Put Out into the Deep

Migration Issue an Opportunity To Strengthen Our Nation

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Last week, I attended a migration strategy and planning meeting outside of Chicago at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake, commonly known as Mundelein, named after our own Auxiliary Bishop, George Mundelein. Bishop Mundelein went on to become the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago. Mundelein Seminary, located on a beautiful university complex, is the major seminary and graduate school of theology for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The meeting was by invitation and was attended by Archbishop José H. Gómez, Archbishop of Los Angeles and President of the USCCB; Cardinal Blasé Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago; Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Archbishop of Newark; and other well-known representatives from respected migration organizations. The invitation came from Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, whose diocese is at the center of the border crisis as it is now being played out in real-time.

The meeting was called to gather those who could perhaps lend some insight as to where we need to go as a country. The massive influx, especially of unaccompanied minors, has created a bottleneck at our southern border. Also, perception issues have arisen that migration from our southern neighbors is out of control. This matter will not help resolve the ongoing immigration problems that still plague our Nation.

This meeting, ‘A Wider We’ – Planning A Catholic Response to People on the Move was planned to give witness to the situation, not only as it is now playing out on our southern border, but also to advocate for those in peril. A review of the root causes from the sending countries, the “why” people are coming to our border, was also investigated. There was representation at the two-day meeting from the countries most affected in the Southern Triangle, as it is called, from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, as well as Mexico. Bishops from these countries were also in attendance.

The meeting did allow those involved in migration to see one another face-to-face, and also listen to Cardinal Michael Czerny, SJ, appointed by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, to serve as Under-Secretary of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development at the Migrants and Refugees Section. Via Zoom, Cardinal Czerny gave a wonderful talk about the Church without borders. Although we experience the need for borders to define nation-states, our Church can never be defined by national borders.

The Church is the Body of Christ and embraces all who are its members and beyond. Cardinal Czerny presented the vision of the Holy See for working in this hemisphere to alleviate the migration problem. He stressed that always the first concern of the Church is that people can stay in their home countries and find the necessary conditions for a satisfying life. It is clear, however, that “push factors,” as they are called because of the high crime rates and lack of economic opportunity, force many people to make the desperate choice to make the dangerous journey to seek asylum in the United States. This has become a particular problem with the sending of unaccompanied minors North.

Some of the unaccompanied minors are being sent and smuggled by cartels. Most children have a certain destination on a piece of paper in their pockets with the name and address of some relative in the United States. There are other minors who come without any specific destination. One cannot imagine how desperate parents must be to have their children leave their home country, not even under their supervision, with the hope that their children can find a better life. Recruitment by gangs is especially a problem in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Parents do not want their sons or daughters to be forced into gangs, which will lead them to a life of crime and worse.

We heard the incredible testimony via Zoom of one young girl aged 15 living with her grandparents in El Salvador who was approached by a gang and asked to kill her grandparents’ neighbors so that she could have admittance into a gang. Obviously, this caused the young girl to flee El Salvador. This is the sort of desperation that we find in these countries, and this is hardly understood by the general public.

Several conclusions were made by the group in attendance. There is an understanding that first, we must do something to assist with the influx of unaccompanied minors and help them exit from the holding camps where they are housed. These sites are never a good place for the long-term confinement of young people. In dealing with asylum cases in the past, the U.S. has considered anyone under the age of 18 an unaccompanied-minor, and one who is eligible for placement either with relatives or with foster families. In the past, Catholic Charities USA, which was represented at the meeting, has maintained agency licenses to do this type of work.

We look to the future with hope, because for these young people, there is little hope unless they get settled into our country. They do have a real threat to their safety that compels them to leave their home country.

One suggestion made by Cardinal Czerny is that the United States re-engage in the Global Compact for Migration, the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement, prepared under the auspices of the United Nations, which was vacated by the U.S. under the Trump Administration. Re-engaging would allow the current administration to cooperate with other nations in trying to deal with international migration.

This truly is an international problem that can only be solved with international cooperation.  Some of the Bishops in attendance at the conference have a meeting scheduled with President Biden in the future and will be able to bring these matters to his attention.

It was interesting to understand that the root causes go beyond economic problems. Civil society or organizations which keep countries functioning are lacking. Migration becomes a safety valve without reform of economic conditions. Violence is, unfortunately, part and parcel of the scenes in the sending countries and the major root cause of migration.

Concern was raised for particular groups who have temporary status in the United States, commonly known as the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) but better known as DREAMers. These are minors who were brought to the United States as children and now have temporary status, as well as many from other countries who have TPS, or Temporary Protective Status. In the Diocese of Brooklyn, we see that many from Haiti who came after the terrible earthquake, and other climatic disasters, recently had their TPS removed.

The present administration has extended the status of these groups, temporary as it is. It does, however, give these people the right to work and remain in the United States but does not allow them to become permanent residents. Many have been here for over 20 years and are fully integrated into our society and the workplace. The larger problem of the almost 10 or 11 million residents without proper status can only be solved in a systematic but piecemeal approach taking each group and dealing with their migration issues separately. The idea of a blanket “so-called” amnesty is not politically feasible, nor will it assist in the ultimate integration of many who are essential workers, agricultural workers, and fully employed members of our society.

We need to look at the migration issue in our country not as a problem to be solved, but rather as an opportunity to strengthen our nation with the newcomers who are already contributing to our welfare and, certainly, helping the sagging birth rate in the United States.

In our own Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens, the issue of migration looms high on the list of issues that influence our parishes and neighborhoods. Hopefully, follow-up from this summit meeting at Mundelein might bring about some resolution and good advocacy with our legislators to come and find solutions to the ever-present challenge of migration.

Our nation has been built on migration; however, at the same time, our nation has always found it difficult to integrate migrants into our society. As a Church, we know our first responsibility is to welcome, protect and, integrate the goals set by Pope Francis himself for our migrant ministry.

As we put out into the deep of this ever-present social problem of migration, join me in prayer for follow-up from this important conference, and especially for those children who are languishing in detention centers waiting for the opportunity to find asylum in our great nation.