Bishop Cozzens, faith leaders call for keeping immigrant families together, free

| June 27, 2018 | 0 Comments

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens, present with faith leaders and state officials, speaks to the press at the Minnesota State Capitol June 26 about the need to reunite immigrant families and prevent future separation at the border. Courtesy Katherine Cross

Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens said that it’s important for people to recognize that immigrants “are seeking the same thing that [our] ancestors came here seeking” at a June 26 press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol.

“We should also remember that if we can provide these things, we also have a moral obligation to do so,” he added.

Bishop Cozzens represented the Minnesota Catholic Conference alongside faith leaders from around the state who spoke out against what they described as dehumanizing immigration policies enforced by President Donald Trump and his administration, which has been under fire for detaining children separately from their parents, when families had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

Trump reversed course June 20 and signed an executive order to keep families together. The executive order seeks to work around a 1997 consent decree that bars the federal government from keeping children in immigration detention — even if they are with their parents — for more than 20 days. The executive order instructs the attorney general to seek federal court permission to modify the consent decree. The reunification of separated families takes time, however, and thousands of children are still in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as their parents await the completion of their deportation proceedings.

At the press conference, Bishop Cozzens recalled the concern he saw among fellow Catholic bishops while attending the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spring meeting in June.

“There was a unanimity among us, especially the condemnation of this practice — separating children from their parents in our immigration system,” he said. “I feel privileged myself just to stand here with these other faith leaders … as a witness for the life and dignity of our immigrant brothers and sisters who don’t have the voices that we have.”

Bishop Cozzens also described his encounters with immigrants and seeing their poverty and need for safety.

“I’m really discouraged by the way the rhetoric has happened on a national level … that speaks about our immigrant brothers and sisters in a way that dehumanizes them,” he said.

Minnesota Sen. Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) organized the press conference as a way for faith leaders to urge the Trump administration and Congress to uphold the dignity of immigrant families. “Children and families are still in peril even after the recent executive order to end the zero-tolerance policy separating families at the border,” she said.

Faith leaders at the press conference included Rev. Doug Mitchell, who represented Minnesota Council of Churches, and Judy Halper, CEO of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis. Ethan Roberts of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and Rabbi Sim Glaser of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association also spoke.

“I think we speak with one voice, which is begging our administration [and] our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle to come to a comprehensive reform of this question [of immigration] in a way that respects those who are here,” Bishop Cozzens said.

Halper called welcoming immigrants a “basic tenant” of being American. She also spoke briefly of the harm separating families can cause children.

“Doing this in the name of enforcing the law is a violation of our sense of humanity and our faith and will, of course, cause long-term, if not permanent, damage to the children affected by this policy and the enforcement of it,” she said.

Mitchell also spoke of the harm detainment does to children, whether through separation from their families at the border or being put in jail as a family. It causes brain trauma and can harm long-term brain development, which might not heal, he said.

“Let’s not lose sight of the damage this is doing to the children themselves,’” Mitchell said.

John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, touched on the legal issues at stake for immigrants. He said that the Trump administration has shown a disregard for the law, and he called the current immigration issues a “self-made crisis.”

“The [southern] border itself prior to this, even though it’s described in opposite terms by the president, was at one of the lowest levels in the last 40 years in terms of arrests on the border,” he said.

A number of state officials joined the speakers at the press conference. In an interview after the press conference,  Bishop Cozzens said he encouraged people to reach out to their elected representatives to encourage immigration reform.

“We really need citizens to make their voices heard,” he said.

— Catholic News Service contributed to this story.

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