immigration

Column: Truly Accepting the Refugee

The controversy over placing refugees in the state reminded me of a story about a Sixth Century Egyptian monk.  The story goes like this:

Going to town one day to sell some small articles, Abba Agathon met a cripple on the roadside, paralysed in his legs, who asked him where he was going. Abba Agathon replied, “To town, to sell some things.”

The other said, “Do me the favor of carrying me there.” So he carried him to the town.

The cripple said to him, “Put me down where you sell your wares.” He did so.

When he had sold an article, the cripple asked, “What did you sell it for?” And he told him the price. The other said, “Buy me some bread,” and he bought it.

When Abba Agathon had sold a second article, the sick man asked, “How much did you sell it for?” And he told him the price of that also. Then the other said, “Buy me this,” and he bought it.

When Agathon, having sold all his wares, wanted to go, he said to him, “Are you going back?” and he replied, “Yes.” Then he said, “Do me the favor of carrying me back to the place where you found me.” Once more he picked him up and he carried him back to that place.

Then the cripple said, “Agathon, you are filled with divine blessings, in heaven and on earth.” Raising his eyes, Agathon saw no man, it was an angel of the Lord, come to try him.”

(The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward.)

Abba Agathon’s attitude of acceptance and charity is one we should emulate, not just in our personal lives, but also in how we act as a society.  It is one modeled after Christ himself, who embraced and healed, rather than distanced himself from, the lepers.  (Please, readers, do not dismiss Jesus’ actions as unrealistic for us because, being the son of God, he could heal himself.  Jesus was also man and capable of catching disease.  Besides, he was surrounded by disciples who could also could also become infected.)

Not only did Abba Agatha not refuse to take the cripple to town, the monk didn’t even ask the man why he needed to go to town. Abba Agathon was probably selling items he had made in his desert cell for sustenance. But he did not refuse the request to use the money raised to buy the cripple what was asked. The story does not say what other items were bought.  They might not have even been needed in Abba Agathon’s mind.  The monk did not ask for an accounting.  He just gave as asked.

Jesus likewise did not choose who to heal.  We know that one of the lepers was a Samaritan, a foreigner.  He did not ask them to what they planned to do after they were made whole.  He did not go and check on them later to see if they were behaving.

This attitude of acceptance should be the starting point of our policy toward refugees.  This does not mean we should throw caution to the wind.  We have obligations to protect others in the community.  Nevertheless, we should start with and always shape our policies and community responses with the spirit of Abba Agathon.

Instead of a position that says, “Well, you can come in if you do this and this and you don’t do that,” our position should be, “Welcome, if there is a problem with this or this, we will help and we hope you don’t do that.”

If there are gaps in security screening, then we should fix them rather than shutting our doors.  If there are burdens to the local schools, we should help the schools, not turn our backs on children.  If there are impacts on the social service system, we should step up our support for the system and increase charitable responses in the community.

Refugees do not choose to come here.  They are not abandoning their homelands.  They come here because they have to.

Some people expect refugees and the agencies that help them to meet all the burdens with placing refugees in our communities.  They also act like accepting refugees and whatever burdens doing so may bring as an unnecessary inconvenience far removed from the core functions of government and society.

This attitude is wrong.  Because our nation is built upon a principle of extending a helping hand and because we as a society, especially Christians, believe in doing what is morally right for others, we should view it as our job to accept refugees, just as Abba Agathon must have viewed it as his job to do what the cripple asked.  Welcoming those forced to flee should be viewed as part and parcel of who we are, burdens and all. We, not the refugees, should be expected to make the needed adjustments to our lives and communities.

Abba Agathon, pray that we embrace refugees as you embraced the angel of the Lord.

Bishops Elizondo and Vann Call for an End to Deportation Raids and Detention of Immigrant Mothers with Children

nmw-2016-posterIn light of recent enforcement actions conducted by the Department of Homeland Security for the purpose of deporting 121 individuals, primarily mothers with children, the bishops who chair the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network called for an end to such practices.

