Statement in Response to Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Immigrants and Public Benefits

September 23, 2018 

WASHINGTON–On September 22, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that dramatically alters certain longstanding government policies related to legal immigrants’ access to essential safety net programs. 

Bishop Joe Vasquez, Chair of the Committee on Migration and Bishop of Austin, Texas, together with Bishop Frank Dewane, Chair of Committee on Domestic and Social Development and Bishop of Venice, Florida stated:  

“Yesterday’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking undercuts decades of administrative policies and guidelines on how immigrants are treated by the United States government.This further compounds strict eligibility guidelines already in place preventing many immigrants from receiving federal aid. While just beginning to review the Proposed Rule, upon initial analysis, it appears that this will be very harmful to families, raising fear among immigrant families already struggling to fulfill the American Dream. Further, it is likely to prevent families from accessing important medical and social services vital to public health and welfare.” 

For the Press Release in Spanish, click here


Bishop Vásquez, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration Releases Statement on the Setting of the U.S. Refugee Limit for the Year 2019

September 18, 2018

WASHINGTON—The United States Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, announced yesterday that the Administration will set the Presidential Determination, the level of refugees allowed into the United States, at 30,000 refugees for 2019.  This is the lowest number set in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program which was formally created in 1980.

Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin, Texas, Chair of the of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, issued the following statement:

“The announcement of the Presidential Determination is deeply disturbing and leaves many human lives in danger. To cut off protection for many who are fleeing persecution, at a time of unprecedented global humanitarian need, contradicts who we are as a nation. Offering refuge to those fleeing violence, torture, or religious persecution is a cornerstone of our history. We as a country are blessed with vast resources making us capable of securely welcoming those fleeing harm. Closing our doors on those seeking such safety is not who we are as a people. In the coming days, we pray that Congress will have the opportunity to engage in the formal consultation process with the Administration that is required by law. During this mandatory consultation process, Congress should strongly urge the Administration to return to a refugee admission level that reflects local community response and support of refugees, global refugee protection needs, and our long history of compassionately welcoming refugees.”


Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities USA Lend Their Support to Catholic Charities Agencies Reuniting Families

WASHINGTON—The Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) today issued the following statement on the ongoing efforts to reunite children separated from their families at the border.

“As we have long done, CCUSA and Migration and Refugee Services of USCCB are lending our experience and expertise to support Catholic Charities agencies in their efforts to reunite families and care for immigrant children during this sensitive time. While we strongly oppose the policies that led to these families being separated, we remain committed to working to ensure their safe reunification.  Protection of families is a foundational element of Catholic Social Teaching and this moment calls on all people of good will to lend a hand to reunite these children with their parents.”

To learn more about how you can help visit:  Justice for Immigrants  and Catholic Charities USA


Chairmen of U.S. Bishops’ Migration Committee and Religious Liberty Committee Express Disappointment with Supreme Court’s Ruling in Travel Ban Case

WASHINGTON—On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Trump v. Hawaii, which involves a challenge to President Donald Trump’s Proclamation No. 9645 restricting travel from several predominantly Muslim-majority countries. The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling upheld the travel ban.
Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, chair of the USCCB Committee for Religious Liberty, issued the following joint statement:

“The travel ban targets Muslims for exclusion, which goes against our country’s core principle of neutrality when it comes to people of faith. We are disappointed in the Court’s ruling because it failed to take into account the clear and unlawful targeting of a specific religious group by the government. The Catholic Church takes a strong stand against religious discrimination, and we will continue to advocate for the rights of people of all faiths, as well as serve migrants and refugees through our various ministries.”

The USCCB, Catholic Charities USA, and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) filed a friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court advocating that the travel ban be struck down as a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The full text of the brief is available online:


Chairman of U.S. Bishops Committee on Migration Expresses Concern about Immigration Bills Before Congress, Urges Bipartisan Engagement

June 19, 2018

WASHINGTON—Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, of Austin, Texas, Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB/COM) Committee on Migration, sent a letter to every Member of the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday in response to two immigration bills that are expected to be taken up later this week by the full House.  Bishop Vasquez had previously written in opposition to the first of the two bills (H.R. 4760), introduced in January of this year. The Bishop’s June 18 letter focuses most of its attention on a second, yet-to-be-numbered House Republican Leadership alternative bill.

