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Church leaders decry administration plan to end TPS for Haitians

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Advocates and church leaders rallied around 58,000 Haitians living in the United States since a ferocious 2010 earthquake after the Trump administration moved to end a humanitarian program that allowed them stay in the country.

The Haitians will be forced to leave the country by July 22, 2019, or face deportation. Read more »

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Vasquez: ‘Share the Journey’ migration campaign a call to prayer, action

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Catholic News Service

 

BALTIMORE (CNS) — Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, told his fellow bishops Nov. 13 that more than 100 U.S. dioceses have participated in the “Share the Journey” campaign launched by Pope Francis Sept. 27.

He said many more took part in the campaign’s week of prayer and action for migrants and refugees, which took place Oct. 7-13. Read more »

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U.S. bishops back extension of protected migrant status

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WASHINGTON — The head of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration said some migrants from Honduras and El Salvador cannot safely return to their home countries in the near future and should have a special immigration permit extended. Read more »

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Bishop Vasquez urges U.S. to help solve Rohingya crisis in Myanmar

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WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration called on the federal government to work with the Myanmar government and the international community to solve the crisis affecting the persecuted Rohingya people.

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in written testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Oct. 5 that the situation affecting the largely Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar deserve “safe, humane and voluntary durable solutions” as they struggle amid violence that has caused them to flee their homeland.

A girl holds an umbrella as Rohingya refugees arrive for prayer at a mosque near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Oct. 6. Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, said in written testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Oct. 5 that the situation affecting the largely Muslim Rohingya population in Myanmar deserves “safe, humane and voluntary durable solutions” as they struggle amid violence that has caused them to flee their homeland. (CNS photo/Damir Sagolj, Reuters)

More than 500,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state to Bangladesh since Aug. 25 after government forces began retaliating after attacks on security check posts by militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The conflict has resulted in more than 1,000 Rohingya deaths, dozens of houses burned and countless women being raped.

Bishop Vasquez offered several recommendations to the House committee, including steps to stabilize the situation in Rakhine state and Bangladesh, provide protection and humanitarian assistance for the displace Rohingya, resettlement of Rohingya in other countries as necessary, and work for long-term peace while addressing the root causes for the displacement of people from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

The majority of Rohingya are Muslim and a minority are Hindu. They have lived in the area formerly known as Arakan, now Rakhine state, long before the Burmese occupation from 1784 to 1826 and British rule from 1826 to 1948.

Yet, Myanmar does not recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, considering them instead as Bengali, infiltrators from Bangladesh. In 1982, a controversial law stripped citizenship from the Rohingya, officially making them stateless.

Decades of persecution by the military and extremist Buddhists forced tens of thousands to flee to various countries, mostly to Bangladesh. The most recent violence caused thousands more to seek safety.

Bishop Vasquez said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its Migration and Refugee Services has resettled some Rohingya people in the U.S., but that the need was greater than the ability of any one country can meet.

He called on the U.S. to raise the number of refugees being admitted to the country during fiscal year 2018 from 45,000, as determined by President Donald Trump at the end of September, to 75,000. The bishop said the 45,000 figure represents the fewest number of refugees to be admitted since the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, which formalized the country’s refugee program.

Bishop Vasquez also expressed frustration with Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, for not being “publicly very vocal about the plight of these Muslims from Rakhine state.” While Suu Kyi has been an outspoken defender of civil rights and pushed for democratic reforms under the military government of Myanmar, the plight of the Rohingya has not been adequately addressed, he said.

He urged further efforts be undertaken whereby the country’s “ethnic groups have an ongoing process for seeking to build a federal, democratic system in which all of Burma’s people have access to shared governance and shared resources.”

“As we shed light on the human rights tragedies in Burma, we urge continued U.S. support to resolve these critical situations and to support the democratically elected government in addressing these situations while also supporting their broader efforts to build a new, democratic, inclusive Burma,” the bishop said.

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Disturbing, shameful: Bishops join opposition to reported U.S. refugee limit

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Catholic bishops and other faith groups are objecting to reports that the Trump administration will limit the number of refugees the United States accepts to 45,000 for the upcoming fiscal year.

A severely malnourished child is seen as Rohingya refugees wait to receive aid Sept. 25 at a camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Immigrants and refugees need to be respected and assisted, not treated like an enemy, a panel said during a Sept. 27 news conference at the Vatican launching the Caritas “Share the Journey” campaign. (CNS photo/Cathal McNaughton, Reuters)

It would be the lowest admission level for persons fleeing persecution that the U.S. has accepted since the executive branch was allowed to set the caps in 1980 under the Refugee Act, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter.

