The immigration emergency on the border with Mexico and the news of uncertainties on the legal status of 700,000 ‘dreamers’ broke into the discussion of the USCCB Fall General Assembly. Yesterday the Supreme Court opened a debate on three cases that question the legitimacy of the decisions of some courts acting on the executive order of President Trump that rescinds DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program introduced by Barack Obama allowing for the deferral of deportation for all immigrants who entered the United States as children accompanied by undocumented parents. DACA has enabled immigrants to study, work, pay taxes and serve the country in a number of different ways. Many of these youths, who in turn became parents, are leaders in parishes and Catholic and Evangelical communities. Also for this reason the President of the Commission on Migration of the Episcopal Conference, Msgr. Joe S. Vásquez, along with other Catholic and Evangelical organizations, submitted a 38-page document to the Supreme Court claiming that termination of DACA would in fact tear apart families and, above all, it would expose thousands of youths whose only known homeland is the United States, to violence and to homelessness. One of the latest findings on newborns shows that 256,000 children have at least one parent included in the DACA program.
US Bishops have long been urging lawmakers to find a solution that implies citizenship and provides legal assistance and psychological support to all people in a deportation limbo for more than a year. USCCB commitment in this regard is undiminished.
The newly elected president of the Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Josè Gomez, put forward three further items on the migratory emergency, which communities are experiencing both in border areas and in a large part of the country, for debate with his confreres .
The first urgent issue is refugee reception which, for decades, had represented the jewel in the crown of the US, welcoming people fleeing war and persecution. Yet in the last three years the number of incoming migrants dropped dramatically – from 110,000 in 2017 to just 18,000 projected for 2020. This governmental decision also had an impact on Church reception centres and programs, with 51 permanently closed, while 41 more centres will be closed across 23 states by the end of the year. Eighteen programs sponsored by the Bishops’ Conference have been suspended and six involved departments have been shut down.
The situation on border zones is also a critical issue. The President’s two provisions, – one known as “Remain in Mexico” and the regulation envisaging that asylum-seeking immigrants who pass through a third country on their way to the U.S. must first apply for refugee status in that country – have drastically reduced arrivals but created a serious humanitarian emergency in Mexico, where more than 60,000 migrants are currently stationed at the border. “Some of them can’t go back, while others can’t continue their journey, and so they are stranded in territories with insufficient housing and limited legal assistance – said Bishop Vasquez -. We are extremely concerned about families with members with disabilities, pregnant women and children, all of whom are extremely vulnerable. As we know, they are victims of trafficking and that area is frequented by violent gangs.
We too are involved in this emergency, the Church makes no distinction between borders: they are all our brothers and sisters.”
The last critical issue involves migrants in Temporary Protected Statatus – TPS – coming from areas of conflict or environmental disaster zones or from countries where re-entering would threaten the lives of these people. US administration had initially repealed this status, but after insistence and protests it was decided to extend this permit until 2021, especially for citizens from Nepal, Honduras, Haiti, Sudan and El Salvador.
The President-elect concluded his remarks by illustrating the good practices implemented by the respective churches. The dioceses of Browsville and Baltimore, for example, decided to offer a parish identity card to undocumented migrants enabling them to access basic services. The Archdioceses of Los Angeles and Washington have set up a legal system whereby children born in the United States and children of undocumented parents can apply for citizenship. In Indianapolis and San Francisco migrants are offered legal counsel in immigration agency procedures and several agencies offer support for school enrolment and psychological support, especially for children separated from their parents. The diocese of Jackson helped address the emergency caused by the raids of last August, which led to the deportation of several migrants who had to abandon their children born in the U.S., hence U.S. citizens.
Volunteer workers in the diocese of Miami, with specialised childcare training, are also providing support to children in detention centres and to ensure that all migrants in the detention centres can at least enjoy the right to profess their faith.
In the concluding remarks card. Daniel DiNardo shared his personal experience with the political world, especially with regard to the migratory issue. “Interacting with politicians at both local and federal levels has been a frustrating experience, especially when they assured something at noon that they would contradict at 4:15 p.m. with their actions and decisions, still I had to maintain a relationship with them, mindful of the role of the Church and the migrants.” His hope for the future is to see a significant change taking place.