By Christopher White, The Tablet’s National Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, is urging his fellow U.S. bishops to hold out for a clean DACA bill, rather than settle for a compromise that includes funding for the border wall.
“I’m very concerned, and I don’t think I’m being hysterical, that if you look at the budget proposals, the administration’s preparing for a mass deportation,” said Cardinal Tobin. “I think if we accept a deal uncritically, and that’s all we get, we may be actually establishing a foundation that will result in greater harm.”
While the U.S. bishops have historically maintained a position in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, they have recently voiced their support for a “narrowly-tailored bill” in order to reach a solution on DACA.
His remarks came during an afternoon-long visit on Monday to Georgetown University organized by its Initiative on Catholic Social Thought in Public Life, and at a time when legislators are trying to reach a last minute deal on DACA – a program that protects undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors from deportation.
The DACA program was started by President Barrack Obama in June 2012. In September 2017, President Donald Trump announced that he would end it if Congress failed to come up with a permanent solution before March 5, 2018, leaving an estimated 800,000 individuals with an uncertain legal fate.
On Monday, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democrat Sen. Christopher Coons introduced the latest piece of legislation that would grant a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients and would also mandate a study on the necessary measures for border security, without granting immediate funding of the border wall.
Their bill was immediately rejected by President Trump, as it differs from his proposed four-pronged plan to fix immigration, which includes a path to citizenship for the 1.8 million so-called Dreamers without legal status, the building of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the end of a visa lottery, and terminating family migration.
In response to that proposal, the chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Joe Vásquez, issued a statement saying that while he supported the pathway to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries, he rejected the administration’s cuts to family immigration and protections for children.
“In searching for a solution for Dreamers, we must not turn our backs on the vulnerable,” wrote Bishop Vásquez. “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.”
More than 500 Catholic social activists gathered in the nation’s capital for the 2018 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering, and they spent a day lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill, primarily on the issue of DACA.
Since it was first introduced in 2001, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has supported the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, a bipartisan bill that would grant a pathway to citizenship for eligible DACA beneficiaries, which is still considered to be model legislation by the U.S. bishops.
Tobin Takes to the Classroom
On Monday afternoon, Cardinal Tobin visited the classroom of Georgetown professor and Brookings scholar E.J. Dionne to discuss the role of the Church in public life. While he was pressed by students on some of the most neuralgic issues within the Church – such as the role of women, the treatment of gays and lesbians, and, religious freedom – he remained at ease while sitting on a chair at their level, offering a strong defense of the Church’s role in the public square, while also admitting there was room for improvement.
“The political world and the world of religion are fundamentally working toward the same goal… as such they should talk to each other,” the Cardinal said.
He told the more than 50 Georgetown students that the common good is what unites both realms as they consider what will make human beings flourish.
On the question of women in the Church, Cardinal Tobin pointed to the example of women who serve as CEOs, financial officers, and superintendents within Church institutions, but admitted the issue of ordination is often “a stumbling block.”
He told students that Pope Francis has promised to review the question of women in the Church and that “if he’s not just pandering, he’s going to make good on that.”
“He’s done it in small ways in the Roman Curia, but it’s an open question,” said Cardinal Tobin. “It’s one that bothers a lot of Catholics.”
On the issue of gays and lesbians, he said the Church had failed in its treatment of those individuals, which he said at times has been “unfair, unchristian, and unloving.”
“If identity doesn’t lead us to discover a common good, we’re bound to be fragmented,” he said. “Part of the Christian response is that every person is precious in who they are.”
Concluding his remarks, Cardinal Tobin urged the students to see the value in pluralism and religious faith, despite substantive differences.
In an indirect nod to recent debates over religious liberty that led to tensions between the Obama administration and the U.S. bishops, Cardinal Tobin said “there were governmental voices that wanted to reduce my faith simply to what I did in Church on Sunday, but… if my faith isn’t connected to what I do on Monday, I think I’m not flourishing.”
“To try and say that separation of Church and State means the Church is excluded from the public square, I think it’s shortsighted and will impoverish,” he added.
The prelate concluded his day at Georgetown on a panel discussion with the Initiative’s director John Carr, alongside two immigrant students at the university, in an effort to promote Pope Francis’s “Share the Journey” campaign, launched in 2017 as a two-year initiative to promote greater awareness of the plight of migrants and refugees.
Habon Ali, who hails from Nairobi, Kenya and was raised in Minnesota, used her platform to remind the attendees “every immigrant is not a terrorist.” Ali, who is pursuing her graduate degree in global politics and security, rejected the caricatures of immigrants that has come to define much of American discourse on the topic.
Meanwhile, Mizraim Belman Guerrero, originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, and who migrated to Texas with his family at age two and is a DACA beneficiary, told attendees to “stop looking for the perfect immigrant story.”
While he said that it’s true that immigrants have contributed to the United States in profound ways, he warned against glamorizing their stories. Pointing to the example of his own mother, he said she worked an average job and lacked higher education but that Americans must remember that she possesses the same dignity and value as immigrants who are hailed as success stories.
The immigrant experience is “very broad and complex,” Guerrero said.
For Cardinal Tobin, his concluding remarks were a call to action, encouraging attendees to call their senators and representatives and press them for a clean DACA bill.
“Any sort of tit-for-tat at this point is very dangerous,” he warned.
“I think we should draw some lines in the sand. It’s not being stubborn. We’d be giving away some essential hope.”