Catholic leaders to Trump: Coronavirus pandemic not an excuse to crack down on immigration

Catholic News Service

After significantly walking back what had been a shocking late-night Twitter announcement of a complete ban on immigration, President Trump signed a proclamation on April 22 that calls for a 60-day freeze on the issuance of green cards for certain immigrant classes. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized even this markedly diminished move the next day, noting that it would prevent “immigrant family members from reuniting with their loved ones living in the United States” and would bar religious workers seeking to come to the United States as lawful permanent residents “from supporting the work of our church, as well as many other religions, at this time.”

“This will undoubtedly hurt the Catholic Church and other denominations in the United States, diminishing their overall ability to minister to those in need,” the bishops conclude in a statement issued jointly by U.S.C.C.B. president, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles; Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, the auxiliary bishop of Washington and chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration; and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento the chair of the board of directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

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As the United States and countries around the world contend with the coronavirus pandemic, “our common humanity is apparent more now than ever,” the bishops said. “The virus is merciless in its preying upon human life; it knows no borders or nationality. Pope Francis teaches us that to live through these times we need to employ and embody the ‘creativity of love.’ The president’s action threatens instead to fuel polarization and animosity.”

“This will undoubtedly hurt the Catholic Church and other denominations in the United States, diminishing their overall ability to minister to those in need.”

[Explore all of America’s in-depth coverage of the coronavirus pandemic]

As the Covid-19 death toll in the United States became the highest in the world—more than 47,000 people have been lost so far—Mr. Trump had endured weeks of criticism because of his administration’s sluggish response to the crisis. Late Monday night, April 20, he unveiled his latest strategy to contain the epidemic, returning to the anti-immigrant theme that has typified his presidency: “In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!” the president announced.

That tweet produced an uproar the following day among agricultural lobbyists and business leaders concerned that a complete shutdown of immigration would paralyze the U.S. food production system and throttle any chance for a near-term economic recovery. The president was quickly persuaded to significantly revise his plan, pointedly not interrupting the flow of immigrants into the United States through guest worker programs. But the president’s initial tweet and apparent ongoing intent to curtail immigration had already alarmed many.

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy commented on the outburst by email: “The federal government has always had a responsibility to ensure that immigration into the United States should be carried out in ways that safeguard the physical health of our country, but the president's declaration is not a health policy.

“It is a policy rooted in the fear of the stranger, the other, the marginalized and the dispossessed,” San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy said.

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“It is a policy rooted in the fear of the stranger, the other, the marginalized and the dispossessed,” he said.

“We have faced this fear throughout our history in the nativism and populism that have sought to deform our nation's historic commitment to immigration as a pathway to providing refuge for the persecuted, a home for those seeking the values of America at its best, and an essential source of renewal and growth for our multicultural society,” Bishop McElroy said.

“Now this nativism is unmasked as an attack not upon illegal immigration but upon all immigration,” he said. “We cannot let this moment of pandemic, which calls us all to unity as God’s children, become the occasion for further prejudice, exclusion and injustice.”

By Wednesday a clearer idea of the practical impact of the president’s proposal finally emerged with an executive order calling for a temporary suspension of certain green cards for 60 days. Mr. Trump announced the signing of the order during a White House briefing.

“We cannot let this moment of pandemic, which calls us all to unity as God’s children, become the occasion for further prejudice, exclusion and injustice.”

He said it would “ensure that unemployed Americans of all backgrounds will be first in line for jobs as our economy re-opens.” The order includes a long list of exceptions, including for those who are currently in the country, those who have valid immigrant visas, people seeking entry to work as physicians and nurses, and the spouses and unmarried children of U.S. citizens.

In their response, the U.S. bishops said that contrary to the president’s apparent belief that his new restriction would help U.S. workers, “there is little evidence that immigrants take away jobs from citizens.”

“Immigrants and citizens together are partners in reviving the nation’s economy,” they said. “We must always remember that we are all sons and daughters of God joined together as one human family.” They added, “The global crisis caused by Covid-19 demands unity...not more division and the indifference of a throw-away mentality.”

Since the vast majority of employment-based green card applicants already live in the United States, the president’s proclamation will most affect the parents, adult children and siblings of citizens and permanent residents hoping to one day join them in the country. Mr. Trump has derided that practice as “chain immigration” and pushed Congress for years to adopt legislation that would favor what he calls “merit based” immigration instead.

“The global crisis caused by Covid-19 demands unity...not more division and the indifference of a throw-away mentality.”

That interpretation of immigration law has been opposed by U.S. bishops who have long supported “family reunification” as a minimally humane immigration standard. If the president makes this temporary order permanent as the Covid-19 crisis continues, he will succeed in cutting off another significant immigration stream into the United States.

Ur Jaddou, the director of DHS Watch and former chief counsel to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, noted the move was something Stephen Miller, a top White House aide, and other immigration hardliners in the administration have long been advocating. Of the family reunification candidates now cut off, she said: “These are people who are waiting in line for decades. And they just made it that much harder.”

In a statement released on April 21, the Franciscan Action Network charged that the president has been using the coronavirus crisis as cover for a series of “detrimental policy changes: from gutting various environmental regulations and extending the separation of children from parents on the border to defunding the World Health Organization.”

“These despicable policies, none of which were germane to our nation’s concerns regarding the pandemic, were enacted without the consent of Congress and raise troubling questions about democracy, rule of law, and Constitutional overreach by the executive branch,” the network said.

 

The administration’s new immigration restrictions were also deplored by Donna Markham, O.P., the president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities USA. “While we understand the desire to protect people from further exposure to the Covid-19 virus, we should not sacrifice our humanity in our willingness to welcome others. We are a nation of immigrants,” she said in a statement released on April 23.

“Many families in our communities await the arrival of their loved ones. The executive order unnecessarily disrupts migrant communities at a time when many immigration processes are already suspended and many families are sheltering in place to slow the spread of Covid-19. The order will do little to combat a global pandemic that is present within our borders.”

Jill Marie Bussey, the director of advocacy at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., commented in a statement issued through the Interfaith Immigration Coalition on April 21: “The pandemic and its economic fallout, like other societal problems in this country, should not be blamed on immigrants.

“At this pivotal moment, we need leadership, truth, unity and pragmatism that rises above politics,” Ms. Bussey added. “Lives are at stake, yet the president continues to stoke fear and racism, using human beings as fodder. We are a nation of immigrants and we will not be divided.”

With reporting from The Associated Press

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