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Top stories selected throughout each day from Catholic News Service. Catholic News Service provides news from the U.S., Rome and around the world in both English and Spanish, in written coverage, images and video reporting.

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giorgos Moutafis, Reuters

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- News that officials in the Trump administration are considering "zeroing out" the number of refugees accepted by the United States brought an immediate outcry from the chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee an...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Giorgos Moutafis, Reuters

By Julie Asher

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- News that officials in the Trump administration are considering "zeroing out" the number of refugees accepted by the United States brought an immediate outcry from the chairman of the U.S. bishops' migration committee and leaders of Catholic and other faith-based agencies that resettle refugees.

They all implored the government to reject such a move.

"This recent report, if true, is disturbing and against the principles we have as a nation and a people, and has the potential to end the refugee resettlement program entirely. The world is in the midst of the greatest humanitarian displacement crisis in almost a century," said Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas. "I strongly oppose any further reductions of the refugee resettlement program."

"Offering refuge to those fleeing religious and other persecution has been a cornerstone of what has made this country great and a place of welcome," said the bishop, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Migration.

"Eliminating the refugee resettlement program leaves refugees in harm's way and keeps their families separated across continents," he added in a statement released late July 19.

Politico, a Washington-based news outlet, first reported on the possible stoppage on refugee admissions the evening of July 18. Based on information from three people it said were familiar with the plan, it said the proposal was discussed a week ago at a meeting of security officials on refugee admissions.

Since Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, the U.S. had admitted on average 95,000 refugees annually. In recent years, the U.S. has accepted between 50,000 to 75,000 refugees per year. The number was capped at 45,000 after Donald Trump became president in 2017 and was scaled back to 30,000 refugees for fiscal year 2019.

Before admission to the U.S., each refugee undergoes an extensive interviewing, screening and security clearance process.

"Every refugee resettled in the United States goes through an extensive vetting process that often takes 18 months to two years to complete," Bishop Vasquez noted in his statement. "(The process) incorporates live interviews and several extensive checks by multiple departments within the government. Many of these refugees have familial ties here and quickly begin working to rebuild their lives and enrich their communities."

A U.S. State Department report said that in fiscal year 2019, the top 10 countries of origin for refugees admitted into the U.S. to be resettled were: Congo, Myanmar, Ukraine, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Burundi and Colombia.

Setting caps on the number of refugees to be accepted from five global regions is done at the beginning of each fiscal year by the president, in consultation with Congress. The deadline for this consultation is Sept. 30, according to Jen Smyers, director of policy and advocacy for Church World Service. She told reporters during a phone briefing midday July 19 that the U.S. secretary of state "makes the final decision."

In its story, Politico said the State Department "declined to discuss the possible cap."

Other refugee advocates on the briefing with reporters included Michael Breen, a former Army officer, who is president and CEO of Human Rights First. He called it a "misguided and terrible" proposal.

He noted that resettlement of refugees is vital to the "national security and stability" of the U.S., makes this country a world leader and also has been an essential foreign policy tool, allowing into this country, among others, dissidents fleeing their own governments, those persecuted for their religion and Iraqis who have helped the armed forces as translators.

Anne Richard, a former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration in the Obama administration, who is now at Georgetown University, told reporters that "it's pretty clear the Trump administration is trying to drive the U.S. refugee program into the ground."

"Zeroing it out" will end public-private partnerships that work with refugees and get them started on a new life in this country and all related services, she said. People will lose their jobs in this field, the institutional memory as to how these resettlement programs work "will disappear" and the U.S. "will be turning its back on this great need," Richard added.

"The last couple of years have been historically low in terms of refugee resettlement here in the U.S.," said Bill Canny, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services. "Of the millions of refugees around the world, only about 1% will be resettled, that number will decrease and leave more people vulnerable if these actions come to fruition."

"I would implore the decision-makers to reconsider these devastating cuts," Canny said July 19 in remarks to Catholic News Service. "Our military relies on the work of interpreters while in the field and those interpreters are putting their lives and their families lives on the line. To not open our arms to them when they have done so for us, would go against who we are as a nation."

In a statement late July 18, Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said: "It is horrifying to think that, by the stroke of a pen, the president can make a decision that will destroy a legacy of welcome that has been centuries in the making."

LIRS and MRS are two of nine voluntary agencies currently charged with refugee resettlement in the U.S.

"LIRS has been doing this work for 80 years. We have seen firsthand the life-changing impact of this crucial program," Vignarajah added. She herself is a former refugee, having come to the U.S. with her family from Sri Lanka when she was 9 months old.

"Setting the U.S. refugee ceiling at zero would be an egregious assault on fundamental American values. And quite frankly, the humanitarian implications of this decision would be enough to nullify our global reputation as leaders of the free world," Vignarajah said. "(Trump) simply cannot afford to move forward with this proposal -- not if he seeks ongoing support from people of faith all across the United States."

Refugee Council USA, a coalition of organizations committed to refugee resettlement and protection which includes MRS and LIRS, said July 18 it was "appalled" by the proposal to "zero out" the refugee number.

"The administration has all but confirmed that our country will reach the 30,000 refugee admission goal for FY2019," Canny, of MRS, said in a statement released by the council, which he chairs. "We have been relieved by that important sign of the program getting back on track after a couple of extremely difficult years. In light of that hopeful sign, reports of further reducing the refugee goal to zero make no sense at all."

He added: "There continue to be refugees who need the protection that resettlement provides, including refugees who are fleeing religious persecution. Faith based communities and volunteers across the U.S. have the desire, capacity and resources to return to at least our historically normal level of welcoming refugees."

Bishop Vasquez ended his statement referring to Pope Francis' words that "we must work for 'globalization of solidarity' with refugees, not a globalization of indifference."