“We are disturbed and deeply disappointed by the proposed presidential determination number of 45,000,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

“While the Catholic bishops, Catholic Charities, and Catholic communities across the country join in welcoming all of those refugees to American communities with joy and open arms, we are gravely concerned for the tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable refugees left behind by this decision,” he said in a Sept. 29 statement.

“As I have stated before, this decision has very severe human consequences — people with faces, names, children and families are suffering and cannot safely or humanely remain where they are until the war and persecution in their countries of origin gets resolved,” Bishop Vasquez said.

“These people include at-risk women and children; frightened youth; the elderly; those whose lives are threatened because of their religion, ethnicity or race; and refugees seeking family reunification with loved ones in the United States,” he added.

David Robinson, executive director of Jesuit Refugee Service, called the 45,000 figure a “shamefully low number.”

Robinson said in a Sept. 27 statement that setting such a low goal “is a retreat from global leadership and undermines both our interests and our values. Our faith calls us to be compassionate, and this unprecedented policy is in direct opposition to the belief that we should welcome the stranger, especially the victims of war, terror and oppression.”

The limit comes at a time when one in every 113 people in the world is facing displacement from their home country because of conflicts, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR. Last year, the agency said 65 million people around the world suffered that type of displacement.

“With historically high numbers of innocent people fleeing violence worldwide, the United States response cannot be to welcome a historically low number of refugees into our country,” Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said Sept. 27.

Bishop Vasquez said the U.S. Catholic bishops are urging the Trump administration “to welcome and resettle every one of the refugees eventually authorized” for fiscal year 2018. “Looking ahead, we strongly urge the administration next year to return to the level of resettling at least 75,000 refugees annually to the United States,” he added. “We can and must do better.”

Other faith groups, including the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the second-largest refugee resettlement agency in the U.S., said it was “profoundly disappointed” at the reduction.

When the Refugee Act of 1980 went into effect, the U.S. set the cap at over 231,000 refugees. Though it has declined steadily since then, the country has accepted between 70,000 to 80,000 displaced persons each year for almost two decades. President Barack Obama set the cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 during his last year in the White House.

In his first executive order as president, Donald Trump, set the cap at 50,000 and said any more than that “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Just as they did then, many faith communities still disagree with the president.

“Churches and communities, employers and mayors are heartsick at the administration’s callous and tragic decision to deny welcome to refugees most in need,” said Linda Hartke, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

“We are not afraid of our new neighbors and are not fooled by cruel and false claims that refugees are a threat to our safety,” she said Sept. 27. “The American legacy of welcoming refugees has made us stronger and better, and the government’s own research proves that refugees bring economic benefit to our country through their hard work.”

In his statement, Bishop Vasquez noted that “each refugee that comes to the United States is admitted through an extensive vetting system. Many of these refugees already have family in the United States, and most begin working immediately to rebuild their lives; in turn contributing to the strength and richness of our society.

“God has blessed our country with bounty and precious liberty,” he continued, “and so we have great capacity to welcome those in such desperate need, while ensuring our nation’s security.”

Bishop Vasquez noted that on Sept. 27, when the Trump administration released its recommendation for the 45,000-cap on refugees, that same day Pope Francis “exhorted us to ‘reach out, open your arms to migrants and refugees, share the journey.’”

At the Vatican, the pope launched the two-year “Share the Journey” campaign of Catholic charities around the world to promote encounters between people on the move and people living in the countries they are leaving, passing through or arriving in.

“We urge the administration to move past this period of intensified scrutiny and skepticism of the U.S. refugee program, which serves as an international model,” Bishop Vasquez said. “This is a moment of opportunity to restore America’s historic leadership as a refuge for those fleeing persecution.”

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Ending DACA program called ‘reprehensible’ and ‘heart-breaking’ by U.S. bishops

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals supporters demonstrate near the White House in Washington Sept. 5. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Sept. 5 that the DACA program is “being rescinded” by President Donald Trump, leaving some 800,000 youth, brought illegally to the U.S. as minors, in peril of deportation and of losing permits that allow them to work. (CNS photo/Kevin Lamarque, Reuters)

Although the Department of Homeland Security will immediately stop accepting applications to the DACA program, current recipients would not be affected until March 5, which Sessions said will “create a time period for Congress to act, should it choose.”

He described the 2012 policy, popularly known as DACA and implemented under President Barack Obama, as an “unconstitutional exercise of authority by the executive branch.”

DACA does not provide legal status for youths who were brought to the country without legal permission as children, but it gives recipients a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization in the United States, as long as the applicants meet certain criteria.

In the days leading up to the decision, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with other Catholic organizations, asked the president to keep the program.

