CV NEWS FEED // Catholics are wondering why bishops who heatedly criticized President Donald Trump’s handling of migrants are now silent as the humanitarian crisis at the border becomes even greater under the Biden administration.
In recent years, many Catholic bishops decried the Trump administration for its attempts to respond to unprecedented influxes of illegal border crossers, including children.
But since President Biden was sworn in on January 20, a spike in illegal crossings has led to a renewed crisis as vulnerable migrants in need of shelter and other basic necessities overwhelm detention facilities and other venues near the border.
Unlike previously, bishops have largely been reticent to speak out about the moral implications of the border crisis.
“This is the trouble when bishops decide to engage in partisan politics,” said CatholicVote President Brian Burch. “They went on the attack against the Trump administration, repeatedly condemning his attempts to contain the surge of 2017-2018, including the use of ‘cages’ that we later learned were built by then-Vice President Biden.”
“Yet the only public statements on immigration since President Biden took office have been to praise his policies,” Burch continued, “despite a similar crisis now building on our border, including the use of holding facilities, inhumane conditions and the prospect of an even larger surge in the coming months. Catholics rightly wonder why they were so vocal against Trump, but silent today.”
The Washington Examiner reports that one Texas migrant facility had reached 729% of its planned capacity as of March 2, with 1,800 staying in a facility designed for 250. “Some of the boys said that conditions were so overcrowded that they had to take turns sleeping on the floor,” said a lawyer who advocates for migrant youth.
While many in the media and within the Biden administration have downplayed the crisis, last week Biden’s Department of Homeland Security directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to intervene at the border, and finally acknowledged what it called “the arrival of record numbers of individuals, including unaccompanied children, at the southwest border.”
The Department of Homeland Security’s statement went on to note that the federal government is moving “unaccompanied children from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) care,” and trying to “place them with a family member or sponsor until their immigration case is adjudicated.”
The Biden administration is placing a record number of child migrants in detention facilities. In fact a new CBS report confirmed Tuesday that there are currently over 13,000 unaccompanied minors in U.S. custody. Comparisons are already widely circulating between the current crisis and the past crises faced by the Trump administration.
Background: Bishops and Media Respond to Trump
Faced with new surges of migrants, the Trump administration was forced to detain and temporarily house tens of thousands in 2017 and 2018.
The Trump administration had ended the compromising practice of so-called “catch-and-release,” and border enforcement officials had to hold lawbreakers for longer periods of time as they waited for court dates. In compliance with current laws, minors traveling with adult migrants awaiting trial had to be transferred to separate facilities after a brief period.
The corporate media imposed a full-court press against the Trump administration’s efforts, attacking the president as racist and cruel. Commentators popularized terms such as “kids in cages” and “child separation policy” to describe the federal response to the border crisis. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, traveled to a detention center and screamed through the fence in what was widely considered a photo op.
Border officials tried to address concerns by pointing out the inherent dangers of the border crossings, which the “zero tolerance policy” was meant to discourage in hopes of keeping more would-be migrant families safe.
Here the Trump administration’s philosophy was in continuity with that of President Barack Obama, who once said on national television “our direct message to the families in Central America [is] ‘Do not send your children to the borders … If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.’”
Nonetheless, in tandem with the mainstream media, America’s bishops spoke out strenuously against the Trump administration. According to a CBS report, after their Spring Assembly in 2018 the bishops issued a statement against Trump’s “immoral” treatment of migrants:
Thomas Wenski, the Archbishop of Miami, said the church should urge Catholics to vote for candidates who want fair and humane immigration reform. “We have to tell our parishioners to call them out and hold them accountable,” Wenski said.
One U.S. bishop from Arizona, Edward Weisenburger, had an even stronger suggestion. He suggested any Catholics involved in separating children from their parents might be stripped of their ability to receive the sacraments or possibly be excommunicated from the church.
Former Democratic National Convention Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz praised the bishops, whom she said “speak for the vast majority of Americans who are horrified by President Trump’s cruel and immoral immigration policies.”
When it came to the border crisis, these were only some of the many statements from the bishops against the Trump administration.
In 2019, when President Trump characterized the situation at the border as a “humanitarian crisis” and declared it a national emergency, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a condemnation. Trump would use some of the emergency funding to continue construction on a border wall, which the bishops called a “symbol of division and animosity.”
As the crisis on the border worsens under the Biden administration, Catholics in the pews are sure to notice the contrast between their bishops’ past and present public stances.
“During the presidential primaries, every single Democrat raised their hand and said they would provide health care for people who entered our country illegally,” said CatholicVote political director Joshua Mercer. “And Joe Biden said he would suspend deportations during his first 100 days in office. He also ended many of President Trump’s security measures on the border.”
“There are some Catholics, and likely bishops, who think this is the humane and compassionate policy,” Mercer said. “But how is it humane to have so many unaccompanied children crossing our border? Biden’s border crisis isn’t compassionate. It’s dangerous.”