WASHINGTON (CNS) – Catholic immigration advocates raised concerns about a proposal from President Donald Trump that would reshape U.S. immigration policy to incorporate a “merit-based” system that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country.
Advocates’ concerns about the Trump plan, announced May 16 at the White House, focused on family unification, strengthening the asylum system and the importance of welcoming people of diverse economic backgrounds and skills.
Saying they appreciate Trump’s willingness to address “problems in our immigration system,” two U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops leaders said May 17 they opposed plans that “seek to curtail family-based immigration and create a largely ‘merit-based’ immigration system.”
“Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history and our immigration system,” Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, USCCB president, and Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishop’s Committee on Migration, said in a statement.
They said they were troubled that the president’s proposal failed to address young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, known as “Dreamers,” as well as Temporary Protected Status holders from several troubled countries.
Cardinal DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez said they recognized the importance of ensuring secure borders and safety, but they cautioned that neither will be achieved “by heightening human misery and restricting access to lawful protection in an attempt to deter vulnerable asylum-seeking families and children.”
They also called for the U.S. to address the causes of migration and to improve operation of immigration courts that hear asylum cases, expanding alternatives to detention and eliminating criminal networks.
Kevin Appleby, a longtime immigration advocate who formerly worked at the USCCB, told Catholic News Service that there was little in the president’s plan “from a Catholic perspective to support.”
“Substantively, it cuts against Catholic teaching. It weakens immigrant families by reducing family visas, and it removes asylum protection for unaccompanied children and families at the border,” Appleby said.
“The administration could increase merit-based visas without sacrificing other parts of the legal immigration system,” he said. “This is really also an attack on families. They want to remove the ability of family members moving forward.”
On social media, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network offered a brief comment, posting that “family reunification has historically been the principle goal – and strength – of U.S. immigration law and policy. It should continue to be the basis of any revision of immigration law.”
Trump’s plan would require broad changes in current law. Congressional observers expect it to see some revisions as it is discussed in Congress.
The proposal is unlikely to pass the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters May 16 that young immigrants were omitted from the plan because the issue was considered too divisive.