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Trump administration expands exemptions on contraceptive mandate

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance.

Leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops praised the action as “a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice and peaceful coexistence between church and state.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington Sept. 26. The Trump administration Oct. 6 issued interim rules expanding the exemption to the contraceptive mandate for religious employers, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who object on moral grounds to covering contraceptive and abortion-inducing drugs and devices in their employee health insurance. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

The contraceptive mandate was put in place by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.

While providing an exemption for religious employers, the new rules maintain the existing federal contraceptive mandate for most employers.

President Donald Trump had pledged to lift the mandate burden placed on religious employers during a White House signing ceremony May 4 for an executive order promoting free speech and religious liberty, but Catholic leaders and the heads of a number of Catholic entities had criticized the administration for a lack of action on that pledge in the months that followed.

From the outset, churches were exempt from the mandate, but not religious employers. The Obama administration had put in place a religious accommodation for nonprofit religious entities such as church-run colleges and social service agencies morally opposed to contraceptive coverage that required them to file a form or notify HHS that they will not provide it. Many Catholic employers still objected to having to fill out the form.

The HHS mandate has undergone numerous legal challenges from religious organizations, including the Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life.

A combined lawsuit, Zubik v. Burwell, made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices in May 2016 unanimously returned the case to the lower courts with instructions to determine if contraceptive insurance coverage could be obtained by employees through their insurance companies without directly involving religious employers who object to paying for such coverage.

Senior Health and Human Services officials who spoke to reporters Oct. 5 on the HHS rule on the condition of anonymity said that the exemption to the contraceptive mandate would apply to all the groups that had sued against it. Groups suing the mandate all the way to the Supreme Court include the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Archdiocese of Washington, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Eternal Word Television Network and some Catholic and other Christian universities.

In reaction immediately after the 150-page interim ruling was issued, religious groups that had opposed the mandate were pleased with the administration’s action.

An Oct. 6 statement by Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, said the new rule “corrects an anomalous failure by federal regulators that should never have occurred and should never be repeated.”

The church leaders also said the decision to provide the religious and moral exemption to the HHS mandate recognizes that faith-based and mission-driven organizations and those who run them “have deeply held religious and moral beliefs that the law must respect.”

Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Lori said the decision was “good news for all Americans,” noting that a “government mandate that coerces people to make an impossible choice between obeying their consciences and obeying the call to serve the poor is harmful not only to Catholics but to the common good.”

Michael Warsaw, EWTN chairman and CEO president, said the television network’s legal team would be “carefully considering the exemptions announced today and the impact this may have on our legal challenge to the mandate, but we are optimistic that this news will prove to be a step toward victory for the fundamental freedoms of many Americans.”

Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund, told reporters in a telephone news conference an hour after the rule was released that it is a “common sense and balanced rule and a great step forward for religious liberty.”

He said the rule “carves out a narrow exemption” and keeps the contraceptive mandate in place for those without moral or religious objections to it.

He noted that it does not provide immediate relief for those groups who had challenged it, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, which Becket represents. They will “still need relief in courts,” he said, but was confident now that it would happen.

“We’ve traveled a long way,” he added, of the multiple challenges to the contraceptive mandate in recent years, which he described as an “unnecessary culture war fight.”

Rienzi, noted that the HHS rule could have eliminated the contraceptive mandate completely but it did not do so. He also said the new rule is open for comments for a 90-day period and will likely face legal challenges, which already began in a lawsuit filed Oct. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of members of the ACLU and Service Employee International Union-United Health Care Workers West who say they are at risk of losing their contraception coverage because of where they work or attend school.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said the interim rules violate the establishment clause regarding religion in the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in the Constitution “by authorizing and promoting religiously motivated and other discrimination against women seeking reproductive health care.”

     

Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim.

 

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Catholics turn out to support ‘dreamers’ after DACA rescinded

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Mercy Sister Rita Parks stood near the large crowd in front of the White House that was almost silenced after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced shortly after 11 a.m. on Sept. 5 that the Trump administration was ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

Dafne Jacobs, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient stands with supporters during a rally outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, Calif., Sept. 1. 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/Kyle Grillot, Reuters)

“I’m astounded, saddened. I saw their faces, the tears and their dreams shattered,” said Sister Parks, of some of the DACA recipients nearby who were trying to take in the recent news. Many of them, the majority in their 20s, had just heard what they didn’t want to believe: that the program that grants them a work permit and reprieve from deportation, is months away from disappearing.