In a letter sent to Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, January 11, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration and Bishop Kevin W. Vann of Orange, California, chairman of Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., (CLINIC), urged the administration to end such practices that began in early January and have targeted individuals in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina.

“We find such targeting of immigrant women and children – most of whom fled violence and persecution in their home countries – to be inhumane and a grave misuse of limited enforcement resources,” the bishops wrote. “DHS’s action contrasts sharply with the statements articulated by President Obama himself in November 2014, namely, that his administration would pursue the deportation of ‘felons, not families; criminals, not children; gang members, not a Mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.’”

Bishop Elizondo and Bishop Vann also addressed serious due process concerns. “Some of these cases, and likely many others, illustrate the serious due process issues facing these mothers and children.  We object to the removal of any migrants who were apprehended without first confirming that they received actual meaningful opportunities to present their asylum claims at hearings in immigration court,” the bishops wrote.

Bishop Elizondo and Bishop Vann also urged the administration and Congress to adopt long-term solutions such as supporting humanitarian efforts in Central America and addressing the root causes of forced migration.

The full letter is available at: www.usccb.org/about/migration-policy/bishops-statements/upload/Letter-to-Jeh-Johnson-on-Deportations.pdf

National Migration Week 2016 to be Celebrated January 3-9

National Migration Week 2016 will take place January 3-9 with the theme, “A Stranger and You Welcomed Me.” The celebration provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the hardships faced by migrants, including children, refugees, and victims of human trafficking.

The call to welcome the stranger plays an important role in the lives of faithful Christians and has a particularly central place in the Year of Mercy. “People often forget that the Holy Family themselves were refugees fleeing into Egypt,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration. “Likewise, refugees around the world, all of whom are extremely vulnerable, are fleeing for their lives. As Catholics, we are called to welcome and support these families who also need our help.”nmw-2016-poster

As part of the 2016 National Migration Week celebration, the USCCB established a small grant program that will provide Catholic parishes, schools and other organizations funding to help them better integrate the Church’s teaching on migration into new or existing programs, materials, events and other activities. Grant recipients will be announced during National Migration Week.

The observance of National Migration Week began over 25 years ago by the U.S. bishops to give Catholics an opportunity to take stock of the wide diversity of peoples in the Church and the ministries serving them. The week serves as both a time for prayer and action to try and ease the struggles of immigrants, migrants and vulnerable populations coming to the United States.

Dioceses across the country including Chicago, Illinois; Portland, Oregon; Jackson, Mississippi; and Metuchen, New Jersey; have planned special events and Masses throughout the week.

Educational materials and other resources for National Migration Week are Educational materials and other resources for National Migration Week are available for download at www.usccb.org/nationalmigrationweek. Posters, prayer cards, and booklets are available through the USCCB publishing service at www.usccbpublishing.org

Action Alert: Protect deserving, carefully vetted Syrian and Iraqi refugees and their families fleeing violence and death

(photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)

(photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)

Protect deserving, carefully vetted Syrian and Iraqi refugees and their families fleeing violence and death

Take Action!

Contact your U.S. Senators NOW

Background: The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.R. 4038, The American Security against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act, which would effectively halt all resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the United States for a protracted indefinite time.

The week after Thanksgiving, the same bill or similar legislation will likely be introduced and voted on in the U.S. Senate.  Meanwhile, some federal lawmakers may also try to use the Omnibus appropriations bill that must be passed by December 11th as a vehicle for  passing the SAFE Act or similar legislation.

On November 17th, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued a statement which said, in part, “I am disturbed…by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris. They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.”

Moreover, Bishop Elizondo urged that, “Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive. As a great nation, the United States must show leadership during this crisis and bring nations together to protect those in danger and bring an end to the conflicts in the Middle East.”

Your U.S. Senators need to hear from you, your neighbors and fellow parishioners that you oppose H.R. 4038 and other bills that would stop or halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Action: Send the following message to your U.S. Senators:

Message: 

Dear Senator,
Please oppose H.R. 4038 or similar legislation that would unnecessarily halt the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the U.S.

