As President-elect Donald J. Trump revisits a commitment to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Catholic Church in the United States will mark National Migration Week—an effort to call attention to the contributions immigrants have made to U.S. culture—beginning on Sunday, Jan. 8.
Calling migration “an act of great hope,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo and Archbishop José Gomez, president and vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a statement on Jan. 6 that many seeking to enter the United States often “suffer devastating family separation and most often face dire economic conditions to the point they cannot maintain a very basic level of living.”
“Refugees flee their countries due to war and persecution which inspires them to risk everything for an opportunity to live in peace,” they said.
Recalling the discrimination faced by Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Italy when they arrived in the United States in previous generations, the archbishops said, “Most of us can find stories in our own families of parents, grandparents or great-grandparents leaving the old country for the promise of America.
“Let us remind ourselves of those moments when our loved ones were forced to seek the mercy of others in a new land,” they said.
Archbishop Gomez, who heads the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and who was born in Mexico, became the highest ranking Mexican-American to hold a top leadership post in the U.S.C.C.B. when he was elected in November.
Various dioceses and parishes plan to mark National Migration Week with special Masses and events.
In Chicago, for example, Cardinal Blase Cupich will celebrate a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, during which at least five languages will be spoken. In addition, a Syrian refugee living in the archdiocese will speak about the experience of resettling in the United States as will a student who has benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
The program, created by an executive order from President Barack Obama in 2012, has given permits to more than 750,000 people who entered the United States without documentation before they were 16 years old, commonly known as “Dreamers.” The status allows them to work or pursue an education without fear of deportation for two years.
With a new administration set to take over in just a few weeks, however, theprogram’s existence is in jeopardy.
Mr. Trump has said he wants to deport all undocumented individuals living in the United States, and he has promised to undo all of Mr. Obama’s executive actions, including DACA.
But last month, he appeared to soften his position,saying that his administration would “work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud.” He noted that many Dreamers “got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here. Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Ever since Mr. Trump’s victory over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, Catholic bishops in the United States have tried to balance optimism about working with his administration on abortion, contraception and religious liberty with concerns over his promises to crackdown on undocumented immigrants.
Recently, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York penned an op-ed explaining points of agreement between Mr. Trump’s campaign pledges and the church’s pro-life goals, and it was announced that Cardinal Dolan will pray at the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.
But Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville used his final address as president of the U.S.C.C.B. in November to reiterate the church’s commitment to immigrants. “Let us repeat to our sisters and brothers who have come to America fleeing persecution and working hard to build a better life for their families: We are with you,” he said to the full body of bishops meeting in Baltimore, who responded with applause.
The bishops said in their statement for National Migration Week that welcoming the stranger and serving those most in need are “all components of a humane immigration policy.”
But perhaps as part of an outreach to those sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s plans to build a wall, the bishops added that the week was also “an opportunity to embrace the important work of continuing to secure the border.”
“Secure the border” has emerged as a rallying cry of those who believe illegal immigration from Mexico is on the rise, despite evidence that shows it hasslowed and even reversed in recent years. That reversal is at least partly attributable to Mr. Obama’s aggressive deportation policies. With more than 2.5 million deported during his administration, Mr. Obama hasdeported more people than any other U.S. president.
Michael O’Loughlin is the national correspondent for America and author of The Tweetable Pope: A Spiritual Revolution in 140 Characters. Follow him on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.