In the Vincentian Year of Welcoming the Stranger, Sheila Gilbert, President of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in the US, calls for action especially on the BRIDGES Act – “Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy.”
As Vincentians celebrating 400 years of Vincentian charism this year under the banner of the Gospel-inspired theme, “Welcome the Stranger,” we now find ourselves confronted with an emerging new national policy diametrically opposite that Vincentian call. I refer, of course, to the Executive Order issued days ago by our new President under which all immigration entry points to our country are essentially being closed to those fleeing persecution and the ravages of war, crime, poverty and hunger in their own lands.
Accordingly, I urge you to raise your voices and publicly affirm our Vincentian greeting of welcome, charity and justice to and for the marginalized, the vulnerable, the suffering, the poor, and the fearful who are trying to enter our country as refugees and migrants. You can do so most effectively by contacting your Senators and Representative in Congress. To assist you, we have prepared a template message which you can easily send electronically to Congress by just entering your personal information and clicking on the “submit” button. You are encouraged, however, to modify the message to make it more personal and reflective of your own Vincentian experiences.
The message I ask you to send to Congress is twofold. First, it asks our elected representatives to resist closing our country to refugees and immigrants in need. Second, it urges Congress to pass the BRIDGE Act, a nonpartisan proposal just now being introduced in both chambers, and then move on to comprehensive