Where: 

Senator John Hoeven:

Phone: 202-224-2551

Email: http://www.hoeven.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact?p=email-the-senator

Senator Heidi Heitkamp:

Phone: 202-224-2043

Email: https://www.heitkamp.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-heidi

When:  Now.

Bishops’ Migration Chair: U.S. Should Welcome Syrian Refugees, Work For Peace

(photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)

(photo: John E. Kozar/CNEWA)

Nov. 17, 2015

BALTIMORE — Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued a statement on Syrian refugees during the Bishops’ annual General Assembly in Baltimore Nov. 17.

Full text of the statement follows:

Statement on Syrian Refugees and the Attacks in Paris

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, I offer my deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the November 13 attacks in Paris, France and to the French people.  I add my voice to all those condemning these attacks and my support to all who are working to ensure such attacks do not occur again—both in France and around the world.

I am disturbed, however, by calls from both federal and state officials for an end to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.  These refugees are fleeing terror themselves—violence like we have witnessed in Paris.  They are extremely vulnerable families, women, and children who are fleeing for their lives. We cannot and should not blame them for the actions of a terrorist organization.

Moreover, refugees to this country must pass security checks and multiple interviews before entering the United States—more than any arrival to the United States.  It can take up to two years for a refugee to pass through the whole vetting process.  We can look at strengthening the already stringent screening program, but we should continue to welcome those in desperate need.

Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes.  Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.  As a great nation, the United States must show leadership during this crisis and bring nations together to protect those in danger and bring an end to the conflicts in the Middle East.

When the Syrians Came to North Dakota

NDSU Archives, Fargo, N.D. (st000092)

NDSU Archives, Fargo, N.D. (st000092)

North Dakota once welcomed Syrians seeking a better life. They were Catholic (Melkite and Maronite), Orthodox, and Muslim.  Below is a piece from Sophia, a publication of the Melkite Diocese of the U.S. about this period in our state’s history.A Journey Through Time

 

Echoing Pope Francis, Migration Committee Member tells Congress to Apply the Golden Rule to Children and Families Fleeing Violence in Central America

1934701_106085432284_2617810_nViolence in Central America continues to drive migration
The United States should end support of Mexican interdiction efforts, says Bishop Seitz
Regional protection system should be instituted and root causes addressed

WASHINGTON— The United States has a moral obligation to protect unaccompanied children and families from persecution in Central America, said Bishop Mark J. Seitz of El Paso, Texas, in testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, October 21. Bishop Seitz is an advisor to the USCCB Committee on Migration and a member of the board of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

The humanitarian outflow, driven by organized crime in the northern triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, continues, with nearly 40,000 unaccompanied children and an equal number of mothers with children having arrived in the United States in Fiscal Year 2015.

“If we do not respond justly and humanely to this challenge in our own backyard, then we will relinquish our moral leadership and moral influence globally,” Bishop Seitz said.

Bishop Seitz pointed to the human consequences of U.S. policies which are designed to deter migration from the region, including U.S. support for Mexican interdiction efforts which are intercepting children and families in Mexico and sending them back to danger, in violation of international law.

Bishop Seitz recommended an end to these interdictions and the introduction of a regional system which would screen children and families for asylum in Mexico and other parts of the region.  He also called for Congress to approve and increase a $1 billion aid package proposed by the Administration.

“If we export enforcement,” Bishop Seitz said, “we also must export protection.”

Bishop Seitz recalled the words of Pope Francis before Congress in September, when he invoked the golden rule in guiding our nation’s actions toward those seeking safety in our land.

Quoting the Holy Father, Bishop Seitz repeated to the committee, “’The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.’”

“Mr. Chairman, I pray that time, and history, will conclude that we honored this rule in meeting this humanitarian challenge,” Bishop Seitz concluded.