A Sept. 5 statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and something that “causes unnecessary fear for DACA youth and their families.”

“Today, our nation has done the opposite of how Scripture calls us to respond. It is a step back from the progress that we need to make as a country,” they said, adding that the decision by the Trump administration is a “heartbreaking moment in our history that shows the absence of mercy and goodwill, and a short-sighted vision for the future.”

The bishops also urged Congress to “immediately resume work toward a legislative solution.”

They told DACA recipients: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”

The statement was signed by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president; Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, USCCB vice president; Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration; and Bishop Joseph J. Tyson of Yakima, Washington, chairman of the Subcommittee on Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees, and Travelers.

 

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Catholic groups ask Congress to reject ‘discriminatory’ RAISE Act

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Calling a proposed piece of legislation “discriminatory,” the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration called on the president and Congress to reject a bill that seeks to drastically cut legal immigration levels in half over a decade and which also would greatly limit the ability of citizens and legal residents to bring family into the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump makes an announcement on the introduction in the Senate of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE, with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., at the White House Aug. 2. (CNS photo/Zach Gibson, pool via EPA)

U.S. President Donald Trump makes an announcement on the introduction in the Senate of the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE, with Sens. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and David Perdue, R-Ga., at the White House Aug. 2. (CNS photo/Zach Gibson, pool via EPA)

Other Catholic groups also called for an end to the legislation.

“Had this discriminatory legislation been in place generations ago, many of the very people who built and defended this nation would have been excluded,” said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chair of the bishops’ migration committee.

In a news release late Aug. 2, he criticized the RAISE Act introduced earlier in the day by Republican Sens. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas, and David Perdue, of Georgia.

In addition to cutting legal immigration, the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy Act, or RAISE Act, would create a system of legal immigration different from the current one that favors family ties. Instead, it would move toward a system under which points would be awarded for a person’s ability to speak English, level of education, age, as well as “high-paying job offers, past achievements, and entrepreneurial initiative,” according to a White House statement praising the proposal.

Other limitations proposed by the RAISE Act would permanently cap the number of refugees allowed safe passage, “thereby denying our country the necessary flexibility to respond to humanitarian crisis,” said Bishop Vasquez.

“As a church, we believe the stronger the bonds of family, the greater a person’s chance of succeeding in life. The RAISE Act imposes a definition of family that would weaken those bonds,” he said.

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy at the Center for Migration Studies of New York, said the bill “is a nonstarter from a Catholic perspective, as it weakens the family unit and favors the rich over the poor. It also is part of a larger strategy by the administration to reduce the ethnic diversity of the immigrant population in this nation.”

The proposed bill was largely criticized and caused an uproar shortly after the president’s televised support early Aug. 2, saying it would reduce poverty, increase wages and save taxpayer money, adding that many current legal immigrants are low-skilled and many receive welfare benefits.

Later in the day, senior White House adviser Stephen Miller further added to the controversy over the bill after he seemed dismissive during a news briefing of the Statue of Liberty’s “”The New Colossus” poem and the line “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and in defending the bill’s ability-to-speak-English requirement.

Even some of the president’s fellow Republicans, including South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said he has supported “merit-based” immigration, said he would not support the bill.

Bishop Vasquez said the bill would be detrimental to families and negates contributions of past immigrants to the U.S., and he called on Congress and the administration instead “to work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact into law comprehensive immigration reform.”

“I believe that such reform must recognize the many contributions that immigrants of all backgrounds have made to our nation, and must protect the lives and dignity of all, including the most vulnerable,” said Bishop Vasquez.

Christopher G. Kerr, executive director of the Ohio-based Ignatian Solidarity Network, a national social justice education and advocacy organization, said from a faith perspective, it’s hard to back the RAISE Act if you reflect on the words of the pope, who called on Americans during his 2015 apostolic visit “to not turn their backs on their neighbors.”

But the RAISE Act does just that by creating “obstacles to family unity for immigrant families and block access to safety for tens of thousands of refugees,” he said.

“We continue to call for immigration policies that support family unity, provide pathways to citizenship, and promote humane and just treatment of immigrants — the RAISE Act does not respond to this call,” said Kerr.

