The U.S. Catholic Church is observing National Migration Week this week. The observance is an opportunity for people of faith to reflect on the challenges confronting migrants. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Promoting a Church and a World for All.”
National Migration Week has become a somewhat somber observance, as the U.S. government has taken a hard line on refugees and immigrants in recent years. The United States historically led the world in refugee resettlement, admitting more refugees each year than all other countries combined. After 53,700 refugees resettled here in fiscal 2017 (Oct. 1, 2016, to Sept. 30, 2017), a cap for refugees was set at 45,000 in fiscal 2018 and 30,000 for fiscal 2019, according to a Pew Research Center study.
The picture only becomes bleaker in 2020.
In the 2020 fiscal year (which started Oct. 1, 2019), the United States will cap the number of refugees admitted to 18,000. “This would be the lowest number of refugees resettled by the United States in a single year since 1980, when Congress created the nation’s refugee resettlement program,” according to Pew.
While the Trump administration has cut back on refugee admissions, the number of refugees worldwide has reached the highest levels since World War II, Pew reported in October.
Another challenge facing refugee resettlement is President Trump’s executive order 13888, issued on Sept. 26, 2019. The executive order requires consent from state and local governments for federal resettlement of refugees. When the order was issued, states were given 90 days to provide written consent. The deadline date, curiously, was Christmas Day.
In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers submitted his written consent on Dec. 18 to allow refugee resettlement to continue.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who sponsor National Migration Week, has voiced opposition to Trump’s executive order, if only through their Committee on Migration.
“We also have deep concerns about the forthcoming executive order permitting state and city officials to turn away refugees from their communities,” wrote Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, on Sept. 27.
In a much stronger show of concern and solidarity, the Lutheran and Catholic bishops of Minnesota co-wrote an open letter in support of refugee resettlement. This letter was published Dec. 23 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
“We fear the executive order will create further hardship for refugees by delaying the resolution of their cases, dividing extended families and placing additional strains on the resettlement system,” the bishops wrote. “We foresee a host of practical problems that would arise if states and municipalities were given a veto over refugee resettlement.”
The Minnesota church leaders concluded their statement by saying that the cap on refugees and the executive order “lack the mercy, compassion and justice that are not only called for by the Gospel, but that also should be expected from a strong and historically diverse nation.”
Minnesota’s church leaders should be praised for their unified moral voice on this issue. It should spur other individual bishops and state bishops’ conferences to speak out against the growing disdain for welcoming the stranger.
As hostilities escalate in the Middle East, so too may the world’s refugee population. Now is not the time to turn our backs on our brothers and sisters caught in geopolitical chaos. Instead, as the National Migration Week theme hints, it’s time to promote a church and a world for all.