Bishop Seitz’ testimony can be found at http://www.usccb.org//about/migration-policy/congressional-testimony/upload/seitz-ongoing-migration.pdf

Our Commitment to Refugees

Within the pro-life movement we often hear that a classroom of children is killed each week by abortion.  The claim holds true for North Dakota.  The state has lower abortion numbers than most states, but is also has smaller class sizes.  An average of fifteen unborn children of North Dakota residents are aborted each week.  A classroom size a week is about 800 a year.respect-life-2015-montage

The statistical information on women subjected to abortions is remarkably consistent. The overwhelming majority of them are unmarried, about 87%. Eighty percent of them have less than a four-year degree.  Twenty percent of them are non-white, which is twice the percentage of the state’s population.  Although we do not have economic data, we can safely conclude, based on other studies and the fact that most of them are unmarried and lacking a college degree, that they are poor.

We can also conclude that the children, if they were not aborted, would be more likely to grow up in poverty.  Growing up in a single-parent household is one of the strongest indicators that child will live in poverty.  It also strongly correlated to other social problems, such as involvement in crime, substance abuse, problems in school, and more.  The absence of a college degree by the parent, like racial factors, compounds the problems.

No matter what their marital, educational, or racial status, one hundred percent of the women have something in their life that led them to the unplanned pregnancy and the abortionist.  It could be drugs, mental health issues, a lack of maturity, domestic abuse, or any number of other issues.  Whatever the issue, it probably would have an impact on the child if he or she was born.

This does not mean that the child would be doomed to a life of poverty and delinquency.  For the record, I was raised by a single parent.  Statistically, however, the child and mother is much more likely to face these challenges.

To the purveyors of the culture of death, these are exactly the reasons these women should get abortions.  “Better a dead child than a poor child or an inconvenienced parent” is their motto.  The love and mercy of the culture of life, however, embraces every child and mother.  There exists no circumstance, no matter how bad, that justifies abortion.  That is the pro-life way.

Which brings us back to the claim about a classroom a week being lost by abortion.  Implicit in that lament is that society should welcome every one of those children no matter what their situation and no matter what challenges they pose to the rest of us.  Also implicit is that our acceptance of these children and our responsibilities to care and educate them is not dependent on the size of the classroom.  If the abortion numbers doubled, our commitment to life – and them – would not change.

This commitment is something we should remember as our nation and our state prepares to welcome more refugees.  Each year Lutheran Social Services helps the federal government place about 400 refugees in the state.  There are some indications that the number will increase to around 500.  Even the higher number is less than a classroom a week.

Refugees are not individuals merely seeking to take advantage of American life.  They have unwillingly left their homeland to escape persecution and war.  Before admission to the US, each refugee undergoes an extensive interviewing, screening, and security clearance process.  Our response to refugees goes beyond the biblical call to treat the “alien among us” no differently than the citizen.  They come needing food, clothing, shelter, employment, English language training, and orientation to a new community and culture.  They are among the “least of us” that demand our welcoming embrace.

Nevertheless, there are some who oppose the placement of refugees in the state.  They cite the “burdens” refugees place on communities.  Refugee resettlement does place some burdens on our resources and sometimes those burdens can be disproportionate geographically.  Finding ways to minimize and accept those burdens, however, is the right thing to do.  It is no different from when a family embraces an unexpected pregnancy by a teenage daughter.  Yes, it is a difficult, but she and the child are deserving of our love, not abandonment that could drive the young woman to the abortionist.

The human family, meaning society, must embrace the burdens of accepting refugees and not abandon them to what is in many cases certain death in their home country.  If we are sincere about our willingness as a society to accept all the children destroyed by abortion, we must also be willing to embrace refugees escaping persecution and death.

Christopher Dodson, Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference

Archbishop Kurtz Calls for Welcoming of Refugees Fleeing Syria

1934701_106085432284_2617810_n

Catholics in the United States, as well as all people of good will, should express openness and welcome to refugees fleeing Syria and elsewhere in order to survive, said the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement, September 10. Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, issued the call on the heels of Pope Francis’ appeal, September 6, that every Catholic parish in Europe house a refugee family.

