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J. Kevin ApplebyJuly 31, 2017
Ernesto Vega listens as Archbishop Jose H. Gomez leads an interfaith prayer service for the immigrant community in November at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Patrick T. Fallon, Reuters) Ernesto Vega listens as Archbishop Jose H. Gomez leads an interfaith prayer service for the immigrant community in November at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. (CNS photo/Patrick T. Fallon, Reuters) 

Since issuing their 2003 migration pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” the U.S. Catholic bishops have pushed for comprehensive immigration reform legislation, and rightly so. Such legislation would include a path to citizenship for most of the undocumented population in the country, as well as improvements to the legal immigration system. The bishops, along with other immigration advocates, came close to winning passage of bills in 2006, 2007 and 2013, but each time Congress failed to get the legislation over the finish line.

But under the Trump administration, Catholics must shift their focus toward opposing mass deportations. Mr. Trump and his high-level staff—including, sadly, John F. Kelly, who was the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security before recently being named White House chief of staff—have taken steps to implement a major deportation campaign targeted at all undocumented immigrants, including the population the U.S. bishops have sought for years to make citizens.

Let us mark the steps. An executive order called “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” signed by President Trump during his first week in office, is written so broadly and gives immigration agents such wide discretion in making arrests that it effectively renders all undocumented immigrants, regardless of family obligations, employment status and community ties, priorities for removal. To begin implementing this policy, the administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2018 asks for 1,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and 500 more Border Patrol agents, plus more than 10,000 more detention beds, not to mention $1.6 billion for a border wall. The administration also will likely expand the use of expedited removal, which allows enforcement personnel to remove undocumented immigrants without judicial review. Last but not least, the travel ban against six countries imposed by the administration limits the number of refugees allowed into the country, leaving tens of thousands of refugees overseas and in danger.

It is clear where this administration is headed on immigration. The goal is not to legalize 11 million undocumented persons but to get rid of them.

It is clear where this administration is headed on immigration. The goal is not to legalize 11 million undocumented persons but to get rid of them. Any immigration legislation that is favorable to this administration and the current Congress would only reinforce this goal, by including several new harsh enforcement programs and by excluding any path to citizenship or legalization program. The most the bishops could hope for would be a watered-down DREAM Act, which may or may not help young undocumented immigrants become citizens.

Moreover, the legal immigration system, which admits nearly one million legal permanent residents a year, giving priority to family reunification, is at risk. President Trump has already called for a “merit-based” immigration system favoring high-skilled and wealthy immigrants over lower-skilled immigrant workers and family members. He also favors legislation that would cut the number of green cards issued per year by 500,000. The result of these “reforms” would be the evisceration of the family-based immigration system.

This is not to say that the U.S. bishops and Catholics across the nation should ignore the need to reform our nation’s immigration laws and to support legislation consistent with the principles laid out in “Strangers No Longer.”The church should always hold up what is right. A new collection of reports released by the Center for Migration Studies analyzes needed reforms to the system in the years ahead. But while reform is still needed, the U.S. Catholic community must respond to the injustices happening in front of our eyes.

The Catholic response

The Trump administration has not hesitated to deport immigrants who have resided here for decades and have longstanding ties to our country, including fathers and mothers of children who were born here and are U.S. citizens. Homeland Security and other enforcement agencies will become more aggressive if Congress gives them the resources and the tools to remove as many persons as possible over the next several years.

The U.S. bishops should continue to issue statements against the administration’s proposed enforcement policies, but more is needed at this pivotal time. Many individual bishops have spoken out and given prophetic witness, but each bishop must have a plan to respond to the deportations of long-term residents happening in his own diocese. Bishops must lead by example and facilitate the involvement of Catholics in supporting vulnerable immigrant families.

Bishops must lead by example and facilitate the involvement of Catholics in supporting vulnerable immigrant families.

Here are five steps bishops and Catholics can take in their dioceses to support immigrants.

