Challenges in the face of Obama’s executive action on immigration

| Jason Adkins | December 17, 2014 | 12 Comments

immigrationRecently, I have been fielding a lot of questions about President Barack Obama’s executive action that “defers action” for, potentially, millions of undocumented persons living in the United States. Many illegal immigrants may have, if they qualify, at least a temporary reprieve from deportation.

Most people with whom I spoke, and who were initially opposed to the president’s action, supported it when they heard what it did and did not do. As Catholics, we support keeping families together.

The confusion surrounding the executive action is emblematic of an immigration debate that has been distorted both by the impassioned dislike of President Obama and a media culture that, unfortunately, turns most political debates into either/or policy choices.

Avoiding that trap requires more from us as Catholics, including: 1) reading broadly; 2) listening faithfully; and 3) seeking to “encounter” with people affected by our choices, all of whom are made in the image and likeness of God.

1. Information goes a long way

Commentary on and reaction to the president’s action has generated more heat than light, and has fit into the false parameters of the public immigration debate: Either open our borders to all comers and grant “amnesty,” or deport all those who are here.
The president’s order is not “amnesty” in the popular sense of the term, which would mean forgiving undocumented persons, requiring no penalty of any kind, and providing them with lawful immigration status.

The president’s action instead expands the government’s existing “deferred action” programs for undocumented persons who came to the United States as children.  Similarly, the administration is declining, temporarily, to deport people who are parents of U.S. citizens and who have been in the country since before 2010. This latter provision seeks to keep families together, especially when many have been here for decades building a life together after being lured by American businesses.

The order does not grant immigrants any particular legal status, or put them on the path to citizenship, which only Congress can do. There is also a large application fee for those who wish to avoid deportation, which underscores the reality that any opportunity to stay in the United States will ultimately cost immigrants thousands of dollars in penalties and fees, which hardly constitutes “amnesty.”

These basic facts tend to alleviate the concerns that many have about immigration reform generally, or the president’s actions specifically. Yet, you won’t often hear them on talk radio or cable news outlets.

2. Consider the voice of the Church

Church leaders at every level have been speaking about creating more just immigration policies for decades. More recently, Pope Francis has made the plight of migrants a theme of his pontificate. Closer to home, the U.S. bishops have argued ceaselessly for a “family-based” immigration policy, the very rationale used by the Obama administration for its executive actions.

Following the president’s announcement, the U.S. bishops repeated their call for the president and Congress to work together to create permanent solutions to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Yet, they applauded the administration’s effort to keep families united and deemed it a necessary humanitarian step.

Following the action, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia noted that Catholics are rightly disappointed with many of the president’s policies which, in his words, have been “harmful not just for people of religious faith, but for the nation at large.” Still, in this instance the president did the right thing, in Archbishop Chaput’s view, and there is hope that the president’s actions will stimulate congressional leadership in establishing a more lasting solution.

3. Listen to the people affected by public policy decisions

An important theme of Pope Francis’ pastoral ministry exhorts us not to let ourselves be caught up in abstractions, but to see the human face of Christ in all persons.

Minnesota Catholic Conference hosted an immigration seminar in 2013, and one of the speakers was a Catholic man named Jacobo, who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 22 years. Jacobo is a taxpayer, homeowner, and father to five children, all U.S. citizens. He came to the U.S. as an asylum seeker during the Guatemalan civil war. When the peace agreement was signed, he was asked to return to Guatemala. He decided to petition the U.S. courts for residency, but after years in court he was eventually turned down. By that time, he was married and he and his wife were expecting their second child, so he made the most difficult decisions of his life: to stay in the U.S. without legal documentation.

A few months ago, Jacobo was detained by the government and, in November, days before the administration’s announcement, was about to board a plane to Guatemala. After reviewing the new deferred action criteria, his lawyer thought he is likely to qualify. So, he is now back with his family, waiting to file for a deferred action temporary stay as soon as possible.

Jacobo’s story illustrates that, while political contours of the debate are important, we need to also see with the eyes of Jesus the dignity of the families and individuals affected by our political choices.

Consider asking yourself: “As a faithful Catholic, at what cost do I support splitting Jacobo’s family and young families like his?” Giving a face to our public policy choices can help us encounter difficult policy discussions in new ways.

Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.

Immigration Sunday Minnesota, Jan. 4, 2015Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord

Start planning for your parish’s commemoration today.

Visit the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Immigration Sunday page to access liturgy and activity resources, including three simple ways you can support migrant families in Minnesota, nationally and abroad.

