Catholics respond to border wall, travel ban

Reaction from Catholic leaders to President Donald Trump’s executive orders on border security and migrants came swiftly, supported by the teaching of the Church on human dignity and other principles of Catholic social teaching.

The first order, “Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,” was signed Jan. 25. The stated purpose is “to direct executive departments and agencies to deploy all lawful means to secure the Nation’s southern border, to prevent further illegal immigration into the United States, and to repatriate illegal aliens swiftly, consistently, and humanely.”

The second order, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” was signed Jan. 27. This order temporarily suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and the entry of citizens of seven countries. It suspended entry of refugees from Syria indefinitely. A U.S. district judge issued a nationwide stay Jan. 28 to prevent people detained by the order from being deported, but the Department of Homeland Security stated Jan. 29 that it would continue to enforce the order.

Church leaders speak out

Many Catholic leaders responded. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded to the Jan. 25 order on the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston website.

“Today President Trump made several announcements which deeply disturb me,” he wrote, while emphasizing that the archdiocese “is committed to an immigration policy that protects human rights, dignity, and the homeland at the same time.”

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, and chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration, responded to each order with a statement. In response to the Jan. 27 order’s prioritization of Christians and other non-Muslim religious minorities, Bishop Vasquez said “we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity.”

The two stateside archbishops raised to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in November also responded forcefully to the orders.

“They are the opposite of what it means to be an American,” Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, of the Jan. 25 measures on immigration. “Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts. Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities. In fact, threatening the so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as healthcare, education and transportation will not reduce immigration. It only will harm all good people in those communities.”

“This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history,” Chicago Cardinal Blase J. Cupich said in a Jan. 29 statement on the refugee and travel bans. “The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values. These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life. They lower our estimation in the eyes of the many peoples who want to know America as a defender of human rights and religious liberty, not a nation that targets religious populations and then shuts its doors on them.”

Immigration concerns

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies, a New York-based think tank, told Our Sunday Visitor that the Jan. 25 order “is ramping up an enforcement apparatus to wrap up as many undocumented immigrants as possible, which undermines the goal of Catholic leaders to achieve immigration reform where many of these immigrants would be able to get on a path to citizenship.”

Additionally, the order provides for the construction of a wall on the country’s border with Mexico.

Cardinal DiNardo, whose archdiocese touches Mexico, wrote, “I believe that the order to construct a wall along our border with Mexico will only make migrants more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers — putting their lives in danger.” He added, “The announced increase in immigrant detention space and immigrant enforcement activities is alarming. It will tear families apart and spark fear and panic in communities.”

“This policy will be extremely costly, both in terms of the human exploitation and in financial costs,” Ashley Feasley, director of policy for Migration and Refugee Services of the USCCB, told Our Sunday Visitor. “Building a wall will not stop those seeking to reunify with family or fleeing persecution from coming. ... The wall coupled with the increase of border security provisions will harmfully militarize border communities that are already dealing with a massive security framework from past administrations.”

“If the president proceeds with this, there will be a huge social cost of family separation as parents of children who are U.S. citizens will be ripped away from them and sent back to countries they probably don’t know,” said Appleby, who also noted that the immigration order has sparked concern about the effect on asylum-seekers.

“Increasing the number of detention centers along the southern border will lead to the detention of women and children and asylum seekers, and those seeking protection in our country, and who are not criminals,” he said.

“The large-scale ramp-up of immigrant detention and erosion of asylum protections are policies that will greatly harm due process protections and safeguards to human dignity,” Feasley said. “It’s going to make it very difficult to tell their stories or have their day in court. These polices directly contradict Catholic social teaching.”

Moving forward as Church

“Catholics sensitive to the teaching of the Church should be alarmed with where the administration is going,” Appleby said, noting that Catholics are in a particularly unique position to influence the administration.

“The bishops and the Catholic community are in the best position to oppose the president because Catholic voters supported his election, for various reasons, so they should be able to go to him and say this is unacceptable, this doesn’t conform to Catholic teaching or the teaching of Pope Francis, and you need to be more balanced in your approach.”

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Appleby also noted the immigration order will have a limited impact if Congress does not fund a lot of these initiatives. “Congress will have to approve everything for this to move forward, so Catholics can make a big difference in how this turns out.”

“We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope,” Bishop Vásquez said in the USCCB’s Jan. 27 statement. “We will continue to engage the new administration, as we have all administrations for the duration of the current refugee program, now almost 40 years. We will work vigorously to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed in collaboration with Catholic Charities without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans, and to ensure that families may be reunified with their loved ones.”

James K. Hanna writes from Pennsylvania.