Educate Catholics on this important issue, including through parish-based campaigns. Without the support of Catholics in the pews, it will be hard to generate the political power needed to move Congress and the Trump administration toward a more human rights-based, rather than enforcement-based, position on immigration. There needs to be a commitment to get Catholics involved in the process by contacting their representatives and senators. This can be done through events, parish meetings and letter-writing campaigns. The Justice for Immigrants campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops should provide materials to parishes for this purpose. In addition, the U.S.C.C.B. should launch a messaging campaign targeted at Catholics who may not agree with them on immigration policy. Such a campaign should address the appropriate role of enforcement in any immigration system and should feature a pastoral statement on the ethics of immigration enforcement

Let the public and immigrant communities know that their dioceses will do all they can, within the law, to protect immigrant families. There are many ways that bishops and the Catholics in their dioceses can show solidarity with immigrants and refugees in their communities. Parishes and individuals can provide material or legal assistance to a recently resettled refugee family or to an immigrant family with a loved one in deportation proceedings. Moreover, a bishop can let it be known that he will not cooperate in any way with roundups or raids of any sort and can let immigration enforcement officials know they would need a warrant to come on any church property. In addition, bishops must be prepared if immigrants arrive at churches asking for “sanctuary” or protection from deportation. The bishop, diocesan staff and parishioners can act as interlocutors with the government to resolve an individual’s case in a peaceful and just manner.

Begin a dialogue with congressional delegations and the federal government on the Catholic position on immigration. It is important for a bishop and his flock to have good relationships with their legislators and with the local ICE office. This should go beyond an occasional meeting, requiring an ongoing dialogue on immigration issues. Legislators and law enforcement agencies must know how important the issue is to the church and must know how many grass-roots calls and letters they receive are connected to the bishop and his diocese. Inviting elected officials to diocesan programs serving immigrants can also be an effective way to convey a pro-immigrant message.

Participate in high-profile events to highlight the problems with the immigration system. On April 1, 2014, the U.S.C.C.B. Committee on Migration held a border Mass that remembered the lives of migrants who have died in the American deserts. This Mass received much attention, especially on social media, and was a teaching moment for the bishops and for Catholics. Other such high-profile events should be held by bishops, including visiting detention centers in their dioceses; interceding on behalf of undocumented immigrants who are being deported and who have longstanding ties to the community; spending time with immigrant communities, including agricultural workers and other laborers; and greeting refugees who arrive in the diocese. Parishioners should be invited to participate in these events.

Provide additional support to diocesan immigration lawyers and volunteers to represent immigrants in their legal proceedings. Statistics show that immigrants with legal representation have a much higher chance to win legal status than those who do not, but many immigrants cannot afford such representation. Moreover, according to a C.M.S. analysis, there are a significant number of undocumented immigrants who are eligible for other categories of legal status, including permanent residence, but are unable to pursue them without the help of an attorney. Starting a fund to support legal representation for immigrants is one avenue; reaching out to local law firms for pro bono attorneys is another.

Who is my neighbor? He or she is the parent of a child born in the United States (and thus a citizen), who is nevertheless picked up for a broken tail light and placed in deportation proceedings; the young immigrant who may not have qualified or has lost eligibility for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program; the Central American family facing deportation because they do not have an asylum lawyer; or the undocumented Iraqi interpreter who helped our forces in Iraq. These are all real cases of persons facing deportation. These are our neighbors, a message each bishop should be sending to his flock, regardless of the pushback by those who might disagree.

Catholics should stand with them individually and collectively—and very publicly. They should intercede with the government on their behalf. They should recruit lawyers to represent them. They should make it as difficult for the government to deport them as legally possible. In this environment, success should be measured one case, and one life, at a time.

And what if people, including Catholics, disagree? What if they threaten to take away financial support from a diocese because of a bishop’s actions in support of undocumented immigrants? So be it. By standing strong, the bishops and Catholics who join their efforts are giving witness to the church’s teaching—to the teaching of Christ—in a powerful way. They are not only honoring Catholic teaching but also exercising their rights as U.S. citizens: to help, within the law, their vulnerable neighbors and their families, many of whom worship in Mass each Sunday.

