Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, N.J., issued a strong call on Wednesday for American Catholic leaders to resist the immigration stance of the Trump administration, saying “you really have to believe in inflicting cruelty on innocent people to choose to support the policies we’ve seen in recent months.”
Tobin, a Pope Francis appointee, urged Catholic and political leaders alike to get involved in the defense of immigrants.
He asked, “What if every cardinal accompanied a person who crossed our paths to a deportation hearing? Every bishop? Every mayor?”
Tobin challenged people to see immigrants as they are, and not as distorted stereotypes, saying that by doing so, “we show our face.”
His remarks came as part of a May 17 celebration of World Communications Day hosted by the Diocese of Brooklyn and its DeSales Media Group, the diocese’s communications and technology arm. (The DeSales Media Group is also a Crux sponsor.)
Tobin has long been among the most outspoken bishops on the immigration issue. He made news in March when he went along with a 59-year-old grandfather facing deportation, Catalino Guerrero, to a federal court for his hearing.
Tobin talked about the case in his keynote speech on Wednesday.
He said that his accompaniment of the man “wasn’t a conscious strategy … but praying with him and his family … and with other religious groups in New Jersey … these actions taken together provided a lens” for others to understand the events, and inspire them to action.
Because of the essentially one-party rule by Republicans at the moment, he said, “Congress and the president could pass comprehensive immigration reform if they wanted to.”
But until that happens, Tobin doesn’t want people to sit back and watch things unfold, but rather talks about a “call to faith” and how it can motivate people to act.
The day he went with Guerrero, “God’s grace broke through” for at least two reasons according to Tobin.
“It put a face on people who are frequently dehumanized … secondly, it put a face on us and the call to solidarity,” he said.
He said that day was “an act of compassion on my part,” but for some “it was an act of hope …that the Church, the body of Christ has a right to a voice in the public square…and we must claim that voice.”
Tobin said that he doesn’t believe the media should be a “punching bag” for people, but challenged them to report the news in a straight-forward fashion rather than ascribe to the fear-based idea that “if it bleeds, it leads.”
One week after his inauguration, President Donald Trump moved on his promise to restrict immigration and deport people already here without documentation. His first executive order on the subject caused chaos at airports as those attempting to enforce the order were not clear about green card holders and people with visas from the countries explicitly banned. There were also large protests against the order around the country’s airports.
The U.S. bishops were part of that quick pushback.
Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the Committee on Migration, stated: “We strongly disagree with the Executive Order’s halting refugee admissions. We believe that now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.”
After the initial order was overturned by a federal district judge, Trump signed a second Executive Order March 6 removing Iraq from the list of banned nations and changing the indefinite ban on Syrian immigration. It also specified that people from those nations with valid visas were still able to come to the U.S.
Once again a restraining order preventing the measure from taking effect was put into place, and is currently still being reviewed by the courts.
Although the intensity of the opposition to the executive orders fell out of the headlines, the U.S. bishops continued to be publicly opposed in their own press releases and interviews with the press. Some even notched up their language in describing the new atmosphere the administration has created.
For example, on Telemundo on March 19, Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago said, “I am here today to assure you that we stand with those made fearful by the hatred expressed and threats made during the past year toward immigrants and refugees.”
The other part of Trump’s vision is massive deportations of people currently in the U.S. without documentation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was “newly emboldened, newly empowered” according to the New York Times by Trump’s removal of the rules under Obama keeping them focused only on dangerous criminals.
The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said the president wanted to “take the shackles off” the agents, and that seems to have cleared the path for ICE to go after anyone suspected of being in the country illegally regardless of their lack of criminal history, age, health or family circumstances.
The NYT reported in February that during the dramatic ICE arrest raids ICE even bystanders are being arrested and are known as “collateral” arrests.
At a Vatican sponsored conference in California earlier this year, Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez stated bluntly, “They’re playing with people’s emotions and toying with their lives and futures, and that is not right.”