Specifically, Seitz expressed concerns with three sections of the bill that he said would “effectively mandate rushed proceedings for most people seeking protection, severely limiting due process and access to asylum,” “heighten the credible fear standard, making it even more difficult than it already is under current law for those with bona fide asylum claims to pursue relief in the United States,” and “would establish an expulsion authority akin to what was used under Title 42, inevitably producing the same opportunity for harmful, arbitrary, and counterproductive treatment of vulnerable persons.”
Apart from those objections, Seitz voiced support for several “positive provisions” in the bill, including “increased opportunities for family reunification and employment-based immigration, expanded access to work authorization for newcomers, and ensuring vulnerable children have assistance navigating their immigration proceedings.”
Consistent with the bishops’ objection to House efforts in December to make additional aid to Ukraine contingent on more restrictive border policies, Seitz said that “attempting to resolve complex migration-related challenges that have festered for decades in the time-sensitive context of an emergency funding bill is not conducive to prudent policymaking.”
“We will always commend good-faith bipartisan cooperation to address the challenges confronting our nation, and we cannot achieve the necessary reform of our immigration system without authentic bipartisanship,” Seitz said. “Nevertheless, we respectfully urge you to reject provisions in the Senate’s version of H.R. 815 that further restrict access to asylum, curtail due process for noncitizens, and create authorities inconsistent with the United States’ obligations under international law.”
Copies of Seitz’s letter were sent to all U.S. senators as well as House Speaker Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. The letter concluded by stating that the U.S. bishops “remain committed” to helping Congress find a “transparent, well-informed, bicameral, and truly bipartisan approach” to addressing the border crisis.
Fort Worth, Tucson bishops also raise objections
Seitz was not the only bishop to raise concerns about the Senate border deal.
Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth, Texas, told CNA that the Senate’s border deal is “very much lacking” measures to combat the growing problem of human trafficking at the border.
Olson has previously sounded the alarm that an underreported aspect of the border controversy is the rise of human trafficking and sexual exploitation by criminal elements. He has said that cartels and traffickers use Fort Worth as one of their hubs to traffic humans and drugs to different parts of the country.
Those who live near the border “are in a tough situation,” Olson said. Though the Church is called to help all those in need, Olson warned that “naive” policies that encourage unrestricted immigration also encourage more trafficking and crime. The situation is made worse, Olson added, when the federal government is not “doing its part in maintaining a legitimate border.”
“All of this is very diabolical and unless we really see this as a multinational problem and really hold those who are perpetrating this in both supply and demand accountable, it’s going to eat us alive,” he said. “As a people of prayer, who are rooted in justice and charity, we have to humbly recognize that this is a complicated issue that cannot be solved overnight and it cannot be solved without looking at the legitimate role and the legitimate function of a national border.”
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Olson noted that he is not “promoting a naive view that we have endless resources and that somehow everybody who’s coming to the border is either de facto our enemy or de facto our friends.”
“The just rule of law is required to promote true justice and also true charity because there are realistic limits to human resources and unless we address this issue in a measured and ordered way, in light of these other issues as well, we’re not going to be able to take care of the poor and the vulnerable who are already here, and we see that happening in many of our larger cities.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Edward Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona, whose diocese includes 372 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, told CNA on Monday that he “cannot agree with or endorse provisions that could unjustly undermine due process for those seeking humanitarian protection.”
“I echo the much-repeated refrain that our immigration system is broken, and I welcome all efforts at improvement. However, I am not without substantial concerns when studying the proposed bipartisan immigration legislation currently under review,” Weisenburger said, adding that some of the bill’s provisions would result in migrants “facing extreme violence or even death if forced to return to their home of origin.”
“I likewise am deeply concerned,” Weisenburger went on, “that establishing almost impossible standards for those legitimately applying for asylum will have the unintended consequence of large numbers of those who are vulnerable or in grave crisis turning instead to smugglers, human traffickers, gangs, and other criminal elements.”
Weisenburger said that diocesan ministries, such as Catholic Community Services and the Kino Border Initiative, “routinely see how anxious these criminals are to prey upon the weakest — oftentimes women and children.”