By Kevin Jones
The upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump has raised questions about the future of immigration reform, but the nation’s Catholic bishops remain hopeful.
“We also find it important that we engage the present incoming administration,” Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, said Jan. 12. “We think it is highly important that we as bishops make known what is taking place in our country and how to address those possibilities.”
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the U.S. bishops’ conference president, even voiced confidence.
“I actually think this may be a very good time to pursue all the goals that we’ve had all along,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “This is a new moment, with a new Congress, a new administration. And therefore we should up our expectations and move very carefully, but clearly, on comprehensive immigration reform.”
Leading U.S. bishops and bishops’ conference officials spoke with reporters Jan. 12 to mark National Migration Week, a nearly 50-year-old celebration that encourages the Church to reflect on the situations facing immigrants, refugees, children, and victims of human trafficking.
President-elect Trump, who takes office next week, campaigned on several strong anti-immigration policies, including talk of deportation, strict enforcement of immigration law and a famous promise to build a wall on the Mexico border and make Mexico pay for it.
Bishop Vasquez said that the rhetoric of wall-building is “not the place where we’d want to start our conversation on immigration.”
He said the bishops advocated humane policy and laws that take into consideration the need to keep families together and to help those who have come to the U.S. at a young age.
Cardinal DiNardo said the bishops’ concerns focus on immigration reform.
“As of right now, we haven’t (discussed) too much on the wall situation,” he said, voicing greater concern for the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, President Barack Obama’s executive action which allowed millions of immigrants who met certain standards to stay in the U.S. The program especially benefitted those who had arrived in the U.S. without documentation while being under age 18.
Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, vice president of the bishops’ conference, said the conference is trying to have a conversation with Trump’s transition team.
“Obviously we continue to help our elected officials to understand the issue,” he said, noting there are “many challenges” regarding immigration.
“But I hope that we are going to make progress this year,” he continued. “Immigration reform is about people. It’s not about politics, it’s about fathers and mothers and children and brothers and sisters.”
Ashley Feasely, policy director of the U.S. bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, also reflected on upcoming priorities.
“There are many still in Congress who believe that immigration reform is a possibility,” she said. “And I think there are individuals in the incoming White House who are interested in seeing reform. I think it’s important that we continue to engage at the state and local level, with Congress, and the new administration to show the need to reform our broken system.”
For Bishop Vasquez, National Migration Week is a chance to highlight Catholics’ mission to welcome newcomers.
“In Matthew 25, Jesus specifically says, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’,” he said. “Those words are applied to our immigrants. Jesus identifies with them completely.”
He noted that many migrants leave difficult situations including violence and gang warfare. Some have survived human trafficking.
“It’s important that we see them not as problems, but as persons,” he said.
Archbishop Gomez reflected on Pope Francis’ message for National Migration Week.
“He reminds us of the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and that she is our mother, and that we should not be afraid, because we are not alone,” the archbishop said. “It was a beautiful message of hope. I feel that is what we need right now. More hope for the future.”