In his letter to Congress, Bishop Vásquez wrote, “While we truly want a legislative solution for Dreamers, we cannot, in good faith, endorse large structural changes to the immigration system that detrimentally impact families and the vulnerable, such as those that are contained in this legislation. We welcome the opportunity to dialogue with lawmakers and to discuss possible opportunities for further compromise, particularly with respect to effects on families and the vulnerable.”

Bishop Vásquez added, “My brother bishops and I appreciate the effort by Representatives to find a legislative solution for Dreamers by bringing immigration measures before the House of Representatives. We believe that any such legislation must be bipartisan, provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, be pro-family, protect the vulnerable and be respectful of human dignity with regard to border security and enforcement.” Bishop Vásquez reminded Members of the House that the Administration can end family separation without legislation through executive discretion.


A Statement from Daniel Cardinal DiNardo Archbishop Galveston-Houston and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

June 13, 2018

Fort Lauderdale, FL—“At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General’s recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors. We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.

Additionally, I join Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Migration, in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration’s zero tolerance policy.  Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma.  Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”


U.S. Bishops’ Migration Chairman Reacts to Policy Separating Families at U.S./Mexico Border: “Children are Not Instruments of Deterrence”

June 1, 2018

The Department of Homeland Security has recently acknowledged implementation of the policy of separating families arriving at the U.S./Mexico Border.  Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Bishop of Austin and Chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, issued the following statement in response:

“Forcibly separating children from their mothers and fathers is ineffective to the goals of deterrence and safety and contrary to our Catholic values. Family unity is a cornerstone of our American immigration system and a foundational element of Catholic teaching. ‘Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.’ (Psalm 127:3) Children are not instruments of deterrence but a blessing from God.

Rupturing the bond between parent and child causes scientifically-proven trauma that often leads to irreparable emotional scarring.  Accordingly, children should always be placed in the least restrictive setting:  a safe, family environment, ideally with their own families.

My brother bishops and I understand the need for the security of our borders and country, but separating arriving families at the U.S./Mexico border does not allay security concerns.  Children and families will continue to take the enormous risks of migration—including family separation—because the root causes of migration from the Northern Triangle remain: community or state-sanctioned violence, gang recruitment, poverty, and a lack of educational opportunity.  Any policies should address these factors first as we seek to repair our broken immigration system.”


U.S. Catholic Working Group on Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration

Introduction.  Members of the U.S. Catholic Working Group on the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration[i] are deeply involved in the care and accompaniment of migrants and forcibly displaced persons at every stage of their journeys. We often work in partnership with the U.S. government, international organizations, and local organizations.  Through advocacy and service our work includes fighting against the root causes of migration, providing humanitarian support to forced migrants, especially those in vulnerable situations, and advocating for just reform of national immigration laws in the United States. While we bring a distinct American Catholic experience to our statement, we also echo and build upon the Twenty Points document issued by the Holy See Mission to the United Nations in New York.[ii]  We thank the co-facilitators of Mexico and Switzerland for their able leadership in developing the latest draft of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (“Global Compact on Migration”).We offer the following principles which we believe should be reflected in the final draft of the Global Compact on Migration.

The Global Compact on Migration should foster the catalytic role of faith-based organizations that provide service to migrants at every stage of their journey.  We strongly believe that the Global Compact on Migration should specifically include faith-based organizations as important stakeholders and partners in both the Preamble and the Implementation sections of the document.   As has been stated by the Holy See during the negotiations, faith-based organizations are unique because of their presence in sending, transit, and destination countries–at every point of the migration process.  Faith-based organizations are universal in nature and thus have a reach beyond that of a single government.

Moreover, faith-based organizations fill gaps in services to migrants which governments are unable or unwilling to fill and work closely with many member states to protect migrants in vulnerable situations.  They often build bridges between migrants and the local people. In addition, migrants often are attracted to faith-based groups because they are members of the faith or otherwise trust them to look after their best welfare, including warning them about the potential dangers of the migration journey.

The Global Compact on Migration should highlight increased legal avenues and regularization programs as the primary tools for reducing irregular migration and encourage member states to adopt these tools more aggressively. Consistent with its goal to promote safe, orderly, and regular migration, the Global Compact on Migration should include specific language, in both the preamble and Objective 5, which calls for a significant increase in legal avenues for migrants and regularization programs for migrants residing in their countries.