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Category: Faith in the Public Arena

  • DebraBrunsberg

    I have worked in social services for 33 years. I see another side that no one is talking about. I am seeing pregnant women entering the U.S. illegally so that their child will be born as a U.S. citizen. I am seeing a lot of pregnant teens, as young as 13 years old. I see women having five, six, seven, eight children while here illegally, with one, two, three or four different men. I see the men getting deported and the women staying here, which is why they end up with multiple partners. I see every one of their pregnancies being paid for with tax payer dollars and then their children on welfare programs for most of their lives. I see there are marriages and divorces and attempts to get child support payments, which is pretty hard when everyone is using a fake social security number. I see lots of fraud. I think we should be looking at why people flee their own countries and start putting the pressure on the countries they are running from. Not everything comes down to money, I realize this, but this goes on and on and on and there is no end in sight. Every business hires illegal workers. It is a joke when you can see twenty people working with the same social security number. Obviously, the SSA can’t see it and I can’t tell them because of data privacy. Something has to change, but I am not sure amnesty is the answer. The number of people entering the U.S. illegally has soared, ever since the last amnesty. I have interviewed so many people who have waited years in refugee camps before being allowed to come here legally. They are welcome, but we have immigration laws for a reason. Breaking them is a crime. No matter who are you.

    • Juan-Pablo

      I guess we see what we want to see (and it appears you do not see Christ in each person with whom you deal, like the article suggests you try to do; neither does it appear that you even read the article). I would hope that someone who views the poor and the vulnerable with such contempt would work in a field unrelated to social services, but the world is as it is and not as it should be. Your anecdotal hyperbole is refuted by actual data and instead reveals an ugly prejudice prevalent amongst those claiming (in vain) the name of Christ.

      I am grateful for the executive order to delay deportation for many immigrants. I am grateful for Jason Adkins’s voice that (along with the voices of Pope Francis and the bishops) so closely resembles Christ’s definitive voice on our treatment of the alien.

      • tschraad

        Juan-Pablo – I agree with DebraBrunsberg.
        Juan, we see Christ in every human being. Why can’t you see Christ in us? What does this have to do with immigration? Illegals beak the law and in most countries go to jail. If you really would serve the poor, you would go to their country of origin and find out why they are fleeing and create better conditions for them so they can live in peace with family.
        Jason Adkin’s is wrong. Families should stick together and this should be in their country of origin. We did not break up any families. It was the illegals who apparently do not care about families that send their sons and daughters to a foreign country when they should be making life better for themselves by staying home.
        Illegals are taking away jobs from Americans. Isn’t this being greedy and against love of neighbor? Should my child be unemployed because you, an illegal will work for less? Your disdain and arrogance against our laws is not what Jesus Christ would want. Legal immigration into the United States for those who really want to become citizens are being punished by people like you. Is that again your love of neighbor.
        In my opinion, all illegals will self deport once employers are fined heavily for each illegal employed. This can easily be done and once that happens, families will be together once again enjoying their homeland.

    • Jessica Zittlow

      Dear Debra,

      In fact, the new deferred action criteria and rules are structured in a way to specifically help address the wave of pregnant women to which you refer.

      Here is background providing that overview on the MCC website:

      Here is a link to our full FAQ:
      We encourage you and others to read the information.

      Blessings on your Advent season,

      Jessica Zittlow, Associate Director of communications, MCC

      • tschraad

        Dear Jessica,
        We are dealing with a President that will not enforce our current immigration laws, why would you even believe him issuing an executive memo and then enforcing this memorandum? Do you recall, he would not even enforce his own Obamacare law which he lied to congress to get passed? Do you even realized that without a secure border, that any unenforced laws would be laughed at?

        You probably mean well, but you are hurting the American people and are hurting those who legally want to come to America. The Bishops in my opinion are wrong saying we need comprehensive immigration reform. We must first enforced the laws we have on the books and then we must pass laws that are simple and can be understood by all.

        Our comprehensive health care is now paying for abortions, Many lost their health plans, costs have skyrocket, etc. We most certainly do not need another comprehensive plan. We need simple, easy to understand laws that our legislatures “must” read so they know what they are voting for or against.

        Then we will “see with the eyes of Jesus the dignity of the families and individuals affected by our political choices” so that all can honor the Christ that came to save us from our sins..


          How is all that working out for you tschraad?

          • tschraad

            Actually very well. Our lying community Muslim organizer has been stopped by a Federal court. This anti-Christian Muslim terrorist sympathizer has to regroup to legally kill you.

          • PIZZA AND A CIGAR

            Tell us how that DHS funding bill worked out.

          • tschraad

            Pizza and a Cigar, The funding bill was mote as the Federal court has stopped Obama’s anti-American executive order. Now the community organizer has to choose to violate a Federal court besides violating the constitution of the United States. This inept Muslim liar is getting to be a laughing comic strip.

          • PIZZA AND A CIGAR

            It was “mote” huh? The only laughing comic strip is comprised of those like you. Live action funnies. Point out the part of the constitution that says “immigrants are only allowed here legally,” then apply it to your ancestors and yourself. Another battle you nut cases will lose.

          • tom schraad

            Pizza and a cigar – Using a straw man? When did I say that immigrants are only allowed here legally? My father was granted cit

          • PIZZA AND A CIGAR

            In other words, your family is relatively new to the USA. What tests and paperwork and fees did your grandfather have to take and pay back then? Did he speak English? Did they run a background check on him? Was he able to drive? Get a job? Earn wages?