Some, like Catholic DACA recipient Claudia Quinones, who was in the Washington crowd, had held out hope up until the moment of the announcement that President Donald Trump would make a decision with “heart,” as he had earlier promised regarding the program that allows beneficiaries like her, brought to the U.S. as children without legal documentation, certain protections.

Instead, his attorney general said that by giving job permits to DACA recipients, jobs were “denied … to hundreds of thousands of Americans by allowing those same jobs to go to illegal aliens” meaning the young migrants. Sessions also criticized the program, calling it “unilateral executive amnesty” and said it was responsible for “a surge of unaccompanied minors on the southern border that yielded terrible humanitarian consequences.” However, many organizations have attributed the surge of unaccompanied minors to scaling violence in Central America, not to the DACA program.

Many in the crowd held up signs saying “shame” and pointed them toward the White House after the announcement. Many shouted “Donald Trump, shame on you!”

The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the program, has stopped accepting DACA applications, and current recipients will not be affected until March 5, which Sessions said, gives Congress an opportunity to find a legislative solution for the current 800,000 beneficiaries. On its website, DHS says DACA recipients can continue working until their work permits expire. Those with DACA permits that expire between Sept. 5 and March 5, 2018 are eligible to renew their permits, the website says, but they won’t be able to renew after that two-year extension.

In what can be interpreted as a command, the president tweeted: “Congress, get ready to do your job – DACA!,” kicking the political ball into Congress’ hands. But it’s unclear what Congress can and will do.

“We’re not a political hot potato,” said DACA recipient Greisa Martinez, who is advocacy director at United We Dream, a national immigrant youth-led organization for so-called “dreamers,” as the DACA youth are called. The moniker comes from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, a legislative proposal that has repeatedly failed to pass in Congress and which would give DACA recipients conditional residency. Though a recent bipartisan version of the DREAM Act was once again proposed by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Democrat Dick Durbin, of Illinois, the president said pre-emptively he would not sign it. So, it’s unclear what he means when he asks Congress to fix the situation for “dreamers.”

Martinez, who was brought from Mexico to the U.S. at age 7 by her parents, said in an interview with Catholic News Service that there’s a lot of uncertainty about what will happen to youth like her but says she’s focused on the fight ahead to “push politicians to better people.”

“I hold on,” she said, “because I know God is on my side.”

Her fellow “dreamer,” Quinones, a parishioner at Our Lady of Sorrows in Maryland, said the weekend before the announcement had been “very stressful.” Because of DACA, she has a work permit, a driver’s license and is able to attend college in the area. Now, that’s all up in the air. But DACA youth and other immigrants, as well as other Catholics, have shown a lot of support and that helps, she said.

The crowd in front of the White House was sprinkled with Catholics representing organizations such as the Sisters of Mercy, the Franciscan Action Network, Faith in Public Life, as well as men and women religious out to show their support.

Capuchin Franciscan Father Kevin Thompson of Washington, said he wanted to support the youth, which include many young Catholics at the nearby Shrine of the Sacred Heart, where he is the auxiliary pastor.

“This is their country,” he said. “This is the country they know.”

He said he would be praying for Catholics who are against programs such as DACA. The Old Testament is clear, he said, in saying that Christians must welcome the stranger.

“I pray for a change of heart,” he said.

Mercy Sister Anne Curtis said she, too, couldn’t understand the opposition of some Catholics against programs such as DACA because from the Christian point of view, “our tradition is so clear,” regarding immigrants, she said, and urged others to “look to the Gospel.”

She said she was particular disheartened with the announcement because the “dreamers” had been led to believe that the outcome would be different.

“My heart breaks,” she said. “The hope they were given and now to have their dreams dashed.”

Kevin Appleby, senior director of international migration policy for the New York-based Center for Migration Studies, joined the crowd in Washington and said the decision was “cruel, as it violates a pledge made by our government to these young people and places them at risk of deportation to countries they do not know.”

“It is sad that the president was unable to summon the moral and political courage to stand by these inspiring young immigrants, who have shown great strength and fortitude in their efforts to achieve the American dream,” he said. “They represent the future leaders of our nation and would contribute greatly to our economy and culture, if given the chance. Instead of firing them, the president should be hiring them. Now it is up to Congress to do the right thing and find a long-term solution to their plight.”

