The Trump administration’s decision to refuse to accept asylum appeals based on domestic abuse or gang violence, as well as its policy to separate the children of undocumented migrants from their parents, provided the focus of discussion on the first day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spring assembly in Fort Lauderdale, on June 13 and 14. Just after opening prayers, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the Conference, read a strong rebuke of the policies from the dais, and the assembled bishops voiced their support.
Discussion from the floor suggests that U.S. bishops may be prepared for a stronger pushback against Trump administration policies that are being criticized as cruel and outside the U.S. tradition on the welcoming of immigrants and the treatment of people seeking protection from harm.
When the discussion moved to the floor, Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., said the new policy that essentially requires families to be broken apart while criminal proceedings are brought against migrant parents without documentation “is consistent with cardiosclerosis,” or a hardening of the American heart. He called for a widespread discussion among bishops on a stronger response.
Several bishops said it was imperative to do a better job of sharing church teaching on migration and welcoming the stranger.
Cardinal Tobin asked the bishops to consider sending a delegation to inspect the detention facilities holding children “as a sign of our pastoral response and protest against what is being done to children.”
Other bishops called for stronger outreach to members of Congress as it struggles to address comprehensive immigration reform and extending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which covers 800,000 young adults who were brought to the United States as children.
“They need to hear from us,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn told the assembly. “There is an element of restrictionism, somewhat based on racism. It’s hard for people to decide what they think about it. But in fact that is what we are seeing. This is a crisis situation.”
Several bishops said it was imperative to do a better job of sharing church teaching on migration and welcoming the stranger, as Christ taught.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., expressed concern about a “very deliberate effort being made on the part of the administration, particularly the Department of Justice, to put in regulations that actually defy the implementation of immigration law.”
He urged the entire body of bishops to become more active in pushing Congress and the courts to understand longstanding American values and practices regarding the welcoming of immigrants.
“It just seems nefarious how the immigration system is being undone by more and more restrictive regulations that are being put in place,” he said.
One bishop asked about the possibility of “canonical penalties” being enforced on Catholics who cooperate with unjust immigration policies. Bishop Edwin J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Ariz., said such penalties are put in place to heal and “therefore, for the salvation of these people’s souls, maybe it’s time for us to look” at such action.
Beyond that, added Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Ky., should be steps to offer broader pastoral care for immigration enforcement officials, some of whom he has heard from questioning the need to carry out “these unjust policies.”
The administration’s harder line on immigration has led to an unusual convergence between Catholic bishops and Southern Baptists, who have been highly supportive of Mr. Trump in recent polls. At the same time the nation’s Catholic bishops were huddling over the Trump White House’s immigration policies in Florida, in Dallas, delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting overwhelmingly passed a resolution that similarly rebuked the Trump administration on immigration policy and its treatment of migrant families.
The resolution called for both secure borders and a “pathway to legal status” for undocumented migrants in the United States. The delegates urged that immigration policy respect the human dignity of migrants and the primacy of family unity.
“Longings to protect one’s family from warfare, violence, disease, extreme poverty, and other destitute conditions are universal,” the Southern Baptist resolution said, “driving millions of people to leave their homelands to seek a better life for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren.” The delegates urged the passage of immigration reform, noting that “[u]ntold numbers of men and women seeking to enter the United States legally, desiring to become good citizens of our country, often languish at the borders due to the complexity of our immigration system.”
“God commands His people to treat immigrants with the same respect and dignity as those native born,” the delegates agreed, adding in their resolution that: “Scripture is clear on the believer’s hospitality towards immigrants, stating that meeting the material needs of ‘strangers’ is tantamount to serving the Lord Jesus Himself.”
They also declared that “any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation [of immigrants] is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
With reporting from Catholic News Service