Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami has a question for President Trump: If Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is deserving of leniency after he broke the law, why not extend the same mercy to immigrants living in the United States illegally?
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” the archbishop told America during an Aug. 29 interview. He noted that opponents of extending amnesty-like programs to the estimated 11 million undocumented people living in the United States often point out that they broke the law by entering the country and therefore should be treated as criminals.
Archbishop Wenski asked, “If Arpaio can be pardoned, why can’t the irregular immigrants be pardoned?”
The president has pardon Sheriff Arpaio. Congress should "pardon" irregular immigrants by passing comprehensive immigration reform. pic.twitter.com/r0zYVfH8j8— Thomas Wenski (@ThomasWenski) August 28, 2017
The White House announced on Aug. 25 that the president had decided to pardon Mr. Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who shot to national fame by aggressively targeting immigrants living in the United States illegally. In 2011, a federal judge ordered Mr. Arpaio to stop traffic patrols in which people were detained solely on suspicion of their immigration status and turned over to immigration authorities. The court later found that Mr. Arpaio’s office continued to systematically profile Latinos and recommended a criminal charge for prolonging the patrols 17 months after the sheriff had been ordered to stop them. Mr. Arpaio was convicted last month of criminal contempt of court for defying the order.
Archbishop Wenski is not alone in questioning the pardon. Cardinal Roger Mahony, the former archbishop of Los Angeles, wrote he is “troubled and disgusted” by the decision.
Mr. Trump’s decision to pardon Mr. Arpaio was announced in the midst of a debate inside the White House about the fate of an Obama-era program that allows about 800,000 undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children, popularly known as Dreamers, to work here legally.
The Obama-era program allows about 800,000 undocumented individuals brought to the United States as children to work here legally,
Advocates on both sides of the issue are bracing for the possibility that the president will halt the issuance of new work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, a move that would effectively phase out a program that gave hundreds of thousands of young people a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States.
Catholic leaders have expressed alarm at the possibility that the White House may bow to pressure from 10 state attorneys general who are threatening to sue the administration over the legality of the program if the president does not change the rules by Sept. 5. They contend that the program, created by an executive order from President Barack Obama, is unlawful and that Congress must regulate immigration. Twenty other attorneys general have urged Mr. Trump to keep the program intact.
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump promised to overturn Mr. Obama’s immigration policies, including DACA. But following his election victory, his stance appeared to have softened. In December, he told Time magazine that Dreamers were “brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here.”
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,” he said.
In February, he said, “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me, as I love these kids, I love kids.” Then in June, the administration announced that it would continue issuing work permits under DACA. But the threat of a messy lawsuit could change his thinking.
Archbishop Wenski said he hopes that President Trump will keep his promise to keep people happy—by keeping DACA in place.
“I’m still waiting for him to deliver on his promise that the Dreamers would be happy with whatever he was going to propose for them, that he was going to do right by the Dreamers,” the archbishop said, referring to the nickname given to those brought to the United States illegally as minors. “I think that if he does follow through on that, then we’re in a better position.”
Bishop Wenski: "I’m still waiting for [President Trump] to deliver on his promise that the Dreamers would be happy with whatever he was going to propose for them."
But, he cautioned, Catholic leaders must continue to pressure Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Without legislative action, he said, the undocumented “have work permits, they can work, they can study, but there’s a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads because it’s not a permanent solution, and that has to come from Congress.”
Archbishop Wenski, who visited Guatemala over the weekend and who heads to Haiti for another pastoral visit this week, said that both congressional Democrats and Republicans appear unwilling to move on immigration reform, with each side using it as a wedge issue to raise money.
“And so, the immigrants continue to live in fear,” he said. “The refugees continue to languish in refugee camps, and Congress, by doing nothing, keeps alive an issue that they can bring out every once in awhile for the sake of energizing their base.”
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has also called on congressional leaders to move on immigration reform. “Sadly, there is not enough trust left in Washington—not enough will to overcome partisan suspicions—for our leaders to enact comprehensive immigration reform,” he wrote in an Aug. 29 column published in Angelus News. “So, we need to go piece by piece. We may need to move slowly. But it is long past time to begin doing something constructive.”
Bishop Gomez: “Sadly, there is not enough trust left in Washington—not enough will to overcome partisan suspicions—for our leaders to enact comprehensive immigration reform."
The immigration debate goes beyond the status of Dreamers. Archbishop Wenski, for example, welcomed Vice President Mike Pence and other political leaders to Florida earlier this month to discuss continued unrest in Venezuela. The archbishop said he did not have a chance to talk about substantial items with Mr. Pence, but he said he pressed Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who has in the past championed immigration reform, on both DACA and other immigration programs under threat from the White House.
One program allows about 58,000 Haitians living in the United States, who were here when an earthquake struck the country in 2010, to remain here legally as the country continues clean up efforts. The Trump administration isconsidering ending the program in January.
The archbishop acknowledged that the program was meant to be temporary but said, “we have to look at the reality and say after a certain amount of time, some kind of mechanism should be developed to allow these people to adjust to a more permanent status in the United States.”
The debate over immigration prompted more than 1,300 Catholics who work in education tosign a letter to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly sent earlier this week. They appealed to his Catholic faith and urged him “to be an influential champion for the children and youth who are the next generation of American leaders.”
“We ask that you protect the dignity of our nation’s immigrant youth by advocating for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program until Congress passes the Dream Act,” the letter continues. Close to 100 Jesuits signed the letter, including the presidents of Fordham University, Creighton University and several Jesuit high schools.
Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, meanwhile said Catholics should be angry at policies that harm immigrants and “should have the courage to speak out to people against their politically motivated assaults against the innocent.”
“Christians are fundamentally loving, giving people, just as Jesus was,” Bishop Seitz said during an Aug. 29 media conference call organized by Faith in Public Life. “But there were some things that angered Jesus, and they should anger us as well.” He compared the attorneys general threatening a lawsuit to “the big bully on the playground.”
Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University, said about 100 Dreamers attend her school.
“They are some of the best students we have had at Trinity,” she said. “They are as American as any other student, culturally and academically.”
To stop the program, she added, would be “an atrocious rejection of human values.”
Material from The Associated Press and Catholic News Service was used in this report.