That includes plans for granting them permanent residency and citizenship, he said.

Dreamer Quinones said she’d received much support from church members at the parish level and among those who turned out to support DACA beneficiaries like her during demonstrations but said she would like to see more support from the local hierarchy.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops called the cancellation of DACA “reprehensible” and said in a Sept. 5 statement that the president’s announcement “causes unnecessary fear” for the youths and their families. The bishops repeatedly called on the president to keep the program. They told DACA recipients on Sept. 5: “You are children of God and welcome in the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church supports you and will advocate for you.”

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      Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina

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Trump administration announces ‘enhanced enforcement’ of immigration laws

By

Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — In two memos published Feb. 20, the Department of Homeland Security outlined guidelines that White House officials said would enhance enforcement of immigration laws inside the country as well as prevent further unauthorized immigration into the U.S.

A "No Trespassing" sign is situated along the steel bollard border fence in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 19. (CNS /Nancy Wiechec)

A “No Trespassing” sign is situated along the steel bollard border fence in Nogales, Ariz., Feb. 19. (CNS /Nancy Wiechec)

In a Feb. 21 news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the guidelines include hiring more border agents, construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and hiring more personnel to “repatriate illegal immigrants swiftly.”

The memos by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly also called for state and local agencies to “assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law” and for hiring additional border patrol agents, as well as “500 Air and Marine Agents/Officers.” The cost of implementing such programs, whether there’s enough funding and how Congress will be involved, was not discussed.

While there have been two arrests under the new administration involving recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, it was not mentioned in the new guidelines. The program grants a reprieve from deportation and allows a work permit for those who were brought as minors to the U.S. without legal permission.

In the news briefing, Spicer said the guidelines were meant to prioritize for deportation anyone who was a criminal or posed a threat in some form, but he also said “laws are laws” and that anyone in the country who is here without permission is subject to removal at any time.

In a Feb. 23 statement, Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration, said that while public safety is important, the memos detailing the new guidelines “contain a number of provisions that, if implemented as written, will harm public safety rather than enhance it.” Bishop Vasquez added that it will break down “the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities,” if local enforcement is used to enforce federal immigration laws.

The memos addressed the issue of unaccompanied minors who cross the border, fleeing violence in their home countries or seeking reunification with family in the U.S. They said that “regardless of the desire of family reunification,” smuggling or trafficking is “intolerable” and said “exploitation of that policy led to abuses by many of the parents and legal guardians.”

Bishop Vasquez said the policies in the memos “will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us” and urged the Trump administration to “reconsider the approach” expressed in the Feb. 20 memos but also “reconsider the approach it has taken in a number of executive orders and actions issued over the last month. Together, these have placed already vulnerable immigrants among us in an even greater state of vulnerability.”

Department of Homeland Security workers, the memo also said, should prioritize for deportation “removable aliens” who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.”

Reports from major outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post said the administration in a conference call said it was seeking to calm fears among immigrant communities by saying only those who “pose a threat or have committed a crime” need to worry about being priorities. But during the news briefing, when asked about a woman who was deported despite having no major criminal convictions, Spicer said he wouldn’t comment on specific cases.

After drafts of memos leaked out in mid-February proposing use of the National Guard in immigration operations, The Associated Press reported that the New Mexico’s Catholic bishops called the ideas in the memos “a declaration of some form of war.” AP provided documents to back up the claim but the White House denied it and the final guidelines made no mention of the National Guard.

Catholic leaders have been urging dignity and respect for migrants and have acknowledged the rampant fear among communities.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men Feb. 21 issued a statement denouncing the recent arrest by immigration officials of six men exiting a hypothermia shelter at Rising Hope Mission Church in Alexandria, Virginia, saying it violated Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy “not to conduct enforcement actions at or near sensitive locations like houses of worship.”

The conference said it invited “others to join us in denouncing these deportation efforts that harm the ‘least of our brothers and sisters.’ We especially denounce the irreverence, disrespect and violation of sensitive locations, such as houses of worship and ministry which belong to God and the erosion of our Constitutional right to be free from religious oppression by our government.”

 

Follow Guidos on Twitter: @CNS_Rhina.

 

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