My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Recently, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, of the Diocese of Austin, Texas, and chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, of which I am a member, sent a letter to all of the Senators of the U.S., which perfectly sums up, I believe, the position of the Church on immigration matters. One particular section is worth sharing with you.
“While the Catholic Church acknowledges the right of nations to control their borders and a government’s responsibility to protect the people within their borders, those rights and responsibilities should be exercised in a manner that is consistent with their moral obligation to protect the humanitarian needs of migrants and refugees. Wealthier nations have a stronger obligation to accommodate those needs and can do so in a manner that does not jeopardize the safety of its people.
“Because the Unites States is one of the wealthiest nation in the world, we oppose its shifting resources away from accommodating those needs, and toward the enforcement priorities proposed by the Administration of Fiscal Years 2018 and 2017. We believe they would constitute a further massive security buildup on the U.S./Mexico border and increased use of immigrant detention. We do not believe such an enforcement-only approach is appropriate. Moreover, we do not believe that such resources need to be or should be invested in a border wall or in more detention facilities. Instead, we believe that some of this funding should be dedicated to humane and more economical programs, such as alternatives to detention programs that utilize case management, legal services, and safe voluntary repatriation programs. In short, as Pope Francis has often said, we should be building bridges, not walls.”
We recognize a new administration in Washington, D.C., has taken an enforcement position regarding undocumented aliens in our country. Over and over again, I have said that undocumented immigration is not good for the immigrants, nor is it good for our country. There are various ways, however, in which we could curtail and eventually eliminate undocumented immigration by a full reform of our immigration system. Bishop Vásquez, in his letter to the U.S. Senate, outlines some of the ways in which monies now being earmarked for a wall that has both ecological and practical difficulties might help eliminate the need for the kind of measures being used at this time.
The separation of families is truly a concern. Recently, in Cincinnati, Ohio, a mother of four American-born children was deported although she had no criminal record and had work authorization while her case was pending. When she appeared for her hearing, she was immediately deported, leaving behind her four American children. Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati tried to intervene, but to no avail. We do not want to see this same kind of case happening here in our own Diocese, in Brooklyn and Queens. You may have seen the recent report on NET-TV on a project in Park Slope trying to recruit foster families to take care of the American-born children of parents who have been deported. Truly, this is an extreme use of the enforcement of our immigration laws.
Our immigration laws have not been enforced properly for many successive administrations. This is mainly because the presence of undocumented aliens was favorable to many; especially to employers who, even if they paid their workers correctly on the books, still were lacking other employees who would work as hard as the undocumented worker. Now we see that the same people who benefited from the labor of the undocumented are not coming to their defense. We must defend those in our midst, no matter what their legal status. Humane, reasonable treatment is necessary for all persons. We need to voice our objections to these situations to our elected officials, so that they might rethink support for some initiatives that have terrible consequences for our immigrant families.
Another problem that is looming is the disappearance of “Temporary Protective Status,” commonly known as “TPS,” which is a status accorded to immigrants who cannot return to their home country because of natural calamities or civil strife. The groups most vulnerable now are those people from Haiti. It is estimated that 40,000 Haitians in the United States, half of whom are in Brooklyn and Queens, have TPS. This means that they are not required to return to Haiti because of the earthquake. Normally, TPS has been a path for many to regularize their status in other legal ways. The summary denial of TPS will affect not only Haiti, Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua but also nine other countries.
When I served as executive director of the USCCB Migration and Refugee Services during the late 1980s, I was responsible for promoting this legislation which was readily accepted on a bi-partisan basis recognizing its humanitarian usefulness. A rally was recently held at City Hall organized by Councilman Mathieu Eugene, the only Haitian-American on the City Council, asking support of the City Council to unanimously endorse the continuance of the Temporary Protective Status.
Sometimes ignorance of the facts surrounding our immigration system has prompted some to take extreme positions which on the surface seem to be logical to law-obeying citizens, not recognizing the extenuating circumstances that cause people to be in the United States and on an undocumented status.
Another problem that still needs resolution is the re-settlement of refugees from the war-torn Middle East, especially those from Syria, and the delay in their processing by the new administration which cut in half the number of refugees from 100,000 to 50,000. The consequence for the Catholic Charities organization which assists with the resettlement of refugees has caused some to close their resettlement programs even when people from parishes are willing and ready to assist in the resettlement of those in need of protection. This is another issue that demands our advocacy.
There is no better advocate for migrants and refugees than our Holy Father, Pope Francis. One of his first acts as Pontiff was to fly to the island of Lampadusa to visit with African refugees who survived the perilous voyage on the Mediterranean Sea from Libya, where they first gathered for their journey. Pope Francis has now taken a courageous step to travel to Egypt, even after the two massacres at churches on Palm Sunday.
Truly, our Holy Father is putting his Pontificate behind the service of the poorest and those in need. Perhaps writing a letter to your elected federal officials may allow our legislators to understand our support for a reasonable immigration and refugee program. It is little to ask when our Holy Father has given us such great example. He has constantly put out into the deep waters of the defense of migrants and refugees, many of whom perish in the deep waters of the sea trying to escape both economic and life-threatening conditions.