"Rather than ending the program, we should work instead to restore the program to its historic norms of an annual resettlement goal of 95,000," the bishop added.

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Follow Asher on Twitter: @jlasher

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: July 19, 2019, 10:24 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Bishop, Catholic Spirit)

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced July 19 sanctions from the Vatican -- including taking away the faculties of celebrating Mass -- against a former West Virginia bishop who stepped down last year under a c...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tim Bishop, Catholic Spirit)

By Rhina Guidos

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston announced July 19 sanctions from the Vatican -- including taking away the faculties of celebrating Mass -- against a former West Virginia bishop who stepped down last year under a cloud of allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

In a posting on its website, https://dwc.org, the diocese said that retired Bishop Michael J. Bransfield can no longer reside in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, nor participate "anywhere in any public celebration of the liturgy" and has an obligation to make amends for "some of the harm he caused."

The brief statement said the disciplinary measures were made based on the findings of an investigation but did not release details.

"The Holy See expresses its sincere concern for the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston," the statement said.

The statement, released under the letterhead of the Apostolic Nunciature of the United States of America, references a "preliminary investigation into allegations of sexual harassment of adults and of financial improprieties" by Bishop Bransfield.

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: July 19, 2019, 8:38 pm

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few hundred Catholic activists, including dozens of women religious, gathered outside at the foot of the U.S. Capitol July 18 urging politicians to stop its "inhumane treatment" of immigrant children at the border and remindi...

IMAGE: CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn

By Carol Zimmermann

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A few hundred Catholic activists, including dozens of women religious, gathered outside at the foot of the U.S. Capitol July 18 urging politicians to stop its "inhumane treatment" of immigrant children at the border and reminding people of faith to take a stronger stand against current U.S. border policies.

The rally, on a sweltering Washington morning, included times of prayer, a few songs and several speeches. At one point, someone in the crowd started chanting, "Where are the bishops?" which was echoed by many participants, but later in the program, speakers read excerpts from messages that had been sent to the group from several U.S. bishops, thanking them for participating and urging them to continue to speak up about the border crisis.

A message from Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego said in part: "We stand in a moment when our government has weaponized fear -- the fear being sown within our nation as a whole that refugees and immigrants, who have been America's historic lifeblood, have now become the enemy; and the even more reprehensible fear being unleashed upon the hearts and souls of immigrant mothers and fathers that they will be separated from their children purely as an act of intimidation."

Many of the speakers at the "Catholic Day of Action for Immigrant Children," organized by the groups Faith in Public Life and Faith in Action, were primarily women religious who stressed the need to end the current practice of placing children in detention centers at the border and emphasized that the need to start a new wave of protest against these policies should be viewed as a pro-life stance.

Sister Carol Zinn, a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia, and executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, told the group: "Catholic sisters have a long history with immigrant communities. We have seen the pain, suffering, fear and trauma firsthand. In recent months, as the humanitarian crisis has escalated, we have joined the tens of thousands who are outraged at the horrific situation at our southern border."

She pointed out that women religious have been ministering to those in need and donated money to support those seeking safety, freedom, security and a better life for their families. "We are here today because of our faith. The Gospel commands, and the values of our homeland demand, that we act," she added.

The message of urgency was essentially speaking to the choir because these activists, who showed their support with rounds of "Amens!" were clearly not new to this issue and many attended the rally particularly for its finale: when the arrests of 70 people for civil disobedience took place at the adjacent Russell Senate Office Building.

Those arrested were charged with "incommoding, crowding, and obstructing" and had to each pay a $50 fine or request a court date. They were released that afternoon.

During the morning action, a young mother from El Salvador held her baby as she addressed the crowd in Spanish. In remarks, which were translated, she thanked the group for their efforts to help immigrants and said she is seeking sanctuary, but she is afraid she will be separated from her baby.

As groups of tourists walked by and men and women in business attire headed toward Capitol Hill, they couldn't help but see the signs held aloft with messages such as "Franciscans for Justice," "Let Children Be with their Parents" and "Catholics for Families: Together and Free" as well as placards with images of children who have died in U.S. custody at the border.

Mercy Sister Patricia Murphy, a 90-year-old from Chicago, who came to the event to take part in the civil disobedience, told Catholic News Service right before the rally that she "couldn't not be here."

The sister wore a purple shirt identifying her as a Sister of Mercy, a pin that said: "You are my Neighbor" and carried a placard with the face of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, an 8-year-old from Guatemala who died from illness while in U.S. immigration custody after crossing the border with his father.

Sister Patricia said this would be her sixth arrest and she hoped the action would move others to do more. For the past 12 years, she has kept vigil, praying and protesting outside an immigrant detention center in Chicago every Friday morning.

Prior to the civil disobedience arrests at the Russell Senate Office Building, participants continued to hold signs with their message and speak out in protest. After warnings from police that they would be arrested if they stayed in the building's rotunda, those who chose to stay recited the Hail Mary as they waited to be handcuffed and escorted out by police.

Moments before the arrests, Sister Donna Korba, a Sister of the Servants of Mary in Scranton, Pennsylvania, said her participation at the day's gathering stemmed from her life of activism including recently volunteering at the U.S.-Mexico border with other sisters last December and the 12 years she spent in Guatemala.

"There are no easy answers, but we need to look at root causes of immigration," she said, recalling that when she asked one father from Guatemala why he would make the arduous journey to the United States he told her: "Because my children are hungry."

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim

 

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Copyright © 2019 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. www.catholicnews.com. All rights reserved. Republishing or redistributing of CNS content, including by framing or similar means without prior permission, is prohibited. You may link to stories on our public site. This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. To request permission for republishing or redistributing of CNS content, please contact permissions at cns@catholicnews.com.

Posted: July 19, 2019, 4:05 pm