The Church must 'raise the moral questions'

The weekend of Feb. 10 saw the first raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Trump administration, with 680 arrests reportedly netted in coordinated efforts in cities across the United States.

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Arizona, knows the realities of ministering to a border community with a large number of immigrants. While his diocese wasn’t part of the recent enforcement actions, a woman in neighboring Phoenix, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, was detained and deported to Mexico as a result of her Feb. 8 immigration check-in, a regular occurrence since her 2008 conviction for falsifying a Social Security number. Garcia de Rayos, 35, came to the United States as a teenager, and her two children were born here. Her case is one raising questions of how Trump’s executive orders have changed ICE’s approach to enforcement, questions Bishop Kicanas shares: who is being defined as a criminal and therefore prioritized for deportation? And are these raids are targeting ordinary people in addition to dangerous criminals?

Bishop Kicanas spoke with Our Sunday Visitor Feb. 14 about the recent measures, as well as where the Catholic Church and the U.S. bishops fit into the debate around immigration. The following is an excerpt of that conversation:

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Our Sunday Visitor: How are people doing in your diocese?

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas: There is a lot of anxiety, anxiousness and concern. Obviously one of the big concerns is the breakup of families. The administration seems to be saying that they’re simply processing dangerous people, but the reality is it seems like it’s also ordinary people who have come here hoping to find a decent way of life for themselves and their families. While they may have committed a small misdemeanor to help them to enter the workforce here, it doesn’t seem to be these extremely dangerous individuals.

OSV: What issues do you see with these latest measures?

Bishop Kicanas: I think there’s a great deal of heightened fear in the country. The administration has kind of emphasized the fact that there is danger from people who are in our country illegally. Clearly, I think there’s no question that everyone understands that countries have to have borders, and they need to protect their citizens.

But I think if we encourage kind of an irrational fear that leads people to feel that there’s danger lurking everywhere, I think that’s unfortunate, because it brings out the worst in people, which is a defensiveness, as would be understandable when there is legitimate fear. ... There have been incidences of people here illegally who have committed serious crime. But when you look at proportionately, what that means, it’s a very small portion of the criminal behavior that exists in our country. And so to escalate that message beyond what the reality is, isn’t really helpful.

On the other hand, obviously we have to respond to people who engage in criminal behavior, and there is criminal behavior along our border. There’s human trafficking, there’s drug trafficking, there’s weapons trafficking. And those things are illegal and are a menace to the society, and those have to be protected against.

But when we get to the economic migrant whose struggle is to find a decent way of living, or to a refugee who’s seeking to escape from serious danger for themselves or their family, those are entirely different situations. It seems like the administration is saying they want to deport people involved in criminal activity, but that doesn’t really define what it means by criminal activity. So there’s a huge difference between someone killing someone or raping someone and falsifying a document in order to get work. Both are criminal acts, but they’re hugely different in terms of their seriousness.

OSV: Long term, what do you see for all of this?

Bishop Kicanas: Regretfully, deportations are not simply the result of the present administration. As you know, President Obama did deport large numbers of people, and some families were broken up as they are today.

I think the bishops feel that the true long-term solution is to establish comprehensive immigration policy reform, which would provide legal avenues for people to work with, properly, worker rights, that families would be united and not divided or separated, that there be a pathway to citizenship for people who are here illegally so that they can take their proper place in the society. ... If there were legal avenues for people to come into the country, to do work and to contribute to the society, then there would be an opportunity more directly to address some of the criminal behavior, which obviously does have to be addressed.

OSV: Where do you see the Church fitting into all of this?

Bishop Kicanas: The Catholic voice can be linked together with the interfaith voice, because this is something that really all faith traditions agree to. We recently had a gathering of about 75 religious leaders, multi-religious leaders here in the Tucson area to respond to the ban that was proposed for the executive order, … and there was unanimity in our desire to say something from each of our faith perspectives and together, to say that this is not who we are as Americans and there has to be a better way to respond to people fleeing desperate situations.

It’s important for our country and our communities to raise not a political voice — because that’s not who bishops are or what religious leaders are — but to raise the moral questions, which people struggle with. And I think they struggle with them primarily because there is such anxiousness and fear of people, that somehow people who are different or coming into the country either as refugees or immigrants have harmful intentions. And it’s such a minimal number of people that we can’t make sweeping decisions that cover a broad range of people, when the issue is very focused. Yes, there is criminal behavior, but the vast majority of migrants and refugees in this community are peace loving and not interested in harming anybody.

OSV: Pope Francis has called on the world to accept migrants and help families. Where do you see his voice fitting into all of this?

