Bishop Vasquez: Trump moves will 'tear families apart,' harm communities

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jose Luis Gonzalez, Reuters

By Barb Fraze

WASHINGTON (CNS) — The chairman of the U.S. bishops’
Committee on Migration criticized President Donald Trump’s executive memorandum
to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it would “put
immigrant lives needlessly in harm’s way.”

Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the U.S.
bishops’ Committee on Migration, also criticized Trump’s memorandum on a surge
in immigrant detention and deportation forces, saying it would “tear
families apart and spark fear and panic in communities.”

Trump signed the two executive memorandums on national
security Jan. 25 during a visit to the Department of Homeland Security.

Earlier, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said the wall,
a cornerstone of Trump’s election campaign, would “stem the flow of drugs,
crime and illegal immigration” along the southern border. He also said
Trump’s top priority was the nation’s security.

But hours later, Bishop Vasquez issued a statement saying
that construction of the wall would “make migrants, especially vulnerable
women and children, more susceptible to traffickers and smugglers.
Additionally, the construction of such a wall destabilizes the many vibrant and
beautifully interconnected communities that live peacefully along the border.

“Instead of building walls, at this time, my brother
bishops and I will continue to follow the example of Pope Francis. We will ‘look
to build bridges between people, bridges that allow us to break down the walls
of exclusion and exploitation.'”

During a February 2016 visit to Mexico, Pope Francis
traveled to the U.S. border at Ciudad Juarez and pleaded for the plight of
immigrants. He said those who refuse to offer safe shelter and passage were
bringing about dishonor and self-destruction as their hearts hardened and they “lost
their sensitivity to pain.”

Bishop Vasquez said the bishops respected the government’s
right to control its borders and to ensure the safety of all Americans, but
said, “We do not believe that a large-scale escalation of immigrant
detention and intensive increased use of enforcement in immigrant communities
is the way to achieve those goals. Instead, we remain firm in our commitment to
comprehensive, compassionate, and common-sense reform.”

He said the new policies would “make it much more
difficult for the vulnerable to access protection in our country. Every day my
brother bishops and I witness the harmful effects of immigrant detention in our
ministries. We experience the pain of severed families that struggle to
maintain a semblance of normal family life. We see traumatized children in our
schools and in our churches. The policies announced today will only further
upend immigrant families.”

“We will continue to support and stand in solidarity
with immigrant families. We remind our communities and our nation that these
families have intrinsic value as children of God. And to all those impacted by
today’s decision, we are here to walk with you and accompany you on this
journey,” Vasquez said.

At the Jan. 25 White House briefing, Spicer reiterated that
Mexico would end up paying for construction of the wall. He said Trump would
work with Congress on finding money to pay for the construction, noting, “there
are a lot of funding mechanisms that can be used.”

Trump’s second executive memorandum also directed John F.
Kelly, secretary of homeland security, to look at how federal funding streams
can be cut for cities and states that illegally harbor immigrants. Spicer said
the so-called “sanctuary cities” create a problem for taxpayers.

“You have American people out there working” and
their tax funds are sent to places that do not enforce the law, he said.

The executive memorandums did not address the issue of DACA,
the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, nor did they discuss
emigration from the Middle East, which Spicer said would be addressed later in
the week.

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence
Act, which authorized several hundred miles of fencing along the 2,000-mile
U.S. frontier with Mexico. The Associated Press reported that legislation led
to the construction of about 700 miles of various kinds of fencing designed to
block both vehicles and pedestrians, primarily in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona
and California. It said the final sections were completed after President
Barack Obama took office in 2009.

AP reported that a 1970 treaty with Mexico requires that
structures along the border cannot disrupt the flow of rivers that define the
U.S.-Mexican border along Texas and 24 miles in Arizona.

The PICO National Network, the largest network of
congregations and faith-based groups in the country, including Catholics,
challenged the executive memorandum on sanctuary cities.

“Retaliating against local communities because they
refuse to follow immoral policies is part of an emerging pattern of President
Trump of not only bullying people who dare to disagree with him, but isolating
and further marginalizing people who are different than him,” said Eddie
Carmona, campaign director for PICO National Network’s LA RED campaign. “Such
behavior is inconsistent with the long-held notion that America was a place of
opportunity for all.”

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service and
executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying organization,
called the presidential orders “antithetical to our faith.”

“When Nuns on the Bus visited the U.S.-Mexico border in
2014, we walked along the wall and listened to the stories of communities that
have been torn apart for decades. That is the reality experienced by border
communities: The wall is there and it affects the daily life and commerce of
the people.

“Federal appropriations for border security have grown
to $3.8 billion in FY2015, from $263 million in FY1990, and fencing exists for
hundreds of miles along our southern border,” she said in a statement.

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