Voting Catholic: Do American Catholics have a responsibility to vote for policies that help immigrants?

Central American migrants are seen inside an enclosure in El Paso, Texas, March 27, 2019. They were being held by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and turning themselves in to request asylum. Under Trump administration policy, the migrants must be returned to Mexico and apply for U.S. asylum from there. (CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters)

When José Arnulfo Cabrera was four years old, his family decided to move to the United States.

“I was born in a small village,” Mr. Cabrera told Sebastian Gomes, an executive editor at America and the host of its new podcast Voting Catholic. “We lived in a small shack with aluminum walls and an aluminum roof. [We had] no running water, no electricity. My mom and I just had a bed and a bucket. My mom knew there was no life, no future for me in Mexico.”

He spoke about his experience with a “coyote,” a person who helps people cross the border into the United States. Mr. Cabrera’s father gave the coyote some money and, in exchange, the coyote passed Mr. Cabrera off as his own son in order to get him across the border.

Now, after growing up on the streets of Cincinnati and graduating from Xavier University, Mr. Cabrera works as the director of education and advocacy for migration at the Ignatian Solidarity Network, a Jesuit social justice organization. Much of Mr. Cabrera’s job involves finding ways to advocate for and help migrants and undocumented immigrants, something which he says is crucial to being a faithful Catholic.

Discussing how Catholics should approach comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. Cabrera said that the United States needed to enact policies “that see immigrants in a humane way that ensure that their dignity is being protected.”

“Immigration is always going to be a pawn for politicians to push their agenda.”

“The policies that legislators are writing and that advocates are fighting for, the foundation and the core of these policies must keep in mind that all immigrants are human beings that have dignity and that should be treated with respect,” he said. “I think, especially in the last few years, we have seen how children have been treated in detention centers at ports of entry at the border and how many immigrants have died in detention. We have to see this as a life issue. We must protect all life.”

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

Immigration is an issue that is very important to Mr. Cabrera. He talked extensively about the excitement he felt when Barack Obama spoke on this issue in 2008 and the disappointment that ultimately resulted when three million people were deported under his watch.

“We saw the start of the militarization of the border,” he said. “We started to see [the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as] I.C.E become more organized. Obama was the first to push for E-Verify at a national level.” E-Verify, a database that checks if workers are in the country illegally, has harmed undocumented people considerably, according to Mr. Cabrera.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA, was one of the few Obama-era policies that Mr. Cabrera praised. DACA helped him and many other undocumented immigrants remain in the country. Donald Trump’s election in 2016 put DACA’s existence into jeopardy.

Mr. Cabrera spoke about the fear he felt after hearing the results of the election. He was unable to sleep, shocked by the reality he was facing. It was his final semester at Xavier University. He had just registered for his final classes. Now there was a good chance that he would never get to go to attend them. While he was fortunate enough to be able to graduate from Xavier, the Trump administration indeed rescinded DACA in 2017. But federal court orders have kept the program on life support.

“Immigration is always going to be a pawn for politicians to push their agenda,” Mr. Cabrera said. “We’re always getting played no matter what aisle you want to look at.”

Ultimately, he said, standing up for immigrants reflects an important concern of Catholic social teaching.

“I think a lot of [American Catholics] need to have more encounters with undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers and refugees,” he said. “And they have to understand where they’re coming from. They have to practice what the Bible tells us to do: Welcome our neighbor.”

To hear more of Mr. Cabrera’s story, including his personal experiences with American politics and how he became an activist for undocumented immigrants, be sure to listen to Voting Catholic, a new podcast by America Media that helps Catholics discern how to vote in the 2020 presidential election.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify
Listen on Google Podcasts

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

The latest from america

Many are wondering after the lack of response by the Vatican to questions raised about what Pope Francis actually said about civil unions.
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 24, 2020
Saying that his parents "taught me the importance of faith and prayer from a young age," Trump went on to say that "Melania and I have gotten to visit some amazing churches and meet with great faith leaders from around the world."
Blessed Carlo Acutis, an Italian teenager who used his computer programming skills to spread devotion to the Eucharist, was beatified in Assisi, Italy, Oct. 10, 2020. (CNS photo/courtesy Sainthood Cause of Carlo Acutis)
Acutis’s beatification is a beacon to all those who live their lives, for better or for worse, increasingly online.
Mike SeayOctober 24, 2020
“The government doesn’t want to reunite the children with their parent...They don’t see it as their role.”
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 23, 2020