The following editorial is from the June 21 issue of The Record, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky. It was written by Marnie McAllister, editor. (The commentary begins with an update issued after the commentary was written.)

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Update: President Donald Trump signed an executive order June 20 that ended his policy of separating children from their families. It remained unclear how families already separated would be reunited.

The separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border is immoral. There are not two sides to this issue.

Nearly 2,000 children — including babies and toddlers — have been taken from their parents and warehoused, some in chain-link cages, since early May. Their parents await deportation or asylum hearings.

Older children are caring for younger children — sometimes strangers to one another. As far as the public has learned, there’s not even a clear method for assuring the children and parents can keep track of each other. The New Yorker writer Jonathan Blitzer reported June 18 about a Guatemalan family that had trouble locating a 6-year-old child who had been separated from her father at the border in May. According to that story, some parents are being deported while their children remain in federal custody.

Our president and his administration have attempted to justify this atrocity with appeals to national security and carefully excerpted phrases from the Bible.

One national publication that supports the practice claims that parents from South of our border are using their children as “chits” to gain entry.

In fact, it is the president of the United States who is using these children as chits, using them as objects in negotiation for a border wall and other immigration-limiting policies.

This end — the reform of immigration policy — does not justify the means.

The president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized the bishops’ condemnation of the separation of families in a statement issued June 13.

“Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma,” wrote Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, president of the USCCB. “Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together.

“While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”

In writing last fall about the church’s teaching on migration — in this editorial space — Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz wrote, “We welcome migrants out of our fundamental understanding of the equal natural dignity of all persons and our solidarity with persons of every race, nation and religion, especially the poor and vulnerable. … The universal common good recognizes that the goods of the earth belong to all people and cannot be hoarded or controlled to benefit only the few or select groups.”

He goes on to explain several other points and then acknowledges the challenge of migration to national security.

The church, he said, “respects the rights of sovereign nations to control their borders in the service of the common good of its citizens. The national dialogue needed requires comprehensive reform that includes legitimate concerns for the safety and welfare of all citizens.”

Yet such concerns, he writes, “are not an absolute right, and the capacity of rich and powerful nations like the United States to welcome refugees and immigrants also is a serious responsibility.”

The bishops have long called for comprehensive immigration reform and one of its foundations is family unity.

In its document, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” the bishops offer a proposal for immigration reform. It is excerpted below:

— Earned legalization for foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States.

— A worker program to permit foreign-born workers to enter the country safely and legally.

— Family-based immigration reform: It currently takes years for family members to be reunited through the family-based legal immigration system. This leads to family breakdown and, in some cases, illegal immigration.

— Restoration of due process rights: Due process rights taken away by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) should be restored. For example, the three and 10-year bars to re-entry should be eliminated.

— Addressing root causes: Congress should examine the root causes of migration, such as under-development and poverty in sending countries, and seek long-term solutions.

— Enforcement: The U.S. Catholic bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States.

This last point concludes with a clear imperative: “Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.”

The separation of families at the border is inhumane, out of proportion and applied without discretion. It is also immoral.

While Congress shouldn’t be blackmailed into immigration reform, elected leaders must take action to address this issue without delay.

Catholics should take action, too. Contact your elected leaders and urge them to seek a swift solution to the separation of families. And ask them to promote and vote for a humane reform of the immigration system — one that honors human dignity, preserves the family and provides wider pathways to legal immigration.

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