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My brother bishops, I would like to update you on the activities of the Committee on Migration and issues we are pursuing.
First, we continue to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. As you may recall, the U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the last Congress, only to see it not be considered and die in the House of Representatives. During that time period, the Committee on Migration held a Mass at the border and one of Capitol Hill to highlight the need for reform, plus tried to mobilize Catholics in favor of legislation.
Because of the record number of deportations and the separation of families—children from their parents, spouses from each other---the Committee on Migration asked for and supported Administrative executive action to provide deferred deportation and work authorization to the undocumented population. On November 20 of last year, the Administration announced the creation of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program (DAPA), which would prevent the deportation of parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, and an expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) programs. These programs would help over 4 million undocumented persons by protecting them from deportation and granting them work authorization. Unfortunately, these programs are being tied up in the courts at the moment and have not yet been implemented. Bishop Soto will explain more about this issue.
Also on the immigration front, we released a comprehensive report on the immigration detention system, calling for reform. The bishops of the committee have visited detention centers around the country, visiting with detainees. We encourage you to do so as well, and can help identify any in your (arch) dioceses. In our report, we call for the use of alternatives to detention and an end to family detention.
With regard to the unaccompanied children and families arriving at the southern border, there has been a reduction in the numbers over the past nine months, due primarily to interdiction efforts by the Mexican and Central American governments, with assistance from the U.S. government. This year, up to 40,000 unaccompanied children and 40,000 family members are expected to arrive, compared to 68,000 each last year. We are concerned with these interdiction efforts, supported and encouraged by the U.S., as these unaccompanied children and families are not being adequately screened for their refugee claims in Mexico—they are being sent back to danger in their homelands. This is a violation of international law, which our nation is facilitating. We are raising this issue with our government.
We are also supporting in-country processing by the U.S. Department of State of children who are in danger in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. This means these children can apply for asylum protection in their home countries and not make the dangerous journey north.
In the area of refugee protection, we are advocating with our government to provide more overseas assistance and resettlement opportunities to Syrian refugees. Since the conflict began in 2011, the United States has resettled only 673 of the 4 million Syrian refugees. We are advocating that the U.S. accept 65,000 of the most vulnerable Syrians over the next two years. This includes the most vulnerable Iraqi and Syrian religious minorities, including Christians. We also have helped write and have endorsed legislation which would provide direct assistance and resettlement opportunities to religious minorities in danger, including Christians.
Finally, the committee is working for a re-authorization of the Religious Worker Visa program that permits non-minister religious—brothers and sisters—and lay persons to come here permanently from abroad to perform pastoral ministry. The program that allows priests to live here is a permanent one already. We hope to get this re-authorization by the end of September, at the time of the Holy Father’s visit to the United States. Bishop Soto will explain more about this issue.
Thank you, Bishop Elizondo and thank you Archbishop Kurtz for inviting me to give an update on behalf of the board of directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc (also known as CLINIC).
I echo Bishop Elizondo’s sentiment about the need for reform of the immigrant detention system. I want to draw your attention to the need to end the use of family detention centers in particular. CLINIC has been working at the rapidly expanding facility in Dilley, Texas, which at its maximum will house 2,400 mothers and children. There, CLINIC staff work to provide the mothers and children with free legal representation before the immigration court. They simply cannot keep up with the demand for legal representation, which is critical to due process and mounting an adequate defense of their rights. As Bishop Elizondo indicated, this jailing of asylum seekers is a violation of international law and a stain on the Administration. We are working closely with the Committee on Migration to bring these abuses to light and advocate for just and humane reform for these vulnerable families.
Last month, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit failed to lift the temporary injunction of the DAPA and expanded DACA programs put in place in February, by the District Court in Brownsville, TX. While millions of people wait for a long-term solution to the immigration system, CLINIC is committed to continuing its efforts to build a strong, long-lasting infrastructure to serve the legal needs of immigrants. In particular, CLINIC is supporting the provision of legal services to the community, increasing the number and strength of immigration legal service providers, educating the immigrant community, and working with the Committee on Migration to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform. Most importantly, CLINIC is encouraging legal screening of as many individuals as possible since more than a million people are currently eligible for immigration relief but do not yet know it. Quality screening will prevent many in our communities from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous immigration providers.
Lastly, CLINIC’s Religious Immigration Services team continues to provide legal assistance to foreign-born religious workers who come to minister in the United States. Last year, they served 160 religious organizations and filed more than 750 immigration applications. This program has faced greater scrutiny, with an increasing number of audits. CLINIC will be surveying clients on the issue of “site visits” to document more thoroughly client experiences and use the data for advocacy and education. CLINIC is available to work with dioceses to prepare for audits and advocates with USCCB to support the need for religious workers in this country.
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