Archbishop Gomez urges Senate to keep families at ‘heart of our immigration policy’

Supporters of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for Dreamers, gather near the U.S. Capitol in Washington Dec. 6. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

Immigration to the United States has never been a matter of mere economics, according to Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It has been about families, not just individuals,” he wrote in his weekly column. “Family-based immigration has served our country beautifully. Immigrant families have built vibrant neighborhoods, churches and civic institutions in every part of America.”

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The archbishop’s remarks come as the Senate is debating immigration reform. More than 800,000 Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors, could lose their legal status on March 5.

“Unfortunately, their future is now being tied to broader, more complicated questions about how to fix our broken immigration system,” Archbishop Gomez said. “I continue to believe it is cruel for our politicians to use these young people as ‘bargaining chips.’ And this is no way for a great nation to make policy on such a crucial area as immigration.”

“It only makes sense that we keep family unity at the heart of our immigration policy,” Archbishop Gomez said. “And family means more than just mother and father and sister and brother. It also means grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.”

While 800,000 Dreamers have been protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy put into place by President Obama that protects them from deportation, the Center for Migration Studies in New York estimates that more than 2.2 million Dreamers are in the United States.

The Trump administration has introduced a proposal that includes a path to citizenship for Dreamers but would also increase border security, end family-based migration and eliminate the diversity visa. While acknowledging the need for secure borders, Archbishop Gomez took issue with ending family-based immigration, which the Trump administration has referred to as “chain migration.” The United States already limits the number of family-based visas granted each year.

“It only makes sense that we keep family unity at the heart of our immigration policy,” Archbishop Gomez said. “And family means more than just mother and father and sister and brother. It also means grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.”

While the immigration system remains unfixed, politicians have exploited the issue for political advantage, he said. “This has only resulted in further dividing our nation and polarizing our politics. And still people are suffering and our communities are hurting.”

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international immigration policy for the Center for Migration Studies, said it was unclear which, if any, of the current immigration proposals could reach the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

“We believe that the urgent, longstanding need to provide relief for Dreamers is a discrete matter that should not be delayed or hindered by unrelated, controversial provisions.”

“Under the confines of the debate, the best outcome would be one of the proposals in the middle—like the Dream Act with some border security,” he said. The McCain-Coons bill, which calls for a study of the border rather than a border wall, is one possible compromise.

Whether a bill that strikes middle ground could pass the House is another question, Mr. Appleby said. President Trump has signaled his opposition to any measure that did not include funding for a border wall.

“From a Catholic perspective, protecting families and protecting the Dreamers would be a good outcome,” Mr. Appleby said. While the church recognizes a nation’s right to protect its borders, building a border wall is “a different question altogether.”

“The element that’s missing from the debate is how to address the situations of the remaining nine million undocumented immigrants in this country, who will not be deported and are forced to live in the shadows,” he said. Deporting all undocumented immigrants is not realistic, Mr. Appleby said.

A fall-back option could be to extend protections for Dreamers for three years, he said. “That’s better than nothing, but it risks placing Dreamers as a permanent underclass,” Mr. Appleby said. “They would still have to place their lives on hold. We need to look for permanent solutions going forward.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants the Senate to come up with a solution in a week. With that in mind, Mr. Appleby urged Catholics to call their representatives and express their support of immigrants.

“It’s really important that we never lose sight of the human consequences of delay,” said Ashley Feasley, director of migration policy and public affairs at the U.S.C.C.B. “It’s a vital moment for Congress to show, frankly, some moral leadership and show the country that they can work in a bipartisan way.”

On March 6, close to 1,000 people a day will lose their work authorization and reprieve from deportation.

On March 6, close to 1,000 people a day will lose their work authorization and reprieve from deportation, Ms. Feasley said. Recent court decisions have temporarily blocked the Trump administration from ending DACA. But the rulings only impact DACA renewals and do not require new applications to be accepted. They are not a permanent solution.

