NEW YORK – Following the announcement last Saturday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the United States would no longer participate in the development of a Global Compact on Migration, U.S. Catholic bishops and migration experts denounced the decision and urged the Trump administration to reconsider its position.
The Compact was an outcome goal of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, which the U.S. participated in during a United Nations summit in September 2016.
“We simply cannot in good faith support a process that could undermine the sovereign right of the United States to enforce our immigration laws and secure our borders,” said Tillerson.
In response, the U.S. bishops said the decision is counterproductive to the country’s safety efforts and violates key tenets of Catholic social teaching.
Bishop Joe E. Vásquez, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on Migration, said that while the Church teaches that every country has a right to secure its own borders, “the Church has long articulated that it is the obligation of nations to assure human rights for all migrants and special protections for vulnerable migrants, such as refugees, forced migrants, victims of human trafficking, and women and children at risk.”
Archbishop Timothy Broglio, chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, said “The UN process provides an opportunity for the United States to help build international cooperation that respects such rights and protections on behalf of those seeking safety and security for their families. Participation in that process allows the U.S. to draw on our experience and influence the compact.”
In an interview with Crux, Bill O’Keefe, vice president for government relations and advocacy for Catholic Relief Services, said Catholics of all political persuasions should support the effort of the Global Compact.
“Catholics are all refugees or migrants to the United States and have had an intuitive understanding for a long time about that experience of people fleeing violence or poverty or desperation and have felt their own moral responsibility as Catholics to love their neighbor who they see as people going through the same thing as their ancestors went through,” said O’Keefe.
“That’s in part why it’s such an important issue for the Church and for the bishops,” he added.
O’Keefe said the idea for the Compact was a realization on the part of both government and humanitarian groups that the post-World War II system for dealing with migrants and refugees was no longer working.
“The system was not helping countries that were sending migrants to deal with the root causes and the system was not helping those on the move from trafficking or smugglers, and it wasn’t helping countries that were hosting migrants and refugees to deal with the influx that they faced,” he described.
In assessing the situation, O’Keefe pointed to Lebanon and Jordan as prime examples of the problem.
“Both are small countries, low-income, that took in over a million Syrians in over a couple year period and finding that their total population was 25-30% Syrian refugees, and that’s on top of the Iraqi refugees and internal migrants that they had,” said O’Keefe.
“Those countries needed help to deal with that problem. Countries in the United States and Europe didn’t want people migrating further into their own countries, so the idea was that the sovereign countries needed to come together and figure out some bigger, bolder international solution to these complex problems.”
Kevin Appleby, Senior Director of International Migration Policy at the Center for Migration Studies, told Crux that the global scale of the problem is precisely the reason the U.S. should be interested in staying involved in the process.
“The withdrawal of the U.S. government from the Global Compact hurts the best interests of the United States, which is not immune from the global forces of conflict, poverty, and climate change that drives human migration,” said Appleby.
“It is short-sighted, as these issues are not going away and will impact the U.S. throughout this century. National immigration policy cannot be fashioned without some engagement with the world community to address the root causes of migration,” he added.
Appleby also said that Catholics should be concerned with the decision, as it runs against Pope Francis’s call for a Church that is welcoming to migrants and refugees, but also because of what it means for the Church’s diplomatic efforts.
“This decision is contrary to the views of Pope Francis, who has called upon the world to rethink the global approach toward migration and migrants, who hold inherent human dignity,” said Appleby. “Catholics in the U.S. should be concerned that their government is unwilling to work with the Holy See and the global community on such an important issue.”
O’Keefe offered a similar assessment and said that despite pulling out of the Compact, the United States is not immune from the global implications of the problems that it intends to correct.
“The migration that we see all around the world, everyday, it’s a problem we’re going to have to deal with. Either we put our head in the sand and don’t participate in solutions and that leads to greater conflict, greater instability, terrorism, and eventually very expensive military on our part,” said O’Keefe. “Or, we find a way to join with others in solving these complicated problems.”