In most cases, migrants travel in an irregular status because there are insufficient visas available for them to migrate in a legal manner. Once they have navigated an arduous and dangerous journey, they fill low-skilled jobs in many economies, yet remain susceptible to exploitation and abuse in the workplace.  Legal avenues, which should include the option for permanent residency, should be increased to protect their lives, their human rights and the integrity of their family.

Migrants who reside in a country often live in fear of deportation, despite equities they may have built—families, businesses, homes—over time.  Family separation, in which parents are deported away from their citizen children, is a real threat.  Regularization programs bring immigrants and their families into society, thus increasing their economic contributions, preserving family unity, and aiding national security, as governments would know who they are and more effectively integrate them into society.

In our view, the Global Compact on Migration should increase legal immigration as a method for reducing irregular migration, as opposed to using enforcement and methods of deterrence to accomplish this goal.  Not only is it the most humanitarian way to respond to the challenge of irregular migration, it also is the most effective and sustainable.

Border management should ensure that migrants receive due process protections and should not deploy deterrence schemes to halt large movements of migrants and refugees. More and more, destination nations, sometimes in conjunction with transit nations, are using deterrence tactics to prevent large mixed movements of persons from reaching their borders, including the use of interdiction and return, detention, family separation, push backs, criminal prosecution of irregular migration, the closing of borders, and conditional aid agreements, among other tactics.  These formal and informal arrangements among nations can prevent migrants in vulnerable situations and even refugees from receiving protection and in some cases entail returning vulnerable individuals to harm.

Objective 11 of the Global Compact on Migration should prohibit the use of these tactics and encourage responsibility-sharing among member states that ensures that migrants and refugees are screened by a competent and independent authority, and, if necessary, offered protection, by either a transit nation or other nations in a region.  In addition, language should be restored in the draft that encourages member states to promote screening of asylum-seekers, including informing migrants of their rights to apply for asylum protection.

Migrants, regardless of their legal status, should be guaranteed certain services, consistent with their human rights and international law.   Human persons, regardless of legal status, possess God-given human rights that should not be violated, including the right to life, and thus should be provided services necessary to protect those rights, including health-care, social services, access to justice, education, and pastoral services.  Such services should be specified in the Global Compact on Migration, so that member states have a common understanding of this requirement.  In providing these services to undocumented persons or to persons in a temporary legal status, firewalls should exist to prevent personal information from being used for enforcement purposes.

Migrants in vulnerable situations should receive protection. Perhaps the most difficult issue to address between the Global Compact on Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees is the issue of migrants in vulnerable situations.  This group may include persons fleeing natural disaster or the effect of climate change; migrants in countries in crisis; migrants who may not achieve refugee protection or asylum but nevertheless have legitimate protection claims and could face harm upon their return; victims of human trafficking or forms of domestic violence; and inherently vulnerable migrants, such as unaccompanied children, the elderly, or the disabled.

These groups may not meet the refugee definition laid out in international refugee law, but nevertheless face danger and possible harm in their home countries.  Member states should increase the legal tools available to them to address these populations, including humanitarian visas, temporary protected status, and visas targeted toward specific groups, such as victims of human trafficking, victims of domestic violence, and unaccompanied alien children.  Protection consistent with international human rights law should be afforded them.

Return of migrants to their countries of origin should uphold the principle of non-refoulement and when return is proper should include re-integration programs which offer them comprehensive re-integration services.   Just as countries of origin have an obligation to their nationals to receive them, destination countries should follow international law in assessing their status, informing them of their rights in the process, and, as the law requires, either allowing them to remain or returning them to their homes.  We oppose policies which deny due process to migrants seeking protection, as well as tactics that pressure them to acquiesce to deportation without due process.  Non-refoulement should govern the return policies of all nations.

Safeguarding the integrity of the family is crucial when people are subjected to detention and deportation processes.  Humane alternatives to detention and defenses to removal based on family unity should be available in lieu of detention and deportation. In cases where family members are detained and/or returned, systems should be established to track their locations and to inform family members.

