Catholic bishops ask Trump for humane immigration plan

Rachel Zoll
Associated Press

Baltimore — The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops on Monday urged President-elect Donald Trump to adopt humane policies toward immigrants and refugees, as church leaders begin navigating what will likely be a complex relationship with the new administration.

Meeting just days after the election, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said serving people fleeing violence and conflict “is part of our identity as Catholics” and pledged to continue this ministry.

“We stand ready to work with a new administration to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. A duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need,” the bishops said, just days after the election.

Trump had said during the campaign that he would build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and immediately deport all 11 million people in the country illegally, though he later distanced himself from that position. In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” he said he would focus on deporting people with criminal records beyond their immigrant status, “probably two million, it could even be three million.” The Obama administration has deported more than 2.5 million people since taking office in 2009, according to the Homeland Security Department.

Trump also told “60 Minutes” that his promised solid border wall might look more like a fence in spots. House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected any “deportation force” targeting people in the country illegally.

In his address Monday in Baltimore, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the bishops’ conference, underscored the message, saying “the nation is on thin ice when refugee families are spoken of in the abstract.”

He also highlighted an area where the bishops may find more common ground with Trump. Kurtz noted the importance of conscience rights for people who do not want to recognize same-sex marriage or comply with other laws they consider immoral. Trump has pledged to appoint anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and protect religious liberty.

“Don’t allow government to define what integrity of faith means,” Kurtz said. Dozens of dioceses and Catholic charities sued President Barack Obama over the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers provide coverage for birth control.

On Tuesday, the bishops will elect Kurtz’ successor, who will become lead representative from the conference to the Trump administration. After being on the defensive with Obama over abortion, LGBT rights and other issues, some conservative Catholics are optimistic about the chances for a rollback on some policies, such as the birth control rule.

Still, they are deeply concerned about the plight of immigrants after a brutal election in which Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and urged a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. although he later watered down that proposal. American Catholics have a vast network of aid programs for immigrants and refugees, and Pope Francis has put the issue at the core of his pontificate. About 4 in 10 U.S. Catholics are Latino and Hispanics are already a majority in several dioceses.

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis had opposed a request from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, that the Catholic church stop settling Syrian refugees in the state. Tobin brought an Iraqi refugee to a meeting with the governor, who is now the vice-president elect. Tobin is one of three U.S. church leaders whom the pope will make cardinals in a ceremony Sunday in Rome.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami said he has been trying to calm anxious immigrants in his local churches. He pointed back to the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was first elected, and panic spread through the Haitian community Wenski served. Reagan eventually signed immigration reform that enhanced border security, but also created an opening for some immigrants to stay in the U.S. who had entered the country illegally.

“It’s time to take a deep breath and continue our advocacy,” Wenski said. “If they’re going to build a wall, we’re going to have to be sure they put some doors in that wall.”