Forum – Winter 2017: Statements of Cardinal Cupich and Cardinal Tobin on the Executive Order on Refugees and Migrants

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Statement of Cardinal Cupich

January 29, 2017

This weekend proved to be a dark moment in U.S. history. The executive order to turn away refugees and to close our nation to those, particularly Muslims, fleeing violence, oppression and persecution is contrary to both Catholic and American values.  Have we not repeated the disastrous decisions of those in the past who turned away other people fleeing violence, leaving certain ethnicities and religions marginalized and excluded? We Catholics know that history well, for, like others, we have been on the other side of such decisions.

These actions impose a sweeping and immediate halt on migrants and refugees from several countries, people who are suffering, fleeing for their lives. Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States. They have left people holding valid visas and other proper documents detained in our airports, sent back to the places some were fleeing or not allowed to board planes headed here. Only at the eleventh hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.

We are told this is not the “Muslim ban” that had been proposed during the presidential campaign, but these actions focus on Muslim-majority countries. They make an exception for Christians and non-Muslim minorities, but not for Muslims refugees fleeing for their lives. Ironically, this ban does not include the home country of 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers. Yet, people from Iraq, even those who assisted our military in a destructive war, are excluded.

The United States has a long history of welcoming refugees who are fleeing for their lives and Catholic organizations have helped to resettle many families, men, women, and children, from around the globe. Many of our priests, religious and laypeople have accompanied newcomers precisely to assist them in this process. Because of our history of aiding in refugee and migrant settlement for decades, we know the very lengthy and thorough vetting process they must face before they are admitted to our country. We have seen initial fear turn into a generous willingness of local communities to accept and integrate refugees. Here in Chicago generations of migrants have found a new home. We are better for it.

The world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values. These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life. They lower our estimation in the eyes of the many peoples who want to know America as a defender of human rights and religious liberty, not a nation that targets religious populations and then shuts its doors on them.

It is time to put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity. “If we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.” Pope Francis issued these challenging words to Congress in 2015, and followed with a warning that should haunt us as we come to terms with the events of the weekend: “The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”

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Statement of Cardinal Tobin

January 27, 2017

I understand the desire for every American to be assured of safe borders and freedom from terrorism.  The federal government should continue a prudent policy aimed at protecting citizens.

I also understand and heed the call of God, who through Moses told the people of Israel: “You shall not oppress an alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Ex 23:9).  Jesus asks His disciples to go further, calling on us to recognize Him in the stranger: “Whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me” (Mt. 25:40).

Wednesday’s Executive Actions do not show the United States to be an open and welcoming nation.  They are the opposite of what it means to be an American.

Closing borders and building walls are not rational acts.  Mass detentions and wholesale deportation benefit no one; such inhuman policies destroy families and communities.

In fact, threatening the so-called “sanctuary cities” with the withdrawal of federal funding for vital services such as healthcare, education and transportation will not reduce immigration.  It only will harm all good people in those communities.

I am the grandson of immigrants and was raised in a multicultural neighborhood in southwest Detroit.  Throughout my life as a priest and bishop in the United States, I have lived and worked in communities that were enriched by people of many nationalities, languages and faiths.  Those communities were strong, hard-working, law-abiding, and filled with affection for this nation and its people.

Here in Newark, we are in the final steps of preparing to welcome 51 refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This is only the latest group of people whom Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese has helped to resettle during the past 40 years.  This current group of refugees has waited years for this moment and already has been cleared by the federal government.

They have complied with all of the stringent requirements of a vetting process that is coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security.  Catholic Charities, assisted by parishes and parishioners of the Archdiocese, will help them establish homes, jobs and new lives so that they can contribute positively to life in northern New Jersey.  When this group is settled, we hope to welcome others.

This nation has a long and rich history of welcoming those who have sought refuge because of oppression or fear of death.  The Acadians, French, Irish, Germans, Italians, Poles, Hungarians, Jews and Vietnamese are just a few of the many groups over the past 260 years whom we have welcomed and helped to find a better, safer life for themselves and their children in America.

Even when such groups were met by irrational fear, prejudice and persecution, the signature benevolence of the United States of American eventually triumphed.

That confident kindness is what has made, and will continue to make, America great.

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