Moreover, re-integration programs should be created in countries of origin that assist returnees with job training and placement, access to social services, and physical security, so they are able to remain and live in safety and dignity.  Destination countries should provide assistance to source countries in creating these programs.

The root causes of migration should be comprehensively addressed, so that migration is a choice, not a necessity.  Migration and development are intrinsically linked, as remittances are a primary resource for development efforts.  The Global Compact on Migration should facilitate remittances by lessening fees and fostering financial inclusion.  Remittances should not be a substitute for global support for sustainable economic development in developing nations.

Finally, we urge the creation of a well-financed capacity-building framework that facilitates the actionable commitments of the Global Compact on Migration, as well as a monitoring system that holds member states accountable in implementing them.  While the Global Compact on Migration may be legally non-binding, it should be politically binding, so that good faith efforts are made by all member states in reaching its goals and achieving a positive impact on migrants around the world.

To view a PDF of this document, click here

[i]The working group includes Catholic Charities-USA, Catholic Relief Services (CRS), U.S. Liaison Office of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States, Jesuit Refugee Services/USA (JRS-USA), Scalabrini International Migration Network (SIMN), and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS).
[ii] “Responding to Refugees and Migrants: Twenty Action Points,” Migrants & Refugee Section, Dicastery on Integral Human Development, Vatican, 2017. A summary of the document is also in a video featuring Pope Francis. See “Let’s welcome, protect, promote and integrate refugees as Pope Francis is asking us,” Migration & Refugee Section, Dicastery of Integral Human Development, Vatican, January 18, 2018, video available at




Letter of Support for the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act

April 25, 2018

Dear Representative,

I write on on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration (USCCB/COM) to urge you to support and co-sponsor H.R. 4796, the “Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act of 2018,” as it is written. This legislation, which in part provides critical protections from deportation for “Dreamers” qualifying immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, was introduced by Representatives Hurd (R-TX) and Aguilar (D-CA) and is currently cosponsored by an equal bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats.

The U.S. Catholic Bishops have long supported Dreamers, recognizing that they are contributors to our economy, academic standouts in our universities, veterans of our military, and leaders in our parishes. These youths have grown up in our country and know America as their only home. They truly exemplify the extraordinary contributions that immigrants can provide to our nation when they are permitted to reach their God-given potential.

The USA Act would provide qualifying Dreamers with protection from deportation, as well as a path to citizenship. Additionally, the USA Act of 2018: (1) augments border security at the U.S./Mexico border, in part through deployment of new technology and development of a strategic plan; (2) increases the number of immigration judges and Board of Immigration Appeals staff attorneys; and (3) seeks to address root causes and prevent future irregular migration by conditioning aid to Central America to prevent corruption.

While a larger solution is still needed to fix our broken immigration system, we urge Congress to first focus on passing H.R. 4796, as written, or similar bipartisan and narrowly-tailored legislation. Any legislation passed should provide Dreamers with a path to citizenship, not undermine our family-based immigration system or terminate existing protections for vulnerable migrants, and ensure that border security measures are just, proportionate, and humane.

It is both our moral duty and in our nation’s best interest to protect Dreamers. We hope that you will stand with us in supporting these valuable members of our communities and co-sponsor the USA Act.

Most Rev. Joe S. Vásquez. USCCB Committee on Migration

Click here for a PDF version of the Letter


U.S. Bishops’ Migration Chairman Supports Southern Border Bishops Concerns Over White House Decision to Deploy National Guard at U.S./Mexico Border

April 11, 2018

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Catholic Bishops of the southern border issued a statement on April 6, 2018, regarding their deep concern over the Administration’s decision to deploy the National Guard at the U.S./Mexico border. Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, today issued the following statement in support of the Southern Border Bishops and in response to the Administration’s recent actions:

“On behalf of the USCCB Committee on Migration, I fully affirm the concerns voiced by the U.S. Bishops of the southern border regarding the presence of the National Guard at the U.S./Mexico border. Current law entitles those fleeing persecution and arriving in our country to due-process as their claims are reviewed. As the border bishops state: ‘Seeking refuge from persecution and violence in search of a peaceful life for oneself and one’s family is not a crime.’ Our faith calls us to respond with compassion to those who suffer and seek safe haven; we ask our government to do the same as it seeks to safely and humanely secure the border.”