I have been blessed to be on several committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops over the years, and this ministry and the associated tasks have always given me a greater respect and appreciation for the work of the Church all over the United States. A particular blessing of this work is that I am able to minister with and deliberate together and pray with a number of bishops with whom I studied together years ago in Rome, while living at the North American College. One of these agencies of which I am speaking, of the Bishops’ Conference, is that of CLINIC: the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. I was just reappointed to a second three-year term as chair of CLINIC by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I wrote about the work of CLINIC in our paper last fall. CLINIC, together with its 250 or so affiliates, has worked for years to help our priests, religious and parish staff members to obtain their legal status in the various forms of visas and permits to live and work and minister here legally in the United States. CLINIC also, for many years, helps to assist families who are eligible for legal status, to work through the convoluted maze and forms of the legal system, so that as they so much wish, they can come out of the “shadows” and live as productive and contributing members of the United States.
The Bishops’ Conference also has other agencies, such as “Migration Refugee Services – MRS” that has worked with all administrations in the past to help resettle victims of war and persecution. CLINIC and Migration and Refugee Services work together with the Bishops Committee on Migration, currently headed by Bishop Joe Vasquez of Houston, Texas. In these days of much confusion regarding “executive orders,” I would also like to share the reality of MRS and Catholic Charities to demonstrate clearly that any refugees are, and have been for many years, thoroughly vetted before they come to us. I thank both Tita Smith, of Catholic Charities here in Orange, and Heather Reynolds of Catholic Charities in Fort Worth for their leadership in this important area. I would refer to the following from both of these leaders:
“For decades, the United States of America has offered refuge for people who are in danger of persecution for various reasons in their countries of origin or who actually suffered persecution in their own countries. Always with an awareness that the USA must itself be protected and remain a safe place for refugees, our government has put many safeguards and layers of screening in placed for those seeking protection. After many years of experience with refugees and asylees seeking entry into the USA, now at least seven layers of eligibility decisions must review, vet, and screen those seeking to be admitted to the USA for humanitarian reasons. The website www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees-asylum details this lengthy and extremely detailed process already in place for the purpose of protecting the United States and her citizens, as well as the refugees. There is an additional section of review in use today, which calls for enhanced screening of refugee applicants from countries like Syria, where terrorism and threats of terrorism exist. Throughout the entire U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), those applying to be refugees are put through intensive biometric (fingerprint, photograph, signature) and biographic security checks. At each of the seven layers of processing, these checks are imposed and continually enhanced and reviewed to be sure particular populations that may pose threats, are scrutinized repeatedly and in detail.”
I know that the above is a bit lengthy, but this is to demonstrate that concern for security has been a part of the same picture of our desire for those persecuted and in danger to find a place of refuge here in the United States.
In the concerns these days about how we live our Faith in this realm, as Bishop Vazquez of Austin says, “We believe now more than ever, welcoming newcomers and refugees is an act of love and hope.”
I think of our life here in Orange County these past months that began with November with “El Dia del Los Muertos” and ended recently with the celebrations of Lunar New Year. Where would we be without all of these immigrants and refugees who brought their families and cultures to live here in the United States? I think particularly of all of our Vietnamese families, who as refugees since 1975, have helped to make Orange County a place where life, and faith and community flourishes. Where would we be without all of them. Orange County would not be a place with so many vibrant communities dedicated to the common good, as we are today.
I think as well of the relationships that I have been able to build with Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi and Dr. Mustafa Umar here in the Muslim communities in Garden Grove and Costa Mesa, and how we have worked together in the face of violence.
I also remember the history of my own Irish ancestors, who like many of the Irish, were rejected by the Nativist, “Know Nothing” and other prejudicial and xenophobic movements of the day. In the present day, sadly, those clouds are once more making their presence felt. We have to be a light of reason and dialogue and clarity in these days in response to what Archbishop Chaput calls the “human damage” that has resulted – so that those above particular movements do not take root again, as they are never far from the surface here in the United States.
Reflecting on the “four marks” of the Church – one, holy, Catholic and apostolic- the mark of Catholic teaches us again and again that we are Catholic (Universal) first and foremost. As Pope Francis recently said: “Jesus Christ is always waiting to be recognized in migrants and refugees, in displaced persons and exiles.”