USCCB Committe on Migration Chair Voices Opposition to Border Wall Funding

Dear Representatives,

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

Click here to read the PDF Version of the Letter


World Refugee Day Event

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.



Joint Letter from USCCB/CCUSA on Appropriations Funding

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

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


Letter of Support for the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017

Dear Representative,

I write on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to urge you to consider supporting H.R. 2200, the “Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017.” This bipartisan legislation, introduced by Representative Smith (R-NJ-4) and Representative Bass (D-CA-37) on April 27, 2017, is vital to continuing our nation’s efforts to eradicate human trafficking and assist human trafficking victims.

The Catholic Church has a longstanding role in the prevention of human trafficking and the rehabilitation of victims. Calling human trafficking “an open wound on the body of contemporary society” and “a crime against humanity” Pope Francis and the Vatican have taken global leadership on anti-trafficking initiatives. In the United States, we support Pope Francis’ commitment and will continue to work to eradicate human trafficking and rehabilitate victims.

H.R. 2200 is an important step Congress can take to help prevent human trafficking and protect victims as it provides important service provisions that will aid victims. Programs and services such as those contained in H.R. 2200 recognize the importance of dignified care for and reintegration of human trafficking victims. As Pope Francis has stated: “[Trafficking] victims are from all walks of life, but are most frequently among the poorest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.” I believe that these exploited individuals deserve the care and support of our communities and our government and that such support will help them heal and become survivors.”

We are also pleased to see that H.R. 2200 includes provisions which would aid the monitoring of child, forced, and slave labor, as well as further the elimination of human trafficking in U.S. government supply chains. These are issues which are of deep concern to Catholics globally. As Pope Francis explained at the 2015 World Day of Peace, “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.”

We thank Congress for its long-standing commitment to confront modern-day slavery. We ask that you renew your commitment by supporting H.R. 2200 and work to keep this a bipartisan effort.
The need for this legislation is great; we must come together to fight this crime against humanity and ensure that survivors are given the services they need to live with dignity.



Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez

Bishop of Austin

Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration



USCCB Letter to House Judiciary Committee on Unaccompanied Children and Refugees

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 express our strong opposition to H.R. 2826, the “Refugee Program Integrity Restoration Act of 2017,” and H.R. 495, the “Protection of Children Act of 2017,” which are scheduled for markup in your committee this Wednesday, June 14, 2017.

A core teaching of the Catholic faith is that every person is created in the image of God and is therefore entitled to dignity and respect. The Catholic Church views assisting those in need as a fundamental Christian duty that is derived directly from the life of Christ, who himself was a migrant and a child of refugees. While the Catholic Church recognizes governments’ right to control their borders and enforce immigration laws, we hold a strong and pervasive pastoral interest in the welfare and humane treatment of refugees and immigrants. USCCB works to fulfill the teachings of the Church on migration, in part through our work providing resettlement services to refugees, as well as providing community-based shelter care and family reunification services to unaccompanied immigrant children in the United States.

H.R. 2826 would seriously undermine our nation’s longstanding leadership in the area of refugee protection. H.R. 2826 seeks to seriously curtail the protections we as a nation provide vulnerable people fleeing persecution. The bill would reduce and cap refugee admissions to 50,000 individuals, marking a dramatic reduction in U.S. resettlement. It would also implement new requirements and procedures that would significantly delay and potentially bar resettlement for many refugees whose lives are in danger. The bill further would revoke refugee status of any individual who returns to their country of origin, even if only briefly for a funeral or family emergency. H.R. 2826 would also allow state and local governments to halt all resettlement into their communities should they so choose. Given the danger, persecution, and suffering faced by the 65 million people around the world who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, we cannot afford to turn our back on those seeking protection.

Furthermore, H.R. 2826 would hamper refugees’ integration by tripling the period in current law before a refugee can become a lawful permanent resident. The Catholic Church has worked for years, in many instances in partnership with the federal government, to facilitate and promote refugee integration. This measure would undermine those efforts and is contrary to who we are as a nation – a country built on the contributions of immigrants and refugees.

In sum, H.R. 2826 would essentially cripple the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which has been a life-saving humanitarian program for nearly four decades. The United States must not reject its tradition of welcome and record of humanitarian leadership. Recognizing that all are children of God, we should continue to protect refugees of all nationalities, ethnicities, and religions based on their vulnerability. My brother bishops and I firmly believe we, as a nation, can continue to offer welcome to newcomers with love and compassion while still ensuring the security of our nation. H.R. 2826 does not achieve our security goals in a humane or just manner.

We further write to express our opposition to H.R. 495 which would rescind essential protections for unaccompanied immigrant children. Among its provisions, H.R. 495 undermines the existing framework for referring unaccompanied children to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR was determined by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to be the agency most appropriately suited to care for these children, in large part due to their demonstrated child welfare expertise. Instead, HR 495 would require the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to screen all unaccompanied children and limit referral only of children whom CBP finds to have fear of persecution or be subject to trafficking risks. This presents protection concerns with the adequacy of screening and is not the best use of our governmental resources. We greatly respect the work of CBP officers and recognize their contributions to defending our country, but they are law enforcement officers – not trained asylum officers or child welfare experts.

