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Bishops criticize new immigration rules

A round-up of U.S. bishops' statements in response to issues in the news

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WASHINGTON | The U.S. bishops put out several statements at the beginning of August regarding new rules announced by the Trump Administration that would affect legal immigrants seeking permanent residency and citizenship in the U.S., as well as those seeking asylum. The bishops also opposed the administration's move to freeze funds aimed at overseas development programs.

Public benefits restrictions will harm families and family reunification

On Aug. 13, bishops from two committees at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) expressed their strong opposition to a final rule on public charge put forth by the Department of Homeland Security. The rule, which is expected to be officially published Aug. 14 and will take effect 60 days after publication, will undoubtedly have a negative consequence for families accessing critical public benefits for which they otherwise qualify.

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Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, and Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, offered the following statement.

“This rule will undermine family unity and lead many lawful immigrants to forgo vital assistance, including enrollment in nutrition, housing, and medical programs. Families already in the U.S. will be faced with deciding whether to access critical assistance programs for which they qualify, knowing that in doing so they could jeopardize their ability to stay here with their loved ones. And, it will reduce the ability of many to reunify with family in the U.S. We have already seen the culture of fear that the anticipation of this rule has created in our communities. Ultimately, we believe that this rule is in tension with the dignity of the person and the common good that all of us are called to support.” 

The USCCB also opposed this rule when it was initially proposed by DHS and submitted joint comments with Catholic Charities USA detailing concerns with the rule and urging it be rescinded.

Proposed new rule would 'eviscerate' asylum system

Recently, the Trump Administration issued an “interim final rule” that would nearly eviscerate our current asylum system. A 30-day period was given to submit comments to the government about the rule. The move would allow the Administration to block most individuals arriving at our southern border from gaining access to asylum in the U.S. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted comments Aug. 9 and called the rule “unlawful, unjust, and unwise.” 

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, of Austin, Texas, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:  

“We have grave concerns about the Administration’s interim final rule, issued on July 16, 2019, that greatly limits U.S. asylum eligibility at the southern border,” said Bishop Vásquez. “The rule would turn our back on the vast majority of asylum seekers, requiring them to apply for protection in almost any other country through which they transit, leaving access to U.S. asylum exceptionally rare. Not only do we believe that this rule is unlawful, but it also jeopardizes the safety of vulnerable individuals and families fleeing persecution and threatens family unity. Further, the rule undermines our nation’s tradition of being a global leader providing and being a catalyst for others to provide humanitarian protection to those in need. We remind the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security that how we respond to asylum seekers arriving at our border is a test of our moral character and strongly urge the Administration to rescind this rule.” 

Please find a copy of the comments here

Funds for overseas development should not be rescinded

In a letter from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the Department of State and USAID, the Administration froze between $2-4 billion that Congress approved, and the Administration signed into law, for America’s development and diplomacy programs. While OMB has lifted the freeze, this is the first step in a potential rescission of the appropriated but “unobligated funds” (not yet been committed to a specific contract or project) for 10 State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development accounts. 

Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace and archbishop for the Military Services USA, and Sean Callahan, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, issued the following statement opposing these cuts: 

“Local churches and Catholic Relief Services partner with the U.S. government to reduce poverty, alleviate suffering, and foster peace around the world. Rescinding some of these and other international poverty-reducing funds will limit the United States’ ability to support poor and vulnerable communities, respond to global health challenges, address root causes of forced migration, and advance international religious freedom, global security, and peacekeeping. From Central America to the West Bank and Gaza, U.S. policy decisions that cut foreign aid already increase poverty and create a vacuum for instability.   

“We urge the Administration not to rescind foreign assistance funds. We urge Congress to reject any rescissions that target poverty-reducing and peace-building accounts and require the Administration to obligate previously appropriated funds. The conflicts and crises today are dire. U.S. moral and financial leadership is necessary.”

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