We are entering a dangerous time in the history of our immigrant nation. The stakes for our immigrant brothers and sisters, and their children, are high. History will judge whether Catholics stood up and protected their neighbors during this dark period. It is time to walk the walk.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charles Erlinger
6 years 4 months ago

I agree with the author that history will judge us on our behavior related to mass deportations. According to my reading of history, it is inevitable that at some future time, if the mass deportation proceeds to the scale required to complete the job as advertised in political campaigns, a consensus will form that a crime against humanity will have occurred. And at that time, children will be asking, “grandpa, what did you do during the deportation?”

Don Honda
6 years 4 months ago

There is so much misinformation and propaganda in this article, I don't know where to start. The problem that lies in commenting here is that I'm not allowed to be comprehensive nor provide supporting links to other information. If any readers care to, please Google for references to the following. But here goes:

Most Illegal Aliens don't care to become US Citizens, period.

There are estimated to be over 30 Million Illegal Aliens living in the US. This was corroborated by a former Mexican ambassador to the US.

Did you know that the Catholic Church receives much financial support from the US Federal Government? Also, that the Church is depending on these Illegal Aliens in their flock to provide more financial funding? Did anyone hear Pope Francis discuss the poor and disadvantaged US Citizens when he visited? These are the same ones that are displaced by the underground economy and illegal employment most Illegal Aliens partake in.

Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstance of Pope Francis’ first visit to Washington is the reality that the Catholic Church he oversees has become one of the largest recipients of federal largesse in America.

Deborah Henry
6 years 4 months ago

I cannot imagine what it is like to have to flee a dangerous country; facing death and hardship the way immigrants have had to do. We should be honored to offer them all we can do both individually and collectively. Extreme political measures are not helping immigrants or the climate of America which is for liberty and justice for all. America's values are for freedom; not prison.

Arnoldo Miranda
6 years 4 months ago

Where is the evidence of mass deportations? I am not seeing this in any reported news. ICE is rounding up immigrants but this is not being done at a massive level. Hyperbole doesn't serve this debate justly and only arouses fears instead of encouraging dialogue. There are undercurrents where some folks believe a bipartisan solution is possible but with the current acrimony between sides, it seems hardly achievable. Washington is to blame for the current immigration reality for not having addressed these issues for many years and for catering to the demands of cheap labor through their omissive politics by looking the other way.

Michael Barberi
6 years 4 months ago

As usual, the authors who are selected by the Editors of Am. Mag. tend to exaggerate things and do not provide sufficient evidence to support their assertions. While the Trump policy may be worded broadly giving Custom Officials and Border Patrol Agents wide latitude to arrest and deport illegal aliens, the more important question is: What is actually happening on the ground? Citing one or two examples of a husband or wife who had no criminal record but was deported separating them from their family is one thing. However, to conflate a few examples such as these with 'mass deportations' is quite another matter.

I notice that this article did not mention what most people understand as Trump's priority, namely, all illegal immigrants who have committed a felony are to be deported.

Make no mistake about what I am saying. I do support a path to legal status or citizenship for the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally.. I support this because I believe that the U.S. is partially responsible for allowing these 11 million people to enter the U.S. illegally. In other words, the U.S. Congress has not solved our immigration and border security problem for the past 20 years. Consequently, a porous border, lax border security enforcement and turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants, including the problem of sanctuary cities, has contributed to this overall problem.

Nevertheless, just because Congress has not acted does not give the President the right to do whatever he chooses, like what Obama did and did not do. On the other hand, President Trump should not take a hard line to enforcing current law and arbitrarily and inhumanely deporting 11 million people. Nevertheless, I don't think this is happening on a scale that this article seems to imply.

