Often at odds with the Obama administration over religious liberty, abortion, and gay marriage, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out on the president’s side this month, pleased with his decision to act unilaterally on immigration, a move they’ve been encouraging for some time.
In a little-noted September letter addressed to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, they chided Congress for its inaction.
“We write to urge you to use your authority to protect undocumented individuals and families as soon as possible, within the limits of your executive authority,” the letter began. “With immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress, our nation can no longer wait to end the suffering of family separation caused by our broken immigration system.”
The letter asked specifically for deferred action for immigrants with “strong community ties and equities in the United States and [who] have lived in the United States for ten years or longer,” those with approved family and employment petitions, parents of children who are U.S. citizens, and parents of DACA recipients. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a 2012 administration memo authorizing “prosecutorial discretion” when dealing with those who illegally entered the country while under 18.
The letter was signed by Eusebio Elizando, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle, Washington, and Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange, California. Elizondo is also Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, while Vann is Chairman of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network.
“The Administration has the opportunity to provide this relief to families who have built equities in this country,” the letter concludes. “As Congress has been unable to pass immigration reform legislation, we urge you to exercise your authority—as conferred by, but also limited by, the federal Constitution and statutes—to protect these families from separation and exploitation. As pastors concerned with the physical and spiritual welfare of our people, we can no longer wait to end the human suffering caused by our current immigration system.”
“It would be derelict not to support administrative actions…which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection,” Elizando said last week. “We are not guided by the latest headlines but by the human tragedies that we see every day in our parishes and programs, where families are torn apart by enforcement actions especially.”
“It may be necessary for the president to step up and to act in a way that addresses the needs of families,” Tucson Bishop Gerald Kicanas told Catholic news site Crux. “The preference would be to have a bipartisan solution, and a comprehensive solution. But it seems as if for whatever reason there is a paralysis existing right now, and in the meantime, people are hurting, families are being separated.”
Sean O’Malley, Catholic Cardinal and Archbishop of Boston, famously held a mass at the U.S.-Mexican border in April of this year, distributing communion wafers through the fence to the faithful on the other side.
“We have lost a sense of responsibility to our brothers and sisters,” he said in his homily at the time. Afterward, in an interview with The Washington Post, he said that as a D.C. priest during the 70s and 80s, “most of my parishioners were undocumented refugees. To me, they’re not statistics; they’re people, and I’ve seen the kinds of sacrifices and the suffering they’ve endured.”
O’Malley drew criticism from some for the move, including Catholic commentator George Weigel, who said “It’s not clear to me how holding Mass in these circumstances can be anything other than politicized.”
USCCB support for executive action — and hope to influence it — goes back to June, when Obama first announced his intention to act unilaterally. Kevin Appleby, director of their Migration Policy and Public Affairs Office, has consistently pushed for a “progressive” solution, according to Aleteia, another Catholic news site.
“As pastors, bishops and priests are charged with ensuring that all Catholics and those of good will have the opportunity to know God and to be with him,” Appleby wrote in a 2013 op-ed. “It is also an obligation of all Catholics. Advocating for immigration reform is yet another way for the Catholic clergy, joined by the Catholic faithful, to fulfill that responsibility.”