Catholic bishops in the United States are making a renewed push this week for protections for migrants, though they appear to be fighting an uphill battle as the Trump administration prepares to end a program that allows 200,000 displaced Salvadorans to live in the United States and renews its call to extend the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that President Trump plans to end Temporary Protected Status for citizens of El Salvador living in the United States following a devastating earthquake in 2001. Though details have not been announced, the AP said that those living in the United States under the program will have until September 2019 to leave the United States, adjust their status or face deportation.
Catholic bishops wrote a letter to the administration last month urging an extension of the program.
President Trump plans to end Temporary Protected Status for citizens of El Salvador living in the U.S. following a devastating earthquake in 2001.
In November, the Trump administration ended similar protection for Haitians, requiring about 50,000 to leave the country or adjust their legal status by July 22, 2019, and for 2,500 Nicaraguans, who face a deadline of Jan. 5, 2019.
The news about Salvadoran refugees comes just as Catholic bishops launched National Migration Week, a nearly 50-year-old program meant to highlight the contributions of migrants to the United States and to advocate for just migration policies.
In Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich kicked off the week by celebrating a packed, multi-lingual Mass on Epiphany Sunday at Holy Name Cathedral. He delivered a message in English and Spanish, comparing the migrants of today to the Magi who traveled a great distance to visit the baby Jesus.
“Today we come knowing that the Magi have much to tell us about our faith, reminding us who we should be, and so do migrants and the dreamers and those who have aspirations to have a life that’s filled with God’s blessing,” the cardinal said, addressing a crowd filled with migrants from several continents, many sporting traditional garb as they processed down the center aisle before Mass began.
The undocumented “remind us who we were called to be, not only as a nation of immigrants but as a people of faith.”
During his homily, Cardinal Cupich riffed on a homily given by Pope Francis to mark the Epiphany, saying that immigrants and the undocumented “remind us who we were called to be, not only as a nation of immigrants but as a people of faith, who know that God has so much more in store for us.”
“The Holy Father is right,” he said, following Mass. “We, as people of faith, build bridges, not walls. We bring people together; that’s our task, that’s our heritage. We need to be proud of it and embrace it more fully.”
Before the Mass concluded, two migrants spoke to the congregation, one a refugee from Africa and the other a medical student who is allowed to study and work in the United States under a federal program that protects individuals who were brought into the country illegally as children.
She urged worshippers to contact lawmakers to press for comprehensive immigration reform.
Cardinal Cupich: “We, as people of faith, build bridges, not walls. We bring people together; that’s our task, that’s our heritage.”
Last year, President Trump ended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded more than 700,000 people from deportation and gave them the right to work or pursue higher education in the United States. He gave Congress until March to find a legislative fix for their precarious status.
Last week, the administration proposed spending $18 billion over 10 years to significantly extend the border wall with Mexico, providing one of its most detailed blueprints to date of how the president hopes to carry out a signature campaign pledge. The president has said that any deal to extend DACA protections must be accompanied by funding for a border wall.
Many Catholic leaders are holding events and issuing statements in honor of National Migration Week.
The president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, for example, expressed solidarity with migrants and called on others to stop “blaming migrants and fanning anti-immigrant sentiment that divides our nation.”
“We renew our call for an immediate end to the unjust and immoral treatment of migrants and refugees, recognizing that decades of failed U.S. political and economic policies have contributed to the reasons people have fled homelands,” said Mercy Sister Patricia McDermott from the sisters’ headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., in a statement released on Jan. 3.
“In a way, just as we call Jesus the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, we can refer to him as the Migrant of Migrants as well.”
According to the statement, the Sisters of Mercy “stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are forced by poverty, persecution or violence in their native countries to flee their homes, loved ones and livelihoods, desperately seeking safety and the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.”
Bishop Michael Olson, head of the Diocese of Fort Worth, took to Twitter to confront a common accusation that undocumented migrants living in the United States broke the law and thus do not merit protection from deportation.
We are first a nation of persons, many as descendent of immigrants. Law serves justice for the common good of persons-not vice versa. https://t.co/areil7H8DP— Bishop Michael Olson (@BpOlsonFW) January 7, 2018
In Miami, Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached about the U.S. national motto—e pluribus unum—which was recently in the news after President Trumpremoved the phrase from a commemorative coin.
“The church teaches us not to fear the migrant—and the church warns us not to mistreat the migrant,” the archbishop said. “In a way, just as we call Jesus the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, we can refer to him as the Migrant of Migrants as well.”
Pope Francis devoted part of his annual New Year’s address to diplomats to the Holy See to highlight the plight of migrants, a constant theme of his nearly five-year papacy, condemning those who talk about migration “only for the sake of stirring up primal fears.”
He noted that “migration has always existed” and said we should not “forget that freedom of movement, for example, the ability to leave one’s own country and to return there, is a fundamental human right.”
“There is a need, then, to abandon the familiar rhetoric and start from the essential consideration that we are dealing, above all, with persons,” the pope said.
Material from the Associated Press and Catholic News Service was used in this report.