WASHINGTON (CNS) — At a Nov. 14 news conference in Baltimore, Archbishop Jose H. Gomez talked about the reaction, following the recent outcome of the U.S. presidential election, in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles — home to a large number of immigrants, including many Latinos but also immigrants from places such as the Philippines, China, Korea and Vietnam.
“I think the reaction was, especially for the ones that have issues of immigration, of fear,” said the Los Angeles archbishop, about the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, echoing what some church leaders who work with immigrant communities said during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“They were nervous, they don’t know what to make of it, especially many of them who have been here for a long time,” he said. “They have families. So, it is a challenge for them, for the family just even to think that the parents, or one of the parents, are going to be deported.”
President-elect Trump campaigned by saying he would build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, enact a “massive deportation force,” and end birthright citizenship, which grants citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., no matter the immigration status of the parents.
Trump’s comments during the campaign are exactly what makes those like Nancy Reyes, a senior at Jesuit-run Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore, worry and fear an upcoming Trump presidency. The weekend after the election, Reyes was in a room full of youths expressing their anxieties and worries at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice, a Catholic social justice conference held in Crystal City, Virginia, where they discussed the president-elect and how his immigration views or future policies could affect them.
Her mother, Reyes said, is “going through the legal process” of obtaining legal status in the U.S. She entered the country without legal documentation when she was five months pregnant with Reyes.
“As of Tuesday (Election Day), the little bit of hope we had went downhill,” said Reyes, adding that “come January, I don’t know if my mom is going to be here or not.”
Christopher Kerr, executive director of the Ignatian Solidarity Network, the group that organizes the social justice conference, which includes Jesuit institutions and youth, said he and others at Jesuit schools have been hearing the concerns, which for some of the students includes their legal status provided by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. In 2012, President Barack Obama created the policy by executive action, which allows certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children to have a work permit and be exempt from deportation.
“We’re concerned about DACA recipients because the government knows everything about them,” including where they live and about their relatives, said Kerr.
Some worry that when Trump becomes president, he could overturn DACA, and there are questions about the future of those 750,000 who signed up and whether they could be deported. As a candidate, Trump opposed DACA and also another policy known as DAPA, or Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. DAPA grants a work permit and allows some non-U.S. citizens to remain in the country temporarily.
Until there’s more information of what a Trump administration will do regarding immigration, the Ignatian Solidarity Network is trying to keep people informed about potential policies, trying to educate people that their involvement in influencing policy does not end at the voting booth and that they need to maintain relationships with their elected officials year-round, as well as urging others to express solidarity with affected communities, Kerr said.
In Texas, anxiety about a what a new administration will or won’t do, or may do, also is in the air, said Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, in an interview with Catholic News Service in Baltimore, where he was attending the bishops’ meeting. He said he has tried to reassure those who are worried that “we, as a church … we’re paying attention and we’ll be with you. We’ll walk with you as an immigrant community and defend your rights.”
But it’s too early to tell what will happen, Bishop Flores said. Some are wondering what the church will do and can do. Some asked Archbishop Gomez in the general meeting in Baltimore whether the Los Angeles Archdiocese would open sanctuary churches.
“That’s a hypothetical question,” Archbishop Gomez answered. “I don’t know what is going to happen in the future.”
In Texas, especially near the border, dealing with the difficulties that may arise for immigrants has long been part of daily life. Where some see despair, others have seen spiritual opportunity, said Bishop Flores. Catholics from the Brownsville, McAllen, Pharr and other areas, along with people from nearby cities and of various faiths, have been caring for recent arrivals who come through their cities and towns.
Some parishioners, noticing the influx of families and of mothers with young children fleeing violence from Central America, began organizing ways to transport them to their churches, feeding them, and giving provisions for those who had just finished their journeys crossing the border, said Bishop Flores.
“They helped them with food, with clothing, including little tennis shoes for the children, formula for babies,” who have made the dangerous trek north, he said. Then they give them a backpack with supplies for those who set out for other parts of the country seeking relatives to take them in.
“Sometimes, I get a call to the bishop’s office, ‘Why are you helping those illegals?'” said Bishop Flores, but those calls are few. “People have responded in a beautiful way.”
And some of those who have been helping include those who are poor, those who may not have a stable immigration situation to remain in the country themselves, he said.
“This is part of our culture. We’re not scared of the human reality,” said Bishop Flores.
Though church leaders have in the last few days shouted their support for immigrants and refugees, this could be a spiritual opportunity for other church members as well, Bishop Flores said.
“In this sense, this moment in history presents the church in the United States an opportunity to intensify personal conversion,” he said.
Church leaders opposed the record number of deportations under the Obama administration: 2.4 million since 2009, when he took office.
“People have already suffered the separation of families,” said Bishop Flores. “From the point of view of the church, the social fabric of society depends on the family, and when you tear apart children from their parents … they are vulnerable.”
Sister Norma Pimentel, a member of the Missionaries of Jesus, who is executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in the Brownsville Diocese and works near the border, said even though there’s anxiety and uncertainty, it’s important to try to lift the spirits of others.
“It’s sad,” she said at the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. “But my hope never dies.”
She said she hopes as president, Trump will take into account “that these are not bad people, they’re not criminals. These are a people who are hurting.” Her concerns extend also to the situation of those seeking refuge in the U.S. from other parts of world, she said.
“I believe very much in the human person, that (he or she) can be touched and change,” she said. “We have to use our voice but not (to fight)” but help others see the humanity of the vulnerable, to see them as humans and not as burdens.