Cardinal Cupich, local leaders respond to executive order on refugees and migrants

By Joyce Duriga
Sunday, January 29, 2017

“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,” Cardinal Cupich said in a statement released to media Jan. 29.

“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,” the statement read.

Cardinal Cupich added his voice to numerous Catholic leaders who spoke out against President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive memorandum intended, he explained, to restrict the entry of terrorists coming to the United States. That action left already-approved refugees and immigrants stranded at U.S. airports including O’Hare International and led the Department of Homeland Security to rule that green-card holders — lawful permanent U.S. residents — be allowed into the country.

“Their design and implementation have been rushed, chaotic, cruel and oblivious to the realities that will produce enduring security for the United States,” Cardinal Cupich said. “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 11th hour did a federal judge intervene to suspend this unjust action.” (Read his full statement)

“The Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” which suspends the entire U.S. refugee resettlement program for 120 days, bans entry from all citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries — Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia — for 90 days. It also establishes a religious criteria for refugees, proposing to give priority to religious minorities over others who may have equally compelling refugee claims.

Implementation of the restrictions was suspended by an order from U.S. District Court Judge James Robart on Feb. 3. A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was to hear arguments on the stay Feb. 7

Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Chicago has been resettling refugees for over 40 years. The refugees come from all over the world and are from various faiths. Most recent refugees have been coming from the Middle East — especially Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — along with some African countries.

“This just comes as a shock especially knowing how vetted those refugees are, at least the ones we work with,” said Msgr. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Chicago, of the executive action. “Many times the refugees who come have been vetted for several years by the government in different capacities.”

In some cases they are people who have helped U.S. troops in their home countries by working as translators and in other capacities. “Whatever they did put them and their family in peril. Usually over time they are invited to come into the United States,” Boland said.

Catholic Charities works with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Department of Homeland Security to identify refugees to come to Chicago. Staff meets them at the airport and gets them settled in furnished apartments.

“The first maybe four months is a pretty intense time period of working with the family to help them adjust to the United States. Our goal is always to help them become as self-sufficient as possible,” Boland said. “We’re there to try and help them in this crisis period in their life, to make them feel welcomed. What we’re doing is witnessing our faith.”

When government actions like these come out the refugees worry about their status here, Boland said.

“They are very oftentimes afraid,” he said. “They don’t really understand it and many times they’ve been in camps for years waiting to come here. The idea oftentimes is that they are very much afraid of authority and government because of how it’s failed them in their own country.”

Catholic Charities staff members try to allay any fears.

“We really try to be upbeat and encourage them and try to tell them that ‘We’re going to be there for you and try not to be upset,’” he said. “But many times it’s easier said than done.”

The presidents of Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, Saint Xavier, Dominican University and Catholic Theological Union all released statements pledging to stand by their students and help in whatever way possible.

Dominican University in River Forest, which already took the step of declaring itself a sanctuary campus for undocumented students, said the executive order is an assault on human rights. Its statement was posted Feb. 1.

“This is not about alternative facts; this is about people’s lives, decent, industrious people, often students and families, vulnerable by circumstance, seeking safety and the dignity that comes with opportunity,” Dominican University President Donna Carroll said in a Jan. 30 email. “How dare we forfeit that human contract. … The president’s executive order on refugees and migrants is an assault on the very mission of Catholic education — committed as we are to the pursuit of truth and the creation of a more just and humane world. This action only strengthens Dominican University’s resolve, as a sanctuary campus, to actively support all its students, no matter origin or documentation. For Dominican, immigrants’ safety is a human rights issue, guided by faith.”

Viatorian Father Mark Francis, president of Catholic Theological Union, 5401 S. Cornell Ave., said he was happy to see so many Americans and church leaders expressing their opposition to the executive order.

“As a U.S.-based American, but more importantly as a Catholic Christian, I was heartened to see so many people exercising their right to stand against injustice and in solidarity with the oppressed and vulnerable,” Francis said in a message posted to CTU’s website.

“As many of you know, for more than 15 years CTU has been dedicated to forging relationships of mutual understanding, respect, solidarity and love with our Muslim sisters and brothers,” he wrote. CTU is the home of the Bernardin Center and its Catholic-Muslim Studies program, and will host the upcoming National Catholic-Muslim Dialogue.

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Contributing to this story was Michelle Martin and Catholic News Service


  • cardinal cupich
  • middle east
  • refugees
  • politics
  • immigration
  • immigration reform

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