 

“The Catholic Church in the United States—with nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes assisting refugees to this country each year, and with Catholic Relief Services providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe—stands ready to help in this effort,” wrote Archbishop Kurtz.

 

Archbishop Kurtz expressed his solidarity with the pope, the bishops of Syria, the Middle East, and Europe, “and all people who have responded to this humanitarian crisis with charity and compassion.” He also encouraged the U.S. government “to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety.

 

The full text of Archbishop Kurtz’s statement follows:

 

Statement of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

Archbishop of Louisville, KY

President, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

On Syrian Refugee Crisis

 

September 10, 2015

 

 

In recent days, we have seen reports about and pictures of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, primarily Syrians fleeing the conflict in their nation, fleeing into Europe in search of protection. These images have captured the world’s attention and sympathy. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has asked Catholics in Europe to respond to the needs of the refugees streaming into Europe and, throughout his papacy, has consistently called upon the world to protect refugees and other persons on the move.

 

As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I urge all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these refugees, who are escaping desperate situations in order to survive. Regardless of their religious affiliation or national origin, these refugees are all human persons—made in the image of God, bearing inherent dignity, and deserving our respect and care and protection by law from persecution.

 

I express my solidarity with the Holy Father, the bishops of Syria, the Middle East, and Europe, and all people who have responded to this humanitarian crisis with charity and compassion. I also encourage the U.S. government to assist more robustly the nations of Europe and the Middle East in protecting and supporting these refugees and in helping to end this horrific conflict, so refugees may return home in safety. The Catholic Church in the United States—with nearly 100 Catholic Charities agencies and hundreds of parishes assisting refugees to this country each year, and with Catholic Relief Services providing humanitarian aid to refugees in the Middle East and Europe—stands ready to help in this effort.

 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph flee the terror of Herod. They are the archetype of every refugee family. Let us pray that the Holy Family watches over the thousands of refugee families in Europe and beyond at this time.

USCCB Committee on Migration Issues Report on Immigrant Detention, Calls For a ‘Transformation’ of the System

Alternatives to detention should be expanded
Vulnerable groups should not be detained
Role of for-profit prisons should be substantially reduced

The U.S. immigrant detention system, which treats vulnerable immigrant detainees as criminals, needs extensive reforms, said representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Center for Migration Studies, May 11, as they released a report and policy recommendations. They urged Congress and the administration to build a system that affords due process protections, honors human dignity and minimizes the use of detentions.

 “It is time for our nation to reform this inhumane system, which unnecessarily detains persons, especially vulnerable populations, who are no threat to us and who should be afforded due process and legal protections,” said Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration. Such vulnerable groups include asylum-seekers, families and children, and victims of human trafficking.

The report, “Unlocking Human Dignity:  A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System,” was written and produced by the Center for Migration Studies (CMS), a Catholic-based educational institute that studies migration, and Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB.

“The presumption is to detain immigrants as a management, enforcement and deterrence tool rather than to make individual custody determinations based on family and community ties” Bishop Elizondo said. “This has resulted in the long-term detention of asylum-seekers, victims of human trafficking, survivors of torture, and, now, young mothers with children.” Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicate that as many as 34,000 immigrants are detained each day and over 400,000 each year.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn, New York, member of the committee and chair of CMS, pointed to the availability of alternatives to detention, such as community-based case management models, which are proven to be both cost-effective and successful in ensuring that immigrants appear at their court proceedings.

“There are ways to create a humane system and also ensure that immigrants are complying with the law,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “But we have created a detention industry in this country which preys upon the vulnerability of our fellow human beings, the vast majority of whom are not criminals.”

Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies, pointed to the prevalence of for-profit companies, which view detention as a business opportunity, in administering detention facilities. “Detention policy, which directly impacts the human rights and dignity of persons, should not be driven by a profit motive. Detention wastes not only government funds, but the human potential of hundreds of thousands of persons each year,” Kerwin said.

The report, which contains recommendations for changing the current detention system, can be found at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/upload/unlocking-human-dignity.pdf