US bishops oppose expansion of immigration restrictions

Washington D.C., Feb 3, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is decrying a Trump administration order that expands, by six, a list of countries whose citizens are restricted from immigrating to the United States.

The Trump administration on Jan. 31 expanded travel restrictions to include those seeking to move to the United States from Nigeria, Sudan, Tanzania, Eritrea, Burma, and Kyrgyzstan.

“The proclamation restricting immigration further undermines family reunification efforts and will make ensuring support for forced migrants in the designated countries more difficult,” the chairs of several USCCB committees said Feb. 2.

“We respect that there are challenges in assuring traveler documentation and information exchange between countries as a means to ensure the safety of citizens. However, we also believe that ill-conceived nation-based bans such as this injure innocent families…We urge the administration to reverse this action and consider the human and strategic costs of these harmful bans.”

The statement was signed by Bishop Mario Dorsonville, auxiliary bishop of Washington and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration; Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, chairman of the ecumenical and interreligious affiars committee; Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, chair of the Catholic Legal Immigration Netowrk, Inc.; Sean Callahan, president of Catholic Relief Services; and Sister Donna Markham, president of Catholic Charities USA.

The formal announcement from the White House stated that each of the six additional countries identified in the January 2020 proposal has deficiencies in sharing terrorist, criminal, or identity information with the United States.

Visas that can lead to permanent residency will be suspended for nationals of Nigeria, Burma, Eritrea, and Kyrgyzstan, while nationals of Sudan and Tanzania will not be able to apply for the “diversity visa” lottery.

Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa and is approximately 50% Christian.

The United States issued more than 7,920 immigrant visas to Nigerians in the 2018 fiscal year, and of these, 4,525 went to the immediate relatives of American citizens, and another 2,820 to other family members, The New York Times reports. Nigerian immigrants sent back $24 billion in remittances to Nigeria in 2018 alone, the Times reported according to the accounting firm PwC.

The Times reported that nearly 30,000 Nigerians overstayed their nonimmigrant visas in 2018, citing US Department of Homeland Security figures.

The new policy will take effect Feb. 21, the White House announcement said. Immigrants who obtain visas before then will still be able to travel to the United States, officials told The New York Times.

Special Immigrants, whose eligibility is based on having provided assistance to the United States Government, would be excepted from the new policy, the White House said.

The Trump administration’s original executive order restricting immigration was issued Jan. 27, 2017, prompting hundreds of demonstrators to gather at airports. The order was modified and went through several court challenges.

In addition to the countries added in January, the order bars entry of some citizens of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and North Korea. Chad was on the original list, but has since been removed.

Lawyers, advocates for Muslim immigrants, and other critics said the administration’s travel ban still constituted a “Muslim ban” since most of the countries under the ban are Muslim-majority.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the travel ban in June 2018, ruling that President Donald Trump was acting within the limits of his authority when he enacted the travel ban on nationals from seven countries.

At the time of the ruling, leaders of the U.S. bishops’ migration committee and religious freedom committee said the travel ban “targets Muslims for exclusion, which goes against our country’s core principle of neutrality when it comes to people of faith.” The Supreme Court “failed to take into account the clear and unlawful targeting of a specific religious group by the government,” the bishops said.

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