Philadelphia, Pa (CNA): Caught between poverty and violence in their homelands and deportation in the U.S., immigrants face a plight that cannot be ignored by Christians, said Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
He pointed to a proposal by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as particularly problematic.
“As Christians, our faith obligates us to protect migrant families,” he said Sept. 1. “The duty and the privilege of that commitment apply to all of us equally.”
“Migration is about human beings. So it has moral implications,” the archbishop added at a panel discussion on immigration in Philadelphia.
The event’s sponsors included the Philadelphia archdiocese and the World Meeting of Families, which will host Pope Francis at the end of September.
“Some in public life – notably, but not only, Donald Trump – have called for an end to birthright citizenship. This is a profoundly bad idea,” Archbishop Chaput said. “It plays on our worst fears and resentments. And it undermines one of the pillars of the American founding and national identity.”
Birthright citizenship, by which anyone born in the United States has a right to U.S. citizenship, means that “any immigrant family is only a generation away from integrating fully into our nation,” the archbishop said. It prevents the creation of “a permanent underclass” of people who are “effectively stateless.”
The archbishop acknowledged the volatile role of immigration in U.S. politics, especially ahead of the 2016 presidential elections.
“Immigration can be a tough issue,” he said. “At least one of our presidential candidates has already made the national immigration debate ugly with a great deal of belligerent bombast. His success in the polls shows that many people – including many good people – are very uneasy about the direction of our country.”
The archbishop lamented the damage done when migrants have to leave their children, and also the damage when undocumented parents can be deported away from their children. The Obama administration has carried out a record number of deportations affecting about 2.6 million people.
“This brutally affects immigrant families – especially those with children who are U.S. citizens,” Archbishop Chaput said. “Some 75,000 families with U.S. citizen children are wounded every year by deportation, with one or both parents removed from American soil. Some of these same children have been forced to follow their parents to countries they don’t know. Others have stayed in the United States without their parents.”
The Philadelphia archbishop said it is likely Pope Francis will address migrants during his U.S. visit, which includes a speech to a joint session of Congress and the celebration of the closing Mass for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Archbishop Chaput cited the Pope’s 2013 visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, a key waypoint for migrants from Africa to Europe. The Pope remembered migrants who died trying to cross the Mediterranean and spoke of the “globalization of indifference” that treats migrants as part of a “throwaway culture.”
Like Pope Francis, Pope Pius XII and Pope Benedict XVI have described the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt as a refugee and migrant situation.
“The Family of Nazareth reflects the image of God safeguarded in the heart of every human family, even if disfigured and weakened by emigration,” Pope Benedict said in 2007.
Global inequalities force the separation of families, Archbishop Chaput stressed.
“Poverty and violence in their home countries force parents to leave their children behind and earn money in foreign lands to support them. Or in some cases, parents send their children away to other countries to protect them from harm.”
He said respect for the rule of law is a key element of the immigration system. However, Congress needs to pass immigration reform that will revise and strengthen laws in favour of the family, which he called “the seed of a healthy society.”
The archbishop stressed family reunification as a cornerstone of the immigration system. Reunification should be expedited and a main goal of the refugee program. He also rejected the detention of families as “needless and inhumane,” noting that a federal court has ordered the practice to end.
Wealthy nations also have the responsibility to coordinate a response to address poverty and conflict in other countries, which he said “inevitably spill across borders.”