If the author of this article and the Editors of America Magazine wants to put forth a convincing argument over our current immigration policy, then it would be more effective if they used accurate and comprehensive supporting evidence in sufficient detail to support the assertions made in this article. In their absence, the only people who will support the implications of this article are the ones like the US Bishops who have collectedly made up their mind that President Trump is a terribly mislead person whose actions are unChristian.

rick mazzola
6 years 4 months ago

First, let's stop using euphemisms, they are not undocumented, they are Illegal. Second, tell me how you can justify to those who did all the proper things to become Americans that we are going to give the same privileges who did not follow the rules; we are slapping Legal Immigrants in the face for doing the right thing or doesn't that matter.

Don Honda
6 years 4 months ago

Thank you!

MaryRuth Stegman
6 years 4 months ago

Bishop, priests and all Republican Catholics should have known what Trump was when they supported him. He gave plenty of evidence that he is immoral and frankly evil.

Matthew Kilburn
6 years 4 months ago

From the USCCB:

"While people have the right to move, no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeopardized. For this reason, Catholics should not view the work of the federal government and its immigration control as negative or evil."

Now, I don't know where proponents of amnesty for illegal immigrants live, but in the midwestern community where I make my home, and where I have lived my entire life, the massive influx of low-skill, low-wealth, non-English-speaking immigrants has created a great deal of strife in the social and economic life. Communities that were once populated by working-class homeowners are now populated by immigrant renters. School performance has suffered thanks to the large quantity of ESL students. Blocks where people once knew each other and socialized openly have become separated thanks to language barriers. Gangs that were once unheard of are now commonplace. And on the broader scale, the large immigrant populations have caused dramatic upheaval in our nation's political, economic, linguistic, and social customs. In our haste to welcome the stranger, we've turned a great many into strangers in their own communities; and nowhere on Earth is ready and waiting to receive them.

Chuck Kotlarz
6 years 4 months ago

Some U.S. cities have accepted large numbers of immigrants. Here’s the percentage of the population born outside the U.S., Los Angeles, 33%; New York, 28%; Houston, 22%; Chicago, 17% and Philadelphia, 10%. The population of these cities totals six percent of the U.S. population, but contributes twenty percent of U.S. GDP.

JR Cosgrove
6 years 4 months ago

This just says that immigrants will go where the money is. These are also high crime areas except for New York.

Don Honda
6 years 4 months ago

"The Conscience Of A Liberal--Paul Krugman"

"First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small.
" But as Mr. Hanson explains in his paper, reasonable calculations suggest that we’re talking about very small numbers, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP.

"My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand...

"Finally, the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear. "

Deacon Chris Schneider
6 years 4 months ago

Wow! How about some real facts... oh yea, that's right, news 'opinion' is what's being reported here. There are way too many folks that think we're living in "Star Trek"... or perhaps, "Battlestar Gallactica".

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 years 3 months ago


You wanted facts: Follow Mr Honda's suggestion and google Krugman immigration and read his March 27, 2006 column.
Mr Krugman is the quintessential far left liberal who " reluctantly" reaches some very negative conclusions about the claimed economic benefits of immigration. Mr Krugman supplies all the facts you asked for but do not want to hear.
No need to head for outer space as you imply....the answer is found in liberal terra infirma..

Stephen and Sekel
6 years 4 months ago

I have no quarrel with this article or any of the ideas expressed in it. My problem is with the failure of the United States Catholic Church to fully come to terms with Christ's teachings on relations between Christians and the civil authorities of the the State in which they happen to live. I find the Trump administration's policies on immigration utterly out of tune with the historical values of the United States, let alone with the Catholic faith and its teachings. I am, however, somewhat perplexed by the Church's position on immigration now and the stance it took during the 2016 election, which consisted basically in telling the faithful that they must vote their conscience and that only one candidate was on record as opposing abortion (you can guess which opportunistic, flip-flopping candidate that was). Catholics all over the country were subtly told that that one issue -- abortion -- was all-important. Never mind that virtually all of the ultimately victorious candidate's policies are inimical to Catholic teaching. Now we are left to deal with his catastrophic policies on a wide range of issues, from immigration to health care to environmental protection. Wouldn't it have been better to have to deal with a President whose views largely -- but not completely -- coincide with the Church's commitment to the poor, social justice and responsible stewardship of the Earth?

