I write on behalf of the Committee on Migration of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to express our opposition to including funding for a dramatic increase in construction of border fencing in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations package that the full House of Representatives is scheduled to take up this week.
As you know, the House Committee on Appropriations included approximately $1.6 billion in funding for border fencing construction in H.R. 3355, its proposed Fiscal Year 2018 Homeland Security Appropriations Act, and there are strong indications that the House intends to include this funding in an unrelated appropriations package that the House plans to take up this week. This funding has been described by the Administration, and others, as a “down payment” on the Administration’s plan to construct a wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico.
The bishops respect the right of the federal government to control our borders and ensure security for all Americans. However, we oppose the construction of a wall like the one that is envisioned by this proposed appropriation. Indeed, we fear that construction of such a wall would put immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way, could increase the risk of women and child migrants being trafficked, and destabilize the many interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border. Moreover, an expenditure of the amount of funding necessary to construct such a wall does not reflect a proper prioritization of scarce federal funds in a time of fiscal austerity.
We urge that the House reject any plans to include funding for a “down payment” for the construction of the Administration’s proposed border wall in the fiscal year 2018 appropriations package that it takes up this week.
Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration
USCCB Chairman on Migration Letter of Opposition on H.R. 391 “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017”
House Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Member Conyers:
I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to urge you to oppose H.R. 391, the “Asylum Reform and Border Protection Act of 2017,” which is scheduled for markup in your committee this Wednesday, July 26, 2017. Our committee is deeply concerned that the changes proposed by this bill would undermine the ability of persecuted individuals to access protection in the United States.
The Catholic Church has a significant interest in the protection of asylum seekers and has long been involved in welcoming immigrants and refugees to our nation. The Catholic Church’s work in assisting vulnerable migrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image and should be treated with compassion and dignity. While the Catholic Church recognizes the governments’ sovereign right to control its borders, we believe this right must be balanced with the rights of migrants to access safety and protection.
H.R. 391 unacceptably limits protection for vulnerable migrants fleeing persecution. Among its many concerning provisions, the bill essentially prohibits victims of gang violence from accessing asylum. This would leave numerous Central American women and children at risk of abuse, violence, and even death. Through our network of service providers for unaccompanied children, as well as through our ministry, we see firsthand the terrible situations that vulnerable women and children are forced to flee, including active gang recruitment, acts of violence and threats of death. These individuals are the victims of the transnational organized criminal groups that we as a country are trying to eradicate. How we respond to individuals and families seeking protection is a test of our moral character. In the words of Pope Francis, we must “not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”
H.R. 391 greatly expands the “firm resettlement” bar to asylum, allowing a person’s application to be rejected simply because he or she could live in another country without fear of persecution, regardless of the person’s legal status in that country. In doing so, it turns a blind eye to restrictions on the ability of individuals to legally work, access education, or secure legal permanency in such countries – in essence, to seek a dignified life free of persecution.
Furthermore, H.R. 391 restricts access to justice by prohibiting government funds from being used to provide legal counsel to immigrants. Currently, the government does not provide counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings, except for a few particularly vulnerable individuals, such as certain unaccompanied children and individuals with mental disabilities. We believe that children and those with diminished mental capacity should never have to go before an immigration judge without the assistance of a legal representative. Providing counsel to such individuals is not only just and merciful, and necessary for fair proceedings, it is also vital for judicial efficiency.
We ask you to reject H.R. 391 and, instead, seek meaningful and holistic solutions to our regional crisis. We call on Congress to: address the root causes that compel migrants to leave their homes; strengthen avenues to international protection; develop humane and safe repatriation programs; better fund immigration courts and counsel programs for the vulnerable; and continue to offer safety to those fleeing persecution. Instead of undermining the ability of vulnerable people to access protection in our country, my brother bishops and I seek to work with Congress to put forth compassionate and common sense reform. Thank you for your consideration.
Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration
On Monday, June 19th, USCCB/MRS held a kickoff event for World Refugee Day. The event consisted of two panels that discussed different aspects to refugee resettlement and also a keynote speech from Bishop Dorsonville of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.
Below is the video for the nearly three hour event.
I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to urge you to support S.1615 the “Dream Act of 2017.” This bipartisan legislation, introduced on July 20, 2017, by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), would protect numerous immigrant youth from deportation, including the approximately 780,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients.
