Catholic Bishops: Reunification of Families at the U.S.-Mexico Border Cannot Wait

Geneva, 3 July 2018 - Families must be able to stay together and border protection should not hinder this principle, Catholic bishops have stated about the recent U.S. Government’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy on immigration.

A delegation from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) met with Catholic charities and government authorities at the U.S. border with Mexico in early July. The pastoral visit, led by USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, assessed the situation of families separated at the border following the implementation of the U.S. Government ‘zero tolerance’ immigration policy in May.

Children participate in a rally outside a federal detention center in Sheridan, Oregon“Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.” — Bishop Joe Vásquez. Photo: Children participate in a rally outside a federal detention center in Sheridan, Oregon. © Paul Jeffrey “Children who have been separated from their families need to be reunited with them. That’s already begun, and we’re pleased to see that, but it’s certainly not finished yet. There may be complications along the process, but it must be done and it’s urgent,” said Cardinal DiNardo at a press conference following the visit.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice-President of the USCCB, told reporters that immigration is “not just a matter of politics. It’s a matter of humanity.”

“We need an integral immigration reform,” DiNardo added. Towards that aim, he urged Catholics to engage with their representatives in the U.S. Congress. Family unity is “essential for the human person,” Gomez said, “and we are willing to do whatever we can to help make it happen.”

Earlier in June, the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Joe Vásquez, had urged the U.S. Government to end the policy of separating children from their families at the border.

“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,” reads a statement released on 13 June.

Bishop Vásquez affirmed that “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.”

USCCB President Cardinal Daniel DiNardo endorsed the statement, as did Pope Francis. Bishops across the U.S. joined in expressing their concerns, with those whose dioceses are in the areas around the US-Mexico border being the most outspoken.

Cardinal DiNardo also referred to a recent decision by the U.S. Attorney General to restrict grounds for granting asylum, excluding domestic and other types of violence perpetrated by non-state actors. This decision “elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection” and “negates decades of precedents.”

The USCCB developed a resources toolkit on the issue of family separation for those who want to assist or are interested in knowing more. It includes background information in English and Spanish, contact details for finding separated children and information on how to become a foster parent for unaccompanied children.

More information on family separation is available in the resources section of the USCCB Justice for Immigrants campaign website. It includes 5 Things You Can Do to Stop Family Separation.

Catholics in the U.S. are already helping immigrant children separated from their parents, with many offering foster homes.

The Caribbean and Latin-American Ecclesiastical Network of Migration, Asylum and Human Trafficking (CLAMOR, according to its acronym in Spanish) expressed concern regarding the practice of separation. Human rights, the organization stated, must always be respected and the best interest of the child must be the primary consideration applying to all children.

The U.S. administration declared a “zero tolerance” policy on immigration on 7 May. The policy provided for immediate criminal prosecution of people crossing the border into the U.S. irregularly – including those who may submit an asylum request.

People over 18 years of age were automatically detained. Children, however, could not be arrested and therefore were separated from their parents and family members and placed in special centers until the criminal proceedings against their parents were exhausted. More than 2,000 children were separated from their parents over the course of six weeks.

On 20 June, a presidential executive order ended this practice. However, it maintained a hardline stance on immigration and continued to provide for immediate criminal prosecution of people crossing the border irregularly. Parents and children will now be detained together while the immigration court system processes their cases.

On 27 June a federal judge ordered that separated families must be reunited with their children within 30 days and sooner if the child is under five years old.