John Walton
6 years 4 months ago

Would remind all that the Irish wouldn't let the Italians celebrate mass in the upper church, . (The Genoese, however, were granted a pass and could sit upstairs.)

My view, stated in the past, let the parents stay unless they have committed a serious crime. Make Catholic Education in their communities a priority -- and this doesn't necessarily mean Catholic grade schools, but very aggressive marketing of after-school programs under parishional care and diocesanal aegis.

Randal Agostini
6 years 4 months ago

Why the hysteria, hyperbole and hypocrisy? Few of the facts support the intent of this article. The administration has specifically said that it has no reason to split up families or deport innocent children. There are so many continuing issues where the Church has dropped the ball, causing serious problems for our faith, which is shown in reduced attendance and financial support. There is a huge difference in a Catholic supporting Immigration reform and enforcement and the compassion shown to individuals.

Stuart Meisenzahl
6 years 4 months ago

Mr Appleby is "Senior Director of INTERNATIONAL migration Policy"
His title tells the tale without even the need to read his opus. In other articles Mr Appleby has stated that he is not an advocate of "open borders" and yet it seems he has never met a border he doesn't want opened.
He makes a very interesting comment at the end of the second paragraph of his personal decretal ......"a major deportation campaign targeted at all undocumented immigrants, including the population the US Bishops have sought for years to make citizens".
Perhaps Mr Appleby can explain how, why, and on what authority the US Catholic Bishops speak to the issue of "United States citizenship"?
Certainly the Bishops can and should encourage, support and teach compassionate treatment of immigrants but that is a long way from linking this very moral stance to fighting for a "right to citizenship". Can you imagine the US Bishops supporting my right to become a Vatican Citizen?.....

I pass over Appleby's employment of typical politically correct phrases and words such as "undocumented immigrants" ; "...injustices happening in front of our eyes"; .. " vulnerable immigrants"..; " mass deportations" ..etc etc. These catch phrases summarize his position as though it is a settled matter when it is anything but settled
Mr Kilburn in a comment above appropriately quotes the US Conference of Bishops:......"no country has the duty to receive so many immigrants that its social and economic life are jeapordized......Catholics should not view the work of the Federal Government and its immigration control as negative or evil." When last I looked the Bishops had few if any qualifications to judge the impact of immigrants (legal or illegal) on the economic and social life of the United States. Mr Appleby urges the Bishops to abandon caution and ignore their lack of competence in these areas. Mr Appleby In defiance of the Bishop Conference's statement certainly views the federal government's current approach as "evil".
Each time the Bishops have stepped beyond their role /competence as moral authorities, the Church has suffered set backs of varying degrees.
Just consider the number of Reader Comments in these pages castigating the Bishops during the last election for going beyond the moral argument about A Pro Abortion stance and perhaps suggesting how a Catholic was required to vote. Mr Appleby is entitled to his opinion , his mission , and his argument BUT he is not entitled to invoke or demand the support of the moral authority of the Bishops and the Church. The job of the Bishops is to instruct the faithful on the moral implications of choices, not to instruct the Congress on what policies it must adopt at the risk of "bell, book, and candle anathemas ".

Dcn Joseph Gorini
6 years 3 months ago

Where is the fair and balanced presentation that compares and contrasts the rights of all parties concerned? And, for listed rights shouldn't corresponding duties be included? And, for the sake of clarity, shouldn't a list of rights include what is not a right? Let's start with the belief that all persons have a right to be respected due to our common human dignity. And don't forget that foreigners have no right to come here. What can you contribute to working up such a fair and balanced presentation? In justice, shouldn't the Church work up such a fair and balanced presentation? And shouldn't the laity with competence, placement, and numbers run with this?

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