By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
It was not the first time a Catholic leader has called for changes to the nation’s immigration policies. But Saturday’s appeal by Cardinal Francis George, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was notable in that it was aimed directly at President Barack Obama and his promise of change.
“I stand with other faith leaders and all of you gathered here today and with every immigrant family in this nation to call on our government to end immigration raids and the separation of families,” George said at a Chicago church where a prayer forum was held to call for renewed debate on immigration reform. “Such reform would be a clear sign this administration is truly about change.”
The cardinal’s call came after a week in which, for the first time in office, President Obama spoke at length about immigration before a mainstream audience; and after he told members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus he will address immigration reform soon, with some (unspecified) action to come in the next couple of months.
George’s statement may be a sign that immigration advocates are stepping up the pressure on the president to follow through on his campaign promises of an immigration policy that allows for the legalization of millions of undocumented immigrants.
An end to Immigration and Customs Enforcement work-site raids — a step the president can order without having to go through Congress– has been one of the principal requests from the pro-immigrant side since Mr. Obama took office. Advocates say the raids, and subsequent deportations, are inhumane and divide families.
While he has signed executive orders on other matters –including one Friday to extend temporary protected status to Liberian immigrants— Obama has not yet taken action on the raids. The Department of Homeland Security, under secretary Janet Napolitano, has ordered reviews of many of its policies and programs, but so far no major changes have emerged from those reviews.
At Saturday’s event, the Chicago Tribune reported, Cardinal George “sought to cast the issue in moral terms, calling it ‘a matter of conscience’ and an important step to creating a more peaceful society.”
“We cannot strengthen families when people live in fear from day to day,” he said.
The event was part of the 17-city pro-immigration tour that U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D.-Ill.) is conducting to push for reform and collect testimonials from families affected by deportations. Gutierrez, who leads the Hispanic Caucus’ immigration task force, is becoming one of the more outspoken figures in the issue.
When members of the Hispanic Caucus met with the president at the White House, the Illinois representative gave Obama “more than 5,500 petitions signed by U.S. citizens appealing to their President and elected officials for immigration reform that keeps families together,” according to a statement from the Congressman’s office.
After meeting Obama, Gutierrez delivered a “mixed review” of the meeting, according to The Washington Post. “I think we have to be very careful not to oversell what was accomplished,” he said.
Gutierrez has held events in ten cities and expects to reach ten more.
“No city in America has been spared the devastating effects of our broken system,” Gutierrez said in another statement. “As a nation —as citizens— we cannot wait any longer for fair and just immigration reform. I have traveled the country and heard from parents and children, husbands and wives who are being torn apart by a system that fundamentally disregards family values.”
Cardinal George is not the first Catholic leader to call for immigration changes since Obama won last November’s presidential election.
Late last year, Arkansas Bishop Anthony B. Taylor said that he believes “being able to immigrate to another country is an ‘intrinsic human right.’” Minnesota’s Catholic leaders declared Jan. 4 “Immigration Sunday,” and used the occasion to “share our hope for: newcomers journeying in search of greater opportunities for themselves and their families; communities enriched by the many contributions of newcomers; and advocates working for justice and reform.”
The U.S. Conference of Bishops that George presides over has long supported the legalization of undocumented immigrants. In January, a Vatican news service issued a report praising the American bishops for their opposition to “the ineffectiveness and violence” of U.S. immigration measures.
On Friday, according to The Associated Press, Cardinal George said the Catholic church doesn’t approve of people breaking the law, but it believes that everyone deserves respect.
He said stopping raids would show the administration’s sincerity to voters in the immigrant community.
“To separate families, wives from husbands, children from parents, is to diminish what God has joined.”