The 2014 National Migration Conference (NMC), held in Washington, D.C., is about to come to a close on Thursday, July 10. The event, which clearly highlights the partnership between the Catholic Church in the United States and the U.S. government on the issue of aid for immigrants, is occurring this year at a time when the U.S. is being flooded with thousands of illegal immigrant children and teens. It is also a time when the U.S. Catholic bishops have called upon the Obama administration and Congress to protect the unaccompanied young illegals crossing the U.S. border.
The conference, hosted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS), the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLIN), and Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA), has been focused on advancing “the life and dignity of the human person in our work with immigrants, migrants, refugees, unaccompanied migrant children, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable people on the move.”
Though the conference’s program offers workshops that are undoubtedly helpful to those assisting legal immigrants to the United States, what is missing is a clear differentiation between “legal” and “illegal” immigration. In fact, in reading the program, one gets the impression that every immigrant – legal or not – could also be a “refugee.” The lack of boundaries between the terms seems a carry-over from the lack of enforcement of the boundaries of the United States, which is the crux of the current crisis at the border.
The program describes a conference that offers both a teaching component – sharing and applying Catholic social teaching on migration – and one for advocacy in which participants are prepared and organized “to carry the message on these migration issues both to Congress in Washington, D.C., and to constituencies and political leaders in their own communities.”
As Breitbart News reported Tuesday, Eskinder Negash, director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), a scheduled speaker during the conference, used the words of Pope Francis, i.e., “Jesus was a refugee,” and added, “that’s a very good reminder to all of us.”
CNSNews.com reported that Negash told conference participants that people working with refugees “can only be successful and have a long impact on people when we actually start seeing ourselves [as] the people we want to serve.”
Negash added that his agency, with its $912 million budget, usually manages the cases of about 70,000 people per year. Now, however, ORR is in the public eye due to the influx of thousands of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) flooding across the U.S. border from Mexico. As a result of this surge of young illegal immigrants, President Obama has asked Congress for an additional $2 billion of taxpayer funds for ORR’s UAC program.
Americans, Negash said, should not be concerned with the taxpayer funding and the massive flooding of illegal immigrants.
Instead, Negash, who fled his native Ethiopia for Sudan in 1980 after a Soviet-backed military coup, said he believes “…it’s very, very important we do that self-examination, and do it quickly, and see ourselves with the people we want to serve.”
The conference program’s welcome letter to over 800 participants presents its overall theme:
We have gathered ourselves at an important and perplexing time in our nation’s history. Earlier this month we celebrated the birth of our nation of immigrants. Yet, ironically, each day brings news of increasingly punitive measures being enacted in legislatures and jurisdictions across the country that show the ugly side of the immigration debate. Families are being torn apart because of the failure of our federal government to enact immigration laws that reflect our nation’s generous tradition and current needs…
Invoking Pope Francis’s visits to the island of Lampedusa in which he mourned the loss of life of the refugees, the letter asserts, “…we must continue to welcome our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters.”
A letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, presented in the conference program, states, “His Holiness trusts that the deliberations of the Conference will contribute to an ever more effective pastoral care of immigrants and to the enactment of wise and just social policies respectful of their dignity and rights.”
Making his comments prior to the start of the conference, Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, stated the Catholic community “will continue to push” lawmakers to pass immigration reform legislation this year, regardless of political commentary that Congress is unlikely to act this year.
“Our mission as Church is to defend the rights of the migrant no matter what the political situation or polls may dictate,” Elizondo said. “We must continue to push our lawmakers on both sides to act on this important national issue, as our fellow human beings continue to suffer under this broken system.”