The U.S. bishops' migration policy head, Kevin Appleby, said that the Obama administration's decision to suspend deportation of illegal immigrants who pose no threat to security is a humane advancement.
“From the Church's perspective this is a positive step,” Appleby told CNA in an Aug. 19 interview.
“We certainly would support the deportation of criminal aliens anyone who's a threat to society and we support the government's right to enforce the law,” he clarified.
“However, there are mitigating circumstances that need to be looked at in determining whether someone is a high priority or a low priority for deportation, and I think the government is acting within its rights in what it's doing with our limited resources.”
The Obama administration announced on Aug. 18 that it will review 300,000 cases of people in deportation proceedings to identify those who might qualify for relief and those who are a threat to security and should be expelled immediately.
The new policy is expected to help thousands of illegal immigrants who came to the United States as young children, graduated from local high schools and have ambitions of going to college or serving in the U.S. military.
Immigration officials said on Thursday that they would use “prosecutorial discretion” to target criminals and those who have brazenly defied immigration laws, the New York Times reported.
“It's significant because it could give relief to immigrants who've built equity in this country, who for example have family ties, whose children may have been here for 10 years or longer and have not really committed an offense other than being out of status,” Appleby said.
Although some argue that those without legal status should be deported regardless of mitigating circumstances, the U.S. bishops' immigration expert said, “the Church's view is that we need to look at all the positive factors that immigrants bring and what their family circumstances might be.”
This, he explained, will help “determine whether they should be allowed to stay, and pay a penalty, for example.”
“It's the most humane way to go – it prevents, for example, the separation of families, it helps young persons who came here with their families when they were younger and know only of America as their home.”
Appleby noted that the U.S. bishops are pleased by the move as many have been “advocating for comprehensive immigration reform for years now.”
He called the the new policy “in some part, a response to the bishops' requests of the administration to look at who they're deporting and to exercise some discretion.”
The policy expert said that it's important to determine who “is the most urgent priority and get those who are a threat to us out of the country first and not put a high priority on those who are not a threat and are actually contributing to the country.”
Although most immigration advocates are praising the administration's new policy, some still take issue with the government's secure communities program.
“It's a program that was begun under the Bush administration and expanded in the Obama administration, which allows for finger print information to be shared between the justice departments and the Department of Homeland Security,” Appleby explained.
He gave the example of an immigrant who is taken in because she had a traffic violation or some other minor offense. This person is required to have copies of her fingerprints taken and sent to the Homeland Security department. She will also have her file flagged for not being a legal resident and could face immediate deportation.
“The goals of the program we would agree with and that is to target criminal aliens, those who have committed serious offenses,” Appleby said.
However, in reality, “the results have been much different – the majority of those who have been deported under this program have either no offense or a low level offense.”
“Again, the government has the right to pursue this,” he underscored. “Our only concern is that it's really not targeting criminal aliens – it's targeting the people that the bishops think should be legalized or put on a path to citizenship.”
Appleby said that the result of the program can often be “adverse” since it lowers the trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities and also has the effect of separating parents from their U.S. citizen children.
In response, he added, the U.S. bishops “have said, 'let's look at this program again and see if there are some changes that need to be made to help the program meet the goals that have been stated for it.'”