H.R. 495 further limits unaccompanied children’s ability to access justice. It prohibits government funds from being used to provide legal counsel to the children and would revise certain legal thresholds for protection, making it more difficult for children to obtain legal relief. The bill also requires ORR to share information with DHS, including immigration status, regarding family members (sponsors) to whom unaccompanied children are released pending their immigration proceedings. If the sponsor is undocumented, H.R. 495 would require DHS to initiate removal proceedings.

Our faith calls on us to oppose such proposals which would lead to the inhumane and unjust treatment of these children. As Pope Francis has said: “Among migrants, children constitute the most vulnerable group, because as they face the life ahead of them, they are invisible and voiceless.” We must recognize this vulnerability and remember when forming our laws and policies that many unaccompanied children are fleeing for their lives. Our committee is concerned that the changes proposed in H.R. 495 would result in children being returned to situations of persecution and trafficking due to improper screening, lack of counsel, and unjust legal thresholds to relief. Moreover, we fear that the bill would create a chilling effect on sponsors’ willingness to come forward to care for children pending their removal proceedings. This would lead to unnecessary family separation and increase costs on the government for children’s prolonged care. The bill is contrary to our moral obligation to ensure that unaccompanied immigrant children receive proper care, are reunited with their families when possible, and have a fair opportunity to seek protection.

In conclusion, our committee finds these two bills deeply troubling and does not believe they advance the goal of humane and just immigration reform. We call on you to ensure that refugees continue to be welcomed and that unaccompanied immigrant children continue to be viewed as children first and foremost. In doing so, we ask you to oppose H.R. 2826 and H.R. 495.


Most Rev. Joe Vásquez

Bishop of Austin

Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration


To See a PDF of this Letter click here


Letter to DHS Secretary Kelly Urging Extension of TPS Designation for Haitians

On April 17th USCCB/MRS, CCUSA, CRS, and CLINIC sent a letter to DHS Secretary Kelly requesting an extension of TPS for Haiti of 18 months. MRS and partners urge an extension on the basis of continued country conditions in Haiti resulting from Hurricane Matthew and other factors. TPS is set to expire on July 22, 2017. The U.S. government must act by April 22, 2017 which is 90 days from the expiration date.

Read the letter here


Catholic Religious Sign Letter in Support of Refugee Resettlement

4000 Catholic priests, religious brothers and sisters, and deacons continue broad support for refugee resettlement program

Washington, D.C. – Today a letter, signed by 4,000 Catholic priests, religious brothers and sisters, and deacons, calls on elected officials and citizens alike to fulfill the moral responsibility to welcome and protect those displaced from their homes, fleeing from war and other forms of violence.

Quoting the bible verse, Matthew 25, and pointing to the teachings of Jesus, the letter cites the strong Catholic faith tradition of welcoming the stranger. Additionally, it reminds elected officials of the strict vetting process currently in place and rejects any proposal which “prioritize refugees of certain religions over others.”

From the Letter: “Our nation has long prided itself on providing refugee families an opportunity to start a new life and the chance to contribute to the continued flourishing of our country. Now, when the need is so great, is not the time to waver in our commitment to this tradition of welcome.”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…” Matthew 25: 35-40


Text of the Letter:

March 27, 2017

We, 4000 priests, religious brothers and sisters, and deacons of the Catholic Church, appeal to our President and political leaders to continue broad support for   United States’ refugee resettlement program.

As leaders in the Church, we are deeply committed to Jesus’ teaching to welcome the stranger and to protect those who are marginalized and vulnerable. With some sixty-five million people worldwide displaced from their homes due to war and other forms of violence, the United States has a moral responsibility to remain a safe haven for children, women, and men fleeing persecution and possible death. Our nation has long prided itself on providing refugee families an opportunity to start a new life and the chance to contribute to the continued flourishing of our country. Now, when the need is so great, is not the time to waiver in our commitment to this tradition of welcome.

Furthermore, while the Catholic Church in the United States is deeply concerned with the persecution of religious minorities, we strongly reject any proposal to prioritize refugees of certain religions over others.  We understand and support the need for a safe resettlement program, however, we remind our leaders that the vetting in place currently is quite stringent and has proven very successful, and that we must always balance the need for security with the need to protect and welcome the most vulnerable among us. Doing so is fundamental to our religious tradition: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” (MT 25:35). We call on our elected officials to ensure that refugees of all ethnic and religious backgrounds have equal access to the U.S. resettlement program.

Our Catholic community will continue to stand with refugees and other marginalized migrant populations. We will continue to advocate for the recognition and protection of the human dignity of all. And we will recommit to work with our government in order to ensure that our resettlement program is both secure and accessible to the vulnerable refugees in need of our compassion, welcome, and support.

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…” Matthew 25: 35-40