The head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration denounced President Joe Biden’s latest executive action on immigration, which will prevent adult migrants from entering the United States through the southern border when attempted illegal border crossings surge.

In a June 4 statement, El Paso, Texas, Bishop Mark Seitz said the referenced committee is “deeply disturbed” by the administration’s actions and called them a “disregard for fundamental humanitarian protections and U.S. asylum law.”

“There is a crisis of conscience at the U.S.-Mexico border,” Seitz declared. “When vulnerable families seeking safety and the means for a dignified life are labeled ‘invaders’ or ‘illegals,’ terms that mask their humanity, we have strayed from the path of righteousness, succumbed to our fear of the ‘other,’ and forsaken the values upon which our nation was founded.”

Biden’s order, which went into effect on Wednesday morning, shuts down the entry of most asylum seekers coming into the country through the southern border when there is a surge in unlawful crossings. The temporary border closures apply to asylum seekers who enter the country unlawfully and subsequently request asylum but do not apply to asylum seekers who enter through an established lawful process.

The border closures kick in after the number of attempted illegal crossings reaches an average of 2,500 over the course of a seven-day period. When the number of encounters drops down to an average of 1,500 over a seven-day period, asylum seekers who enter the country unlawfully will again be permitted to claim asylum and remain in the country while their asylum status is pending.

In his statement, Seitz accused Biden of “imposing arbitrary limits on asylum access and curtailing due process.” He added that the measures “will only empower and embolden those who seek to exploit the most vulnerable” and “will not sustainably reduce the increased levels of forced migration seen worldwide.”

“As defenders of human life and dignity, which we hold sacred and inviolable from the moment of conception, we cannot accept unjust conditions on the right to migrate for those fleeing life-threatening situations,” the bishop continued.

Seitz said he and his colleagues are not opposed to “a country’s right and responsibility to maintain its borders and regulate immigration in furtherance of the common good” but encouraged Biden “to reverse course and recommit his administration to policies that respect the human life and dignity of migrants, both within and beyond our borders.”

Differing viewpoints

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However, not all Catholics are in agreement with the bishop’s characterization of the situation. Andrew Arthur, a Catholic, former immigration judge, and current fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, told CNA he “must respectfully disagree” with Seitz.

Arthur told CNA that virtually every country provides humanitarian protection to refugees, and “there is no reason that any migrant coming to the Southwest border, with the exception of Mexican nationals (who file few asylum claims), need to enter the United States illegally to seek protection.”

“Few of those migrants’ asylum claims are ultimately granted, but nearly all are allowed to live and work here during the years that it takes those claims to wend their way through the court system,” Arthur said. “That places them in direct competition for work and wages with the most needy Americans, the poor and those who have not had the benefit of a quality education in failing schools.”

The executive order to prevent unlawful migrant crossings comes at a time when Biden has faced criticism for the record number of illegal border crossings during his presidency. There have been about 2 million illegal border crossings every year since Biden took office.

In a news conference on June 4, the president said “this action will help us gain control of our border and restore order into the process.” He criticized Republicans who did not support a proposed border bill in February and accused them of playing politics with border security instead of trying to fix the problem.

Karoline Leavitt, the press secretary for former President Donald Trump’s campaign, issued a statement that accused Biden of being weak on border security, saying: “The border invasion and migrant crime will not stop until Crooked Joe Biden is deported from the White House.”

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also announced it will file a lawsuit against the Biden administration over the matter.

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