The Dream Act is intended to protect immigrant youth who entered the United States as children and know America as their only home. The bill offers qualifying immigrant youth “conditional permanent resident status” and a path to full lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship. In order to receive the conditional status, the youth must, among other requirements, have entered the U.S. as a child, been continuously present in the United States for at least four years prior to enactment of the bill, meet certain admissibility and security requirements, and have obtained or be pursuing secondary education. Current DACA recipients are also deemed eligible for the conditional status. S.1615 allows recipients of this conditional status to obtain non-conditional lawful permanent residency if they satisfy requirements that include: background checks; demonstrated English proficiency; and either education in a higher learning institution, honorable military service, three years of employment in the United States, or a hardship exception.
My brother bishops and I believe in protecting the dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children. The Catholic Bishops have long supported these immigrant youths and their families who are contributors to our economy, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These youths have grown up in our country, some even choosing to put their lives on the line to serve in our armed forces. They truly exemplify the extraordinary contributions that immigrants can provide to our nation. These youths should not be forced to live their lives in constant fear that they will be deported at any moment and separated from their families. It is both our moral duty and in our nation’s best interest to protect them and allow them to reach their God-given potential.
For these reasons, we ask you to support and co-sponsor the Dream Act of 2017. We also urge you to continue to work towards the larger legislative reform of our immigration laws that our country so desperately needs. As always, USCCB/COM stands ready to work with Congress to reform our immigration system in a humane, just, and common-sense manner.
Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration
USCCB Chairman Expresses Ongoing Support for DACA; Calls on Administration and Congress to Ensure Permanent Protection for DACA Youth
July 18, 2017
WASHINGTON— Over 750,000 youth have received protection from Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) since its inception by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2012. While DACA provides no legal status, it does provide recipients with a temporary reprieve from deportation and employment authorization for legal work opportunities in the United States.
In response to the recent petition to the U.S. Department of Justice to terminate DACA, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, Chair of the Migration Committee and Bishop of Austin, Texas, expressed support for DACA once again, stating:
“The Catholic Bishops have long supported DACA youth and continue to do so. DACA youth are contributors to our economy, veterans of our military, academic standouts in our universities, and leaders in our parishes. These young people entered the U.S. as children and know America as their only home. The dignity of every human being, particularly that of our children and youth, must be protected.
I urge the Administration to continue administering the DACA program and to publicly ensure that DACA youth are not priorities for deportation.
However, DACA is not a permanent solution; for this reason, I also call on Congress to work in an expeditious and bipartisan manner to find a legislative solution for DACA youth as soon as possible. My brother bishops and I pledge continuing efforts to help find a humane and permanent resolution that protects DACA youth. Additionally, I note the moral urgency for comprehensive immigration reform that is just and compassionate. The bishops will advocate for these reforms as we truly believe they will advance the common good.
Lastly, to DACA youth and their families, please know that the Catholic Church stands in solidarity with you. We recognize your intrinsic value as children of God. We understand the anxiety and fear you face and we appreciate and applaud the daily contributions you make with your families, to local communities and parishes, and to our country. We support you on your journey to reach your God-given potential.”
Dear Chairman Frelinghuysen and Ranking Member Lowey:
July 17, 2017
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plays a critical role in securing our country from physical and cyber threats and implementing our immigration laws, as well as responding to emergencies stemming from national disasters. As you address our nation’s funding priorities for these efforts, we urge you to continue to fund programs that help communities mitigate and respond to natural disasters and provide resources towards humane implementation of our immigration laws. Such implementation should be programmatically-sound, fiscally responsible, and respectful of family unity and human dignity; it also should enable migrants to seek both protection and access to due process.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) works in partnership with the federal government to provide services for immigrants and refugees, unaccompanied children and human trafficking victims. USCCB/MRS facilitates most of these programs through the Catholic Charities network. Catholic Charities ministries operate over 2,900 locations across the country and five U.S. territories. In 2016, the Catholic Charities network served over 300,000 immigrants and refugees with services such as case management, employment training, legal immigration services and resettlement assistance. Additionally, Catholic Charities agencies provided disaster relief and recovery services to over 100,000 individuals.