 

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Bishop calls bill that reduces legal immigration ‘discriminatory’

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Calling a proposed piece of legislation “discriminatory,” the head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration called on the president and Congress to reject a bill that seeks to drastically cut legal immigration levels over a decade, and which also would greatly limit the ability of citizens and legal residents to bring family into the U.S. Read more »

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U.S. bishops call for permanent protection for young migrants

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The chair of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops urged the Trump administration to “ensure permanent protection” for youth who were brought to the U.S. as minors without legal documentation. Read more »

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Bishops seek revised health care law that’s ‘affordable and comprehensive’ — updated

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WASHINGTON — Calling health care “a vital concern for nearly every person in the country,” the U.S. Catholic bishops said March 8 they will be reviewing closely a measure introduced in the House March 6 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gestures at a stack of papers that he said was the Affordable Care Act during a March 7 press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looks on at the White House in Washington. The law, as passed in 2010, was 906 pages long. Republicans in the U.S. House have introduced a measure to repeal and replace the federal health care law. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price gestures at a stack of papers that he said was the Affordable Care Act during a March 7 press briefing as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer looks on at the White House in Washington. The law, as passed in 2010, was 906 pages long. Republicans in the U.S. House have introduced a measure to repeal and replace the federal health care law. (CNS photo/Carlos Barria, Reuters)

“Discussions on health care reform have reached a level of intensity which is making open and fruitful dialogue difficult, even while most people recognize that improvements to the health care system are needed to ensure a life-giving and sustainable model for both the present and future,” said a letter to House members signed by the chairmen of four U.S. bishops’ committees.

“Given the magnitude and importance of the task before us, we call for a new spirit of cooperation for the sake of the common good,” they wrote.

The letter was signed by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman, Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty; Bishop Frank J. Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman, Committee on Migration.

Main provisions of the new House bill include: eliminating the mandate that most individuals have health insurance and putting in its place a new system of tax credits; expanding Health Savings Accounts; repealing Medicaid expansion and transitioning to a “per capita allotment”; prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage or charging more money to patients based on pre-existing conditions; and cutting off funds to Planned Parenthood clinics.

The Catholic Health Association in a March 7 statement said it “strongly opposed” the House repeal and replace measure, saying it “asks the low-income and most vulnerable in our country to bear the brunt of the cuts to our health system.” It pointed to the proposal to cap federal financing of Medicaid, which is a state-federal program; to eliminate cost-sharing subsidies for low-income people and create “barriers to initial and continuing Medicaid enrollment.”

CHA said the provision on pre-existing conditions would come with a 30 percent monthly premium surcharge for a year “should they have a lapse in coverage.” Its vision for health care in the U.S. “calls for health care to be available and accessible to everyone, paying special attention to poor and vulnerable individuals,” the CHA statement said.

In their letter, the Catholic bishops called on lawmakers to consider moral criteria as they debate the measure, including: respect for life and dignity; honoring conscience rights; access for all; a plan that is “truly affordable … comprehensive and high quality.”

“Any modification of the Medicaid system as part of health care reform should prioritize improvement and access to quality care over cost savings,” they said.

The U.S. Catholic Church, the bishops said, “remains committed to the ideals of universal and affordable health care, and to the pursuit of those ideals in a manner that honors” the moral criteria they outlined.

Health care is not just another issue, but a “fundamental issue of human life and dignity” and “a critical component of the Catholic Church’s ministry,” they added.

The U.S. bishops have advocated for universal and affordable health care for decades and they supported the general goal of the Affordable Care Act, which was passed in 2010, but the bishops ultimately opposed the law because it expanded the federal role in abortion and failed to expand health care protections to immigrants.

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is executive director of the Catholic social lobby Network, said the new health care bill “must be rejected.”

“Our test for any ACA replacement bill is simple,” she said in a March 8 statement. “Does the bill protect access to quality, affordable, equitable health care for vulnerable communities? After reviewing the House GOP replacement bill, the answer is a resounding no.

“Instead of providing greater health security, the bill increases costs for older and sicker patients and drastically cuts the Medicaid program, all while providing huge tax cuts to wealthy corporations and individuals,” she continued. “This is not the faithful way forward and must be rejected.”

Catholic Charities USA sent a letter March 8 to Congress voicing its opposition to the new health care measure, signed by Dominican Sister Donna Markham, president and CEO of the organization. She noted “commendable efforts” in the bill including protection for the unborn and greater flexibility for the states.

But Sister Markham said the measure makes major reductions in health care for more than 70 million poor and vulnerable on Medicaid and said it “undermines access to life-saving health care coverage.”

Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for March for Life Action, praised lawmakers for the bill’s pro-life provisions.

“House leadership and those who drafted the American Health Care Act deserve high accolades for their efforts to make certain that any changes to the health care system do not encourage, subsidize or directly pay for abortions,” he said. “They also deserve praise for sticking to their commitment to eliminate Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider, from Medicaid reimbursements for one year.”

“This will redirect women to federally qualified health centers, which provide all of the health services American women need and outnumber Planned Parenthood clinics by a ratio of 20:1,” McClusky added.

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