Church must be present to migrants and refugees, USCCB leaders say

Baltimore, Md., Jun 11, 2019 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- The Church needs to be present to migrants and refugees in the U.S. who are facing detention or deportation, and cannot be “invisible,” U.S. bishops said on the first day of their annual spring meeting in Baltimore, Md. on Tuesday.

“We can also redouble our efforts to offer spiritual support, and access to legal and social services to affected families,” Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin stated on Tuesday afternoon of an estimated 700,000 DACA recipients and 400,000 TPS holders whose legal status is uncertain but who have received a temporary reprieve from deportation as the administration’s actions ending DACA and TPS are litigated.

While delivering an update on the U.S. bishops’ working group on immigration, Bishop Vasquez maintained that “it is vital that they feel supported by the Church during this time of uncertainty.”

With thousands of undocumented immigrants in detention centers throughout the country, “we as pastors should be concerned that we have our priests there celebrating Mass for them, that the Church is present to them in this area,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami stated. “We have to respond to them and not let the Church be invisible to them.”

The U.S. bishops met on Tuesday for the first day of their Spring General Assembly, held in Baltimore, Md. from June 11-14.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles and Bishop Vasquez on Tuesday afternoon both presented the results of the bishops’ working group on immigration. The working group “has been formed to carry forward this mission for the Church to support immigrants and refugees,” Archbishop Gomez said.

The bishops listed what they said were serious challenges facing the Church’s mission to migrants and refugees—the “inhumane” and “immoral” treatment of migrants, asylum-seekers, and others seeking to enter the U.S., as Archbishop Gomez said.

The bishops cited the Trump administration’s lowering of refugee intake caps for a third straight year to 30,000 for FY 2019, as well as the ending of the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017, and the ongoing non-renewal of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations.

In addition, asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their request is processed, putting “vulnerable people in harm’s way in Mexico,” Bishop Vasquez said. Meanwhile, the administration’s policies are “slowing down” and “clogging” the “ability of the ports of entry to process asylum claims.”

Other policies he cited were increases in family detention, rules “to further restrict access to asylum and due process,” and an “enforcement only approach to migration.”

Wenski mentioned that the Church should look to inform some DACA recipients and TPS holders of legal remedies that might be available to them. “We should be encouraging our parishioners and our legal residents to take the next step and to apply for citizenship,” he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the bishops also heard from Archbishop Gomez an update on the Working Group on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the bishops’ teaching document on voting.

“I truly hear the Holy Spirit moving among us as both of those topics come together on the agenda,” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Tex. stated, noting Faithful Citizenship and the “tragic reality of immigration in our nation today.”

Strickland noted the importance of the sanctity of life and called on the bishops “as shepherds” to challenge those Catholic politicians who support issues that violate the sanctity of life such as legal abortion or harmful immigration policies.

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego stated that “I feel there are two essential questions” to be considered with “Faithful Citizenship.” There is first “the primary obligation of the faithful citizen” he said “to try to heal and downplay the divisions in our culture,” and second, the importance of “character,” as “I feel we under attended to that question” in the past versions of the document.

Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Ark., said that “often missing in our discussion” is an expression of “admiration” and “courage” for migrants who come to the U.S.

Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, Ala. cited the recently passed Alabama law outlawing abortion in the state. Legislators “took a courageous stand” in passing and enacting the law, and he also noted the support for the law among Baptists and Catholics.

“When people do take those stands,” they must be supported by the bishops, he said.  

 

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