As a Church at the service of all God’s people, we stand ready to work with the leaders of both parties to protect poor and vulnerable people, promote human life and dignity, and advance the common good. As you review the subcommittee- approved version of the FY 2018 DHS Appropriations Act and its accompanying committee report, please consider the following requests:
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
The proposed increase of immigrant detention bed space to the total of 44,000 ADP is an increase of 4,676 beds from FY 2017 and a marked increase from the FY 2009-FY 2016 average of approximately 34,000 beds/night. As mentioned in the committee report language, this bed space increase will be accomplished by expansion of private sector contracts and Inter-Governmental Service Agreements. We strongly urge you to oppose this drastic increase in funding for immigrant detention and corresponding enforcement. While immigrant detention is necessary to protect community safety in certain instances, large scale immigrant detention “engenders despair, divides families, causes asylum-seekers to relive trauma, leads many to forfeit their legal claims, and fails to treat immigrants with dignity and respect.”1 Of further concern is the expansion of private detention contracts given reports of lack of accountability and oversight of these facilities. It is disheartening to note: (1) the $5.5 million dollar decrease for Alternatives to Detention funding and (2) the failure to reinstate the Family Case Management Program (FCMP). We are in favor of community-support case management models of alternatives to detention such as FCMP, and support the committee report language urging ICE to utilize elements of such programs, like legal orientation, case management and community NGO engagement to improve ICE’s other existing alternative to detention programs. Such elements improve compliance and provide humane enforcement solutions.
The $24 million in funding to support expansion of the 287(g) program should be opposed as well. These agreements between DHS and state and local officials allow the state and local actors to perform immigration functions such as the apprehension, or detention of undocumented immigrants. Such agreements may undermine the hard-won trust between immigrant communities and local police and could decrease the willingness of undocumented immigrants to report crimes
1 USCCB/MRS and Center for Migration Studies, Unlocking Human Dignity: A Plan to Transform the U.S. Immigrant Detention System, May 2015, available at http://www.usccb.org/about/migration-and-refugee-services/upload/unlocking-human-dignity.pdf
to local law enforcement. In turn, this would hamper the ability of local law enforcement officials to investigate local crimes and ensure public safety in all communities.
Additionally, we urge you to oppose the $1.6 billion funding for the construction of a physical barrier between U.S. and Mexico. We do not believe such an enforcement-only approach is appropriate. Moreover, we do not believe that such resources should be invested in a border wall. Instead, some of this funding should be dedicated to humane and more economical programs, such as alternatives to detention programs that utilize case management, legal services, and safe voluntary repatriation programs. In short, as Pope Francis has often repeated, we should be building bridges, not walls.
Lastly, we welcome the inclusion of increased funding to ICE for international and national investigations, as it relates to human trafficking and child exploitation. We appreciate the appropriation of $15.7 million to forced labor investigations. The committee report language that encourages ICE to collaborate with NGOs and trafficking prevention efforts is commendable and we stand ready to work with you in combatting human trafficking. In this vain, additional funding for improved screening of child trafficking victims should be provided. We urge you to support a $5 million allocation to enable Border Patrol agents to identify and protect child trafficking victims at the border. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires CBP to screen children it encounters for indicators that they are trafficking victims. Funds should be appropriated for CBP orientation, training, and the hiring of child welfare experts.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP): Preservation of this program at its current level of $120 million is essential. We urge you to continue to support FEMA’s role as administrator of the program and oppose the transfer of the program to Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The EFSP was created in 1983 to supplement the work of local service organizations (soup kitchens, food banks, homeless shelters, etc.) who provide services to those in need of emergency services. Since 2011, this program has been cut by 40% and those who in need of services cannot afford further reductions. Already, 2,800 fewer organizations are able to participate and partner in providing services. The EFSP has an innovative, inter-agency funding model which relies on a national board of leading social service agencies to distribute monies to local organizations best postured to meet local needs. Transitioning this program to HUD would weaken the strong collaborative governance that exists in administering this program.
Disaster Relief Fund (DRF): Robust funding for DRF federal assistance programs is vital. Multiple severe storms and floods made 2016 one of the most expensive years of disaster losses on record and the consensus among experts is that both the frequency and severity of disasters will continue to rise. A robust allocation of monies to the DRF also helps to ensure the necessary funds for critical local disaster case management programs (DCM). As part of a coordinated effort for community recovery after a disaster, DCM programs partner with local voluntary, faith-based and nonprofit organizations to promote effective deliver of post-disaster services, partner integration and improve capacity building.
Finally, we urge your support for the Aderholt amendment to include important Hyde-like protection to this appropriations bill. The Aderholt amendment should be enacted to ensure that the current practice prohibiting funding for elective abortion is continued, and to safeguard the conscience rights of any ICE employee who objects to facilitating an abortion.
We ask that you review these requests and also our supplementary materials on immigration-specific appropriations. At a time of budgetary constraints, the needs of the hungry, the migrant, and those affected by disasters should be prioritized.
Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration
Most Reverend Frank J Dewane, Chairman, USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
Sr. Donna Markham OP, PhD, President and CEO, Catholic Charities USA