“Narrow is what is going to get this done,” Ms. Feasley said. “This laundry list of major immigration policy elements, it’s not making the picture clearer. The bishops aren’t backing away from a comprehensive vision. But we are already seeing Dreamers lose their status every day.”

In a letter to senators, Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, Tex., chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, laid out the church’s principles for immigration reform. Those principles include: providing protection for Dreamers, including a pathway to citizenship; promoting family unity through the immigration system; protecting vulnerable refugees; and ensuring border security measures are “humane and proportionate,” promoting safety while maintaining due process rights and human dignity.

“We believe that the urgent, longstanding need to provide relief for Dreamers is a discrete matter that should not be delayed or hindered by unrelated, controversial provisions,” Bishop Vásquez wrote. “An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that the Dreamers need a permanent legislative solution. We support these young people who are contributors to our economy and leaders in our parishes and communities.”

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J Cosgrove
2 months ago

Another bishop objects headline!!!!

Isn't best way to keep families together would be to send them back to original country? Instead of forcing them into a strange culture for them.

Until the bishops come up with a coherent immigration program that the country agrees on, they will not be taken seriously. Nor will America authors who do not use sound philosophical ways of supporting their arguments. It is all emotional and not rational. Where is Aristotle?

I have a question. Why oppose the wall? If is not going to work, why oppose it? My guess is that people think it will work and don't really want the illegal immigration to stop. The new question is why the support of unfettered immigration?

I think we all know why.

An aside: Trump's expanding economy will need more workers. Why not support a sensible immigration policy that would allow orderly introduction of appropriate workers?

Franklin P. Uroda
2 months ago

United States' Of America families in the United States. Families of other nationalities, in their own countries. Justice.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months ago

The Bishop thinks "it is cruel to use... the [so called] Dreamers as bargaining chips"
Yet he makes no comment on how "cruel" it was for their parents to jump ahead of the hundreds of thousands of "would be"legal immigrants who were following the rules, filling out the forms paying the fees and waiting in line to be allowed entry on a legal basis.

How is it cruel to "use the Dreamers" to forgive their trespass and to grant them citizenship while setting up a system which prevents a recurrence of their own illegal entry?

in his rush to protect the Dreamers, the good Bishop fails to consider the whole picture and the consequences of his unbalanced and myopic empathy.

George Obregon
2 months ago

History teaches that the heart of our immigration policy is in the preservation of our homeland; all else is secondary.
/geo ex machina

Fr. Julio
2 months ago

From the four comments on here, I can see that the "Trump Wagon" has overpowered the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Stuart Meisenzahl
2 months ago

Fr Julio
It appears that you think the Bishops' "Open Borders Wagon" is the only way to mirror the beatitudes acceptance of strangers. Nonsense! The Trump proposal mirrors the recommendations of the Jordan Commission in 1995. That was a bipartisan commission chaired by a respected black democrat congresswoman who was a leader in the Civil Rights movement. It's proposals were the result of some four years of study of all sides of these immigration issues. When the Jordan Report was issued there was never a hint, complaint or comment by any Bishop that it was unchristian , uncharitable or biased. If you have not read it I suggest you do so.

Mike McDermott
2 months ago

America is a multi-cultural experiment. Unique in the world. We can only assimilate so many immigrants each year and still maintain the integrity of this good and generous country. Controlling the rate of immigration is a matter of national survival.

The Gospel calls us to profound acts of personal charity. It does not demand collective national suicide.

J Cosgrove
1 month 4 weeks ago

the Good News of Jesus Christ

Is the Good News of Jesus Christ, chaos? I believe your interpretation is erroneous.

You should have the courage to propose a coherent immigration program and defend it. Then we could see how the Good News plays out. As it is, you are like a modern Jesuit, all emotion and no evidence and no rational argument. You are trying to shame one into agreement instead of leading one into agreement.

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