Bishop Kicanas: I think he’s appealing to the best natures in us as human beings, that we are caring people … whereas sometimes our leaders seem to call out the worst in us. ...

I remember being in Lebanon this past summer with Catholic Relief Services, and we were talking to some Syrian refugees, and I said to the gentleman, “What would you say to people who close their door, don’t want you to come in?” And he said, look, if people were in the situations where we were — so let’s say for example our political leaders — were experiencing the trauma, the terror about the loss of their children, the danger of bombs going off next door to your house, they would want to get out as quickly as possible and they would want people to open their doors to help, and would be confused, angry, hurt to find people saying “We have no room for you.” So I think it’s a matter of putting ourselves in the situation of the individuals who are coming here, whether you’re talking about economic migrants or refugees. ...

We can’t generalize from individual criminal acts to somehow the whole population seeking to come into this country are people with evil intent.

OSV: It’s difficult to separate these immigration moves from the election that preceded them. Candidate Trump promised this, and a majority of Catholics voted for him. What do you take away from this, pastorally?

Bishop Kicanas: I think people are very focused on what they’re concerned about. Some people are concerned about immigration. I don’t think it’s a vast majority who are negative about immigrants in the country. I think actually the polling has said more people are for some kind of pathway for people here who are without documents. ...

Some people voted because they haven’t had work, and they don’t know where they’re going to get work. Some people’s lives have not been enhanced as they had hoped they would be. ... I think people voted for many different reasons, which happened to coalesce into a particular candidate. ...

The Church is there to pastorally care for people, and I think what this says is that people are hurting for many different reasons. And I think Pope Francis’ encouragement is that, as Church, we need to be in the street. We need to be among the people and accompany them in their struggles so that they feel heard, they feel understood. There aren’t any magic answers to change their concerns. We have to keep working at it.

Don Clemmer is managing editor of OSV Newsweekly. Follow him on Twitter @clemmer_osv.

Position of the U.S. Bishops on Immigration Reform
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) opposes “enforcement only” immigration policies and supports comprehensive immigration reform. In “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope” (2003), the U.S. Catholic Bishops outlined the elements of their proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. These include:

Earned legalization:
An earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence. Such a program would create an eventual path to citizenship, requiring applicants to complete and pass background checks, pay a fine, and establish eligibility for resident status to participate in the program. Such a program would help stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population “out of the shadows,” as members of their communities.

Future worker program: A worker program to permit foreign-born workers to enter the country safely and legally would help reduce illegal immigration and the loss of life in the American desert. Any program should include workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers, and family unity.

Family-based immigration reform: It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family-based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration. Changes in family-based immigration should be made to increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times. Restoration of due process rights: Due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) should be restored. For example, the three and ten year bars to reentry should be eliminated. Addressing root causes: Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as under-development and poverty in sending countries, and seek long-term solutions. The antidote to the problem of illegal immigration is sustainable economic development in sending countries. In an ideal world, migration should be driven by choice, not necessity.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would-be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.

Administration lays out new border enforcement measures
Secretary John Kelly of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued two memoranda Feb. 21, related to the implementation of President Trump’s executive orders on border security and immigration enforcement. Per the information provided by the government, these actions include:

Law enforcement. With extremely limited exceptions, all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including deportation. The guidance prioritizes those who have commit- ted crimes, beginning with those convicted of a criminal offense.

Limited release. Detained persons will only be released from custody under limited circumstances, such as when removing them from the country, or when someone has obtained an order granting relief from detention.

Increased border patrol. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will immediately begin the process of hiring 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, as well as 500 Air & Marine agents and officers.

Expansion of local law collaboration. Exist- ing law allows written agreements with a state or political subdivision to authorize qualified officers or employees to perform the functions of an immigration officer.

Identifying and quantifying aid to Mexico. The president has directed the heads of all executive departments to identify and quantify all sources of direct and indirect federal aid or assistance to the government of Mexico. DHS will identify all sources of aid for the last five years.

Enhancing asylum referrals and credible fear determinations. Officers will conduct interviews in a manner that allows the interviewing officer to elicit all relevant information necessary to make a determination whether a person has credible fear of being returned to his or her home country. The operational capacity of the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate will be increased.

Allocating resources and personnel to the border. CBP and ICE will allocate available re- sources to expand detention capabilities. CBP will focus on short-term detention of 72 hours or less; ICE will focus on all other detention capabilities.

Commissioning a comprehensive study of border security.

Constructing and funding a border wall.

Expanding expedited removal.

Child trafficking preventions.

Public Reporting of Border Apprehensions Data.
CBP and ICE will develop a standardized method for public reporting of statistical data regarding those apprehended at or near the border for violating the immigration law.