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Congress must fix broken immigration system

Archbishop Wenski's column for February 2017 edition of the Florida Catholic

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We live at a time when institutions and the people who represent them (i.e. the system) have lost credibility: this is true whether we are speaking of academia, business, the press or the Church. This explains, in great part, the populist explosion throughout the Western world. Populism on the left blames the “economic elites” while, on the right, populism rails against the cultural and intellectual elites. A backlash against globalization and multiculturalism allowed Donald Trump, a real estate mogul and a reality TV star, to lead a populist insurgency against a political establishment that was perceived to be “out of touch” and too beholding to those elites.

In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan, in commenting on the shock waves welcomed by some and distressing to others that the Trump presidency has already brought to Washington observed: “Everyone’s political views are now emotions and everyone now wears their emotions on their faces.” (Wall Street Journal, 2/3/17). This was certainly evident in the widespread protests that followed President Trump’s executive orders on refugee issues and the related travel ban. The original order halts the entire refugee admissions program for 120 days, cuts the number of refugees admitted from 110,000 to 50,000, and suspends resettlement of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran and several failed states in the region.

The executive orders provoked strong reactions and fears. In Miami-Dade County on Feb. 1, in the wake of the President’s executive orders and the county mayor’s attempt to escape the label of having endorsed a “sanctuary city,” a near panic resulted as (unfounded) rumors of immigration round-ups on street corners spread like wildfire among the county’s undocumented residents. Public schools reported increased absenteeism as parents are afraid of sending the kids to class.

The executive orders were challenged in the courts, protested on the streets and criticized strongly by faith leaders, including spokesmen for the U.S. Catholic bishops, Catholic Charities and other agencies. And, as Peggy Noonan observed, “There was no Republican in Washington not one on the Hill or within the party structure who did not privately call the order a disaster.”

But ultimately, the blame lies in Congress’ failure to legislatively fix an antiquated and inadequate and thus broken immigration system. Comprehensive immigration reform has been the unfinished business of Congress for more than 15 years. The system is broken. It does not adequately address the need for reliable labor flows which is why we have 11 million undocumented in the country (who are not sleeping under bridges but working, even if in the informal economy). At the same time, due process for asylum seekers is severely compromised by overloaded dockets and under-resourced advocates.

While some rail against rewarding “law breakers,” the majority of those in the U.S. without proper documents harm no one but work hard to provide better opportunities for their families. A pathway to legal residency and possible U.S. citizenship for these people would allow ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to devote resources to apprehending the “really bad apples” violent criminals and terrorists instead of chasing nannies and food service workers.

The Administration claims it wants to implement “extreme vetting” to protect the American people. Let’s encourage it to put in place whatever “extreme vetting” it deems necessary. But vetting should give no quarter to xenophobic intolerance or nativism. Nor should the vetting process drag on: too many lives are at risk. Our refugee resettlement program, long an example of cooperation between the government and faith-based organizations, is a life-saving program for some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

At the same time, Congress is accountable for our broken immigration system and only Congress can fix it. One place to start would be to revive the Dream Act, which would give a path to citizenship for those brought here as children. These “dreamers” are now protected by DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) a temporary holding action by President Obama when Congress failed to pass the Dream Act. President Trump has said that the “dreamers” do not have much to fear: but rather than rely on that, Congress should extend DACA with the BRIDGE Act immediately, while working across the aisle for a permanent and comprehensive solution to our broken immigration system.

Comments from readers

Mimi - 02/17/2017 11:06 PM
Not all things are as viewed by everyone. The Catholic church has taken a very harsh position on our new President and his voters. Maybe due to our Pope coming from a Liberal culture. Being a Globalist is viewed by some as acceptance of everything in the world. To me there are border delienating different countries in the world that must be respected, just like there were borders in the Bible and just like the Vatican has walls and borders. Being a Globalist is perceived as acceptance of other cultures when it is not. A Globlalist doesnt believe in sovereignty of countries. The Pope has referred to Trump as a Populist and I ask arent all public figures populists? And no disrespect meant, even our Pope? Lets respect the other side of the coin and keep things that are of Religion that way. There are many Catholics that do not share the Pope's political beliefs and yet are devout Catholics. As Catholics we must supportt our President, the first President to openly support a great tenet of our church, Thou shalt not kill. Openly opposing abortion. He is not perfect but neither are most of us. Our country needs less divisiveness and more unity is what our church should be espousing. God Bless our country, our flag and all who live here. May God protect Trump and help him to help protect our Republic from all the extremist that wish to harm us and exterminate our religious beliefs and church. Pope Francis please represent and respect all the differing views of our church.. God Bless
Jon Smith - 02/15/2017 09:50 PM
When my wife went through RCIA, she was vetted by the church. One person in her group was denied entry because certain paperwork regarding a previous marriage wasn't completely to the satisfaction of the diocese. If acceptance into my faith is as narrow as the eye of a needle, then the church should also agree to that same eye as I want my countries immigration policy to be.
Fr Peter Kelleher - 02/15/2017 05:37 PM
Excellent statement, Archbishop. Best wishes to you and Richard! Fr Peter Kelleher, Diocese of Parramatta, Australia,
P. McDonald - 02/12/2017 01:28 AM
With respect, the Archbishop in particular, and the Catholic Church in the US in general, has far more pressing pastoral needs to address than to get involved in the immigration policy of the United States. To whit... poll after poll shows that 50% of the parishioners in American pews support abortion in all or most circumstances. That's 665,000 abortions per year in the US, or 1 abortion for every 5 live births. In the mean time, back on the ranch, the U.S. admitted and granted legal status to an average of over 1 million people per year between 2010-2015. The top regions that these immigrants arrived from were Mexico, India, China, Philippines, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Vietnam, South Korea, El Salvador, and Iraq. In other words, from every corner of the globe. In 2015, the immigrant population of the United States totaled over 46 million, which is 4 times the country with the next largest immigrant population (Germany at 12 million). So somehow this "broken" system has produced a far greater number of legal immigrants to the United States than any other country in the world by far, and the numbers have been increasing and accelerating steadily (and we have not even addressed the undocumented and their children who are automatically granted citizenship and not included in these numbers). Does this mean the system cannot be improved? Certainly not, but I am personally a bit weary at the perpetual sermonizing on all the flaws in our system without some balance in the discussion. The simple truth is that there is a limit to how many people we can reasonably accommodate and we have both a right and a duty to exercise control over that flow which the open borders advocates will never find tolerable no matter how many we find room for here. As to admonitions from the church, I suggest the Archbishop should spend more time worried about why half of his congregants ignore core church doctrine and less time flailing the US for not doing enough.
Steve Bowles - 02/10/2017 09:35 AM
Great piece. I just wish there was some way to hold countries accountable for making conditions so bad that whole populations, economic in Mexico and war in Syria, must flee.

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