Biden’s news conference announcing his executive actions lasted about 10 minutes. At the end, he had a message for those who argue the steps he has taken are too strict.

“I say to you, ‘be patient,’ and the goodwill of the American people is wearing thin right now,” Biden said. “Doing nothing is not an option. We have to act. We must act both consistent with our laws and our values, our values as Americans.”

One thought on “Biden’s New Border Restrictions Will Have ‘Serious Human Consequences,’ Catholic Leaders Say

  1. I don’t recall hearing anything from you about the previous President’s inhumane and un-Christian treatment of immigrants?
    So, what is the real issue here?