Amnesty Advocates Turn On Each Other: The ACLU Versus The U.S. Catholic Bishops

Ian Smith Immigration Reform Law Institute
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Immigration-watchers will have marveled at the recent spectacle of the ACLU attacking the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops over its failure to provide contraception and abortion referrals to its illegal alien and refugee clients. Both organizations are close comrades when it comes to pushing for open borders. The ACLU is one of the biggest legal advocates for “immigrant rights” while the USCCB is one of the biggest federal contractors of illegal alien “family reunification” and refugee resettlement services. For immigration law enforcement advocates, how this fight pans out isn’t important as it’s long, arduous and as mutually destructive as possible.

ACLU’s complaint alleges that USCCB’s giant federal contracts restrict it from asserting “anti-abortion” religious beliefs to its illegal alien clientele because of separation-of-church-and-states principles in the Constitution. They’re at least right about the ‘giant’ contracts part. Figures from 2014 show USCCB received $84 million in government grants and contracts related to “migration activities,” including the UAC programs, which was a jump from the $74 million it received in 2013. From this amount and other grants, the group pays for its executive salaries and bureaucracy and also takes out fees. Since the White House created its Faith-Based and Community Initiatives program in 2004, tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been going out every year to religious groups that provide social services, including pro-amnesty religious groups like USCCB. This means a big part of the open-borders lobby is actually being funded by you and me.

Most alarming is their activism. Not only can religious groups use tax-exempt funds to lobby for open-borders, but they’re exempt from disclosing their lobbying figures to the public. And these figures we know are big. USCCB stopped volunteering this information to Pew Research since 2010, but their last figures from 2009 showed $27 million being spent in political advocacy, making them second among religious groups next only to AIPAC.

According to Pew, the greatest number of religious advocacy groups in Washington, D.C. are Catholic. Those similar to USCCB not only advocate for increasingly lax immigration enforcement standards, but they also take part in litigation (like the ACLU) against state governments that try to pass their own immigration enforcement laws. They also regularly testify before Congress, provide assistance to illegal aliens and arrange protests against members of Congress.

Catholic organizations have big reasons to advocate for open-borders. According to Accuracy in Media, Catholic officials and organizations generally encourage illegal immigration because “most of the illegal aliens are Catholics [and] the church makes lots of government money by hosting and serving the immigrants.” The Faith-Based Initiatives program was a godsend for the Catholic Church following the sex abuse lawsuits of the 1990s, which cost them not only in civil penalties (around $3 billion for all U.S. dioceses) but also in lost parishioner-donations. Just like the beat-up unions that support amnesty, the modern Catholic Church is simply looking out for more paid-in members.

Ever since the Faith-Based Initiatives program began, liberal groups like the ACLU have fretted about taxpayer-funded anti-abortion lobbying, which, like all lobbying, is technically illegal if it’s paid for with federal grants. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “because churches and affiliates are [] exempt from filing tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service, it is difficult for outsiders to track… how much money it spends to influence legislation.” Their lobbyists also don’t have to file disclosure forms. Worries about federal funds being used for religious advocacy spending has been confirmed by the Government Accountability Office and Members of Congress have called for increased scrutiny of groups like USCCB.

Generally, organizations that receive federal grants are restricted from using those funds for political advocacy work, like direct lobbying or releasing newsletters and media ads urging voters to support certain government policies. The policy behind the law is two-fold: We don’t want federal grants to be a) used to finance fringe-issue lobbying, and b) used for getting additional federal grants. The UK government’s only just recently passed a rule to end this problem following a damning report on taxpayer-funded lobbying published by an investigative think-tank.

Widespread use of taxpayer funds to pay for direct lobbying in Washington, D.C. is certainly likely. As the Congressional Research Service notes, “the restrictions on lobbying with federal funds generally follow only the funds themselves” and don’t apply to advocacy activities paid for by “one’s own, private resources.” Groups like USCCB, in other words, are allowed to spend on prohibited activities, such as lobbying, if they use “personal funds” instead of grant funds. This abstract separation between government funds and personal funds should give taxpayers pause. Even though it may appear deceitful that an organization receiving a grant the same day it engages in lobbying can claim that the two events are entirely independent of each other, it does satisfy the law as it’s currently written.

Whether it be funds sourced from the government or a private entity, like the Ford Foundation, that money is fungible and interchangeable between one source and another. Following the UK’s recent policy change, commentators there rightly pointed out that with regards to demarcating private and public funds “it would be difficult to draw a distinction between the two.” But even if “charities” like USCCB are properly segregating taxpayer funds from private funds, at the very least, federal support allows them to free up private funds to be used for lobbying, which has the same basic effect.

Liberal critics only ever mention the illicit religious advocacy of Catholic groups, but the real worry should be their immigration lobbying and not only because of the federal money involved. Unlike abortion, the current administration is totally onside with their immigration views. The access they’re given to Obama’s cabinet makes that clear. DHS has available online 18 months’ worth of former Secretary Napolitano’s schedules and they show six private meetings with USCCB (and plenty of other open-borders groups); a level of contact groups like FAIR or NumbersUSA could only dream of. This aligns with a study from George Mason University which claimed that the EPA has developed a “surrogate” relationship with the American Lung Association enlisting the group as its own public relations body in exchange for grant funds. A similar surrogate relationship was revealed when grants to La Raza and its affiliate, Chicanos for the Cause, quadrupled and doubled, respectively, after their former lobbyist, Cecilia Munoz, joined Obama’s advisory team. Is the White House and/or DHS fostering such a relationship with groups like USCCB?

On top of their deep self-interest in erasing our borders, a general disdain for the law on the part of some Catholic groups should also worry critics of taxpayer-funded lobbying. Bishop John C. Wester, Chairman of the USCCB’s immigration committee, showed he apparently has a higher calling than the rule of law when he told a congressional panel that calling illegal immigration “illegal” is but a  mere “quick sound bite.” “If someone is breaking the law,” he said, “you need to look at why the person’s breaking the law.”

As G.K. Chesterton would say, these are Christians who really should have been eaten by lions.