Church leaders seek to calm fears for migrants worried about Trump

| Rhina Guidos | November 17, 2016 | 3 Comments
Protestestors demonstrating against President-elect Donald Trump are seen in New York City Nov. 12. CNS photo/Kevin Hagen, EPA

Protestestors demonstrating against President-elect Donald Trump are seen in New York City Nov. 12. CNS photo/Kevin Hagen, EPA

At a Nov. 14 news conference in Baltimore, Archbishop Jose Gomez talked about the reaction, following the recent outcome of the U.S. presidential election, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — home to a large number of immigrants, including many Latinos but also immigrants from places such as the Philippines, China, Korea and Vietnam.

“I think the reaction was, especially for the ones that have issues of immigration, of fear,” said the Los Angeles archbishop, about the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, echoing what some church leaders who work with immigrant communities said during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“They were nervous, they don’t know what to make of it, especially many of them who have been here for a long time,” he said. “They have families. So, it is a challenge for them, for the family just even to think that the parents, or one of the parents, are going to be deported.”

President-elect Trump campaigned by saying he would build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, enact a “massive deportation force,” and end birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., no matter the immigration status of the parents.

Trump’s comments during the campaign are exactly what makes those like Nancy Reyes, a senior at Jesuit-run Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, worry and fear an upcoming Trump presidency. The weekend after the election, Reyes was in a room full of youths expressing their anxieties and worries at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, a Catholic social justice conference held in Crystal City, Virginia, where they discussed the president-elect and how his immigration views or future policies could affect them.

Her mother, Reyes said, is “going through the legal process” of obtaining legal status in the U.S. She entered the country without legal documentation when she was five months pregnant with Reyes.

“As of Tuesday (Election Day), the little bit of hope we had went downhill,” said Reyes, adding that “come January, I don’t know if my mom is going to be here or not.”

Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the group that organizes the social justice conference, which includes Jesuit institutions and youth, said he and others at Jesuit schools have been hearing the concerns, which for some of the students includes their legal status provided by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. In 2012, President Barack Obama created the policy by executive action, which allows certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.

“We’re concerned about DACA recipients because the government knows everything about them,” including where they live and about their relatives, said Kerr.

Some worry that when Trump becomes president, he could overturn DACA, and there are questions about the future of those 750,000 who signed up and whether they could be deported. As a candidate, Trump opposed DACA and also another policy known as DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. DAPA grants a work permit and allows some non-U.S. citizens to remain in the country temporarily.

Until there’s more information of what a Trump administration will do regarding immigration, the Ignatian Solidarity Network is trying to keep people informed about potential policies, trying to educate people that their involvement in influencing policy does not end at the voting booth and that they need to maintain relationships with their elected officials year-round, as well as urging others to express solidarity with affected communities, Kerr said.

In Texas, anxiety about a what a new administration will or won’t do, or may do, also is in the air, said Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, in an interview with Catholic News Service in Baltimore, where he was attending the bishops’ meeting. He said he has tried to reassure those who are worried that “we, as a church … we’re paying attention and we’ll be with you. We’ll walk with you as an immigrant community and defend your rights.”

But it’s too early to tell what will happen, Bishop Flores said. Some are wondering what the church will do and can do. Some asked Archbishop Gomez in the general meeting in Baltimore whether the Los Angeles Archdiocese would open sanctuary churches.

“That’s a hypothetical question,” Archbishop Gomez answered. “I don’t know what is going to happen in the future.”

In Texas, especially near the border, dealing with the difficulties that may arise for immigrants has long been part of daily life. Where some see despair, others have seen spiritual opportunity, said Bishop Flores. Catholics from the Brownsville, McAllen, Pharr and other areas, along with people from nearby cities and of various faiths, have been caring for recent arrivals who come through their cities and towns.

Some parishioners, noticing the influx of families and of mothers with young children fleeing violence from Central America, began organizing ways to transport them to their churches, feeding them, and giving provisions for those who had just finished their journeys crossing the border, said Bishop Flores.

“They helped them with food, with clothing, including little tennis shoes for the children, formula for babies,” who have made the dangerous trek north, he said. Then they give them a backpack with supplies for those who set out for other parts of the country seeking relatives to take them in.

“Sometimes, I get a call to the bishop’s office, ‘Why are you helping those illegals?'” said Bishop Flores, but those calls are few. “People have responded in a beautiful way.”

And some of those who have been helping include those who are poor, those who may not have a stable immigration situation to remain in the country themselves, he said.

“This is part of our culture. We’re not scared of the human reality,” said Bishop Flores.

Though church leaders have in the last few days shouted their support for immigrants and refugees, this could be a spiritual opportunity for other church members as well, Bishop Flores said.

“In this sense, this moment in history presents the church in the United States an opportunity to intensify personal conversion,” he said.

Church leaders opposed the record number of deportations under the Obama administration: 2.4 million since 2009, when he took office.

“People have already suffered the separation of families,” said Bishop Flores. “From the point of view of the church, the social fabric of society depends on the family, and when you tear apart children from their parents … they are vulnerable.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese and works near the border, said even though there’s anxiety and uncertainty, it’s important to try to lift the spirits of others.

“It’s sad,” she said at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. “But my hope never dies.”

She said she hopes as president, Trump will take into account “that these are not bad people, they’re not criminals. These are a people who are hurting.” Her concerns extend also to the situation of those seeking refuge in the U.S. from other parts of world, she said.

“I believe very much in the human person, that (he or she) can be touched and change,” she said. “We have to use our voice but not (to fight)” but help others see the humanity of the vulnerable, to see them as humans and not as burdens.

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  • Charles C.

    “Massive deportation force?”

    ICE, I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused
    on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal
    immigrants in America who have evaded justice.”

    Have you got any problems with that? And if so, why?

    And how will the Church decrease the fear of the illegals when the press and the Democratic party are twisting the truth in order to increase the fear, thus increasing opposition to Trump. He has, after all, done nothing yet to affect immigration one way or the other.

  • Nancy Giguere

    Maybe the bishops should also start trying to educate “mainstream” Catholics, a majority of whom voted for Trump. The seamless garment has a big rip that needs mending.

    • Charles C.

      Dear Nancy Giguere,

      I’m not sure how your comment relates to calming fears, but the “seamless garment” comment is interesting.

      The phrase was first used in the ’70s and picked up by Cardinal Bernadin in the early ’80s. As it was intended at the time, it would have eliminated Clinton from any consideration by any Catholic as it focused solely on life and death issues. She is, of course, the big loser to Trump on those questions.

      Then, about 30 years ago, Liberals started to expand the meaning to include things like the minimum wage, and the “seamless garment” became a code phrase meaning whatever the Democratic Party social program happened to be that year.

      But I suspect that what you’re feeling may be, in large part, surprise. Except for the Reagan elections, this is the first time since 1972 that Catholics voted Republican.

      Now, back to the topic. How would you realistically suggest the calming of fears?

      My thought is that the people disseminating “news,” and Democratic political leaders, should start the peace-making, after all it is that side of the argument that is in a panic. Perhaps they could point out that Trump hasn’t done anything obnoxious as President, that the system worked precisely as intended, that declaring Trump to be illegitimate is declaring the electoral system to be illegitimate, and that everyone should stop rioting and beating people up and just go back to work.

      After all, Republicans know how to control themselves when they lose to candidates who seriously offend them, why not the Democrats?