(from New York) The Spring General Assembly of the US Bishops’ Conference started today in Florida with a special focus on migration policies and the role of Christians and bishops at this crucial historic moment for the US. Following the address by the chairman of the Bishops, Card. Daniel DiNardo, who outlined the stance of the Bishops’ Conference, Card. Joseph W. Tobin from the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey, stated that “the new border policy” is “consistent with cardiosclerosis, or a hardening of the American heart”. Card. Tobin asked the Assembly to consider sending a Bishops’ delegation to the border “to inspect the detention facilities holding children, as a sign of our pastoral response and protest”. The proposal was welcomed by many Bishops who stressed the need for stronger outreach to members of Congress in drawing up a comprehensive immigration reform and legislation on the so-called “Dreamers”, the 800,000 young adults who were brought to the US as children and have been in a limbo for months, as they wait for legislation to be passed giving them legal permission to stay. Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, called for broader pastoral care for immigration enforcement officials, some of whom have questioned the implementation of “these unjust policies”. While acknowledging that it is complex and challenging to pass immigration legislation, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, recalled that at its core, immigration policy “is about people, young and old, alone or in families, often fearful and abandoned”. Immigration policy is a “moral question that cannot be separated from decisions of what it is right and wrong, of justice and injustice. It is about respecting and reverencing the dignity of the human person”.
The cardinal went on to explain that although the challenge of immigration is mounting, “our government has taken a posture and established policy which is in principle and in practice hostile to children and families who are fleeing violence, gangs, and poverty”, especially in Central America. In support of his statement, Card. O’Malley listed the measures taken by the US Administration: limiting the number of refugees and immigrants welcomed in our country; ending Temporary Protected Status for families who have been living here for years; and refusing to restore DACA protection for those who arrived in the US as children because their undocumented parents brought them here. The latest policy decision, i.e. separating children from their parents to discourage entry from the southern border of the US, is seen by the Bishop as “critical” because children are used as “pawns”, as “a deterrent against immigrants”. The intent is to discourage immigrants “by severing the most sacred human bond of parent and child”, which is “morally unacceptable”. The Archbishop of Boston concluded by saying: “As a Catholic bishop, I support the political and legal authority. I have always taught respect for the civil law and will continue to do so. But, I cannot be silent when our country’s immigration policy destroys families, traumatizes parents, and terrorizes children. This policy must be ended”. Meanwhile, one of the bishops present suggested discussing the possibility of “canonical penalties” for Catholics who cooperate with unjust immigration policies.