US Bishops: a voice for immigrants
By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Bishop Joe Vásquez, of the Diocese of Austin, Texas, and chairman of the US Bishops’ Committee on Migration explains the US Bishops’ position, as well as immigration in general.
What the US Bishops’ stance on immigration is
The United States Bishops have been concerned with immigrants and refugees for a long time, Bishop Vásquez says. They have been advocating for immigration reform because of the “dysfunctional immigration policy” currently in place. This a pressing need for which the Bishops have been asking Congress, and various White House administrations to address. The Bishops are advocating for millions of people who “are living in the shadows” so they can be integrated into society. This advocacy is directed at processes by which this integration can happen. They are not advocating for universal amnesty, nor the removal of penalties and fines.
In a special way the US Bishops have been advocating for the Dreamers because they were brought to the US by their parents. “They knew nothing about the law when they arrived here they were children.” Bishop Vásquez says that for many of them, the US is the only home they know, and they are fully integrated into US society. They are university students, members of the military, they contribute to the economy, leaders in the community and parishes. “We are advocating that a solution be allowed, and that citizenship be granted to these Dreamers. Some way this needs to be figured out.” In order to put pressure on Congress, the US Bishops organized a call-in campaign at the end of February when Congress returned from recess.
What the Catholic stance on immigration is
The US Bishops’ position is based on the broader stance of the Catholic Church toward immigrants and refugees, Bishop Vásquez explains. Both the Old and the New Testaments agree that “the immigrant is to be protected and cared for. This is something that God asks his own people to do…reminding the People of God that they themselves at one point had been immigrants and refugees and that they also suffered because of that situation.” Christ himself was a refugee, along with Joseph and Mary, who had to escape their native land. “The Church’s position is that we are speaking on behalf of refugees and immigrants because it’s a moral issue.” In order to promote the human dignity of immigrants, the US Bishops advocate for immigration laws that are “humane and proportionate. They should make the country safer” because every nation has the right to protect its borders. “But people also need to be protected,” Bishop Vásquez reiterates.
The majority of the people immigrating to the US are escaping horrible economic situations, violence, terrorism. Their dream is to start over and “contribute to the society.” This, Bishop Vásquez says, is why “the Church wants to speak on their behalf.” Since they have no voice, the Bishops are speaking for them so that they can hopefully be integrated into society.
Advocating for the integrity of the family
Bishop Vásquez explains that many illegal immigrants are families. Some, but not all, of the children may have legal status. The Church advocates for these families to be able to stay together. But what has been happening recently is that families are being separated so that “the integrity of the family is being threatened.” At times, children are afraid that they may come home from school and discover that their parents have been deported. “Family is essential to be maintained. Anything that threatens that again destabilizes our own society. We want to advocate and speak on their behalf…that the family should be maintained together.”
Where the Dreamers stand now
Another court in the state of Maryland in the US has weighed in on the legality of President Trump’s September 2017 order ending the DACA program. This time, the court sides with the President. Last week the US Supreme Court delivered a significant defeat to President Trump. It refused to hear the administration’s appeal of a lower court order mandating the continuation of the Obama-era program granting special protection for Dreamers.
The latest court ruling does not affect the continuation of DACA which is a legal shield for nearly 700,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. It is a signal of just how deeply divided the US is on the issue. While the threat of job loss and deportation has been removed for the time being, long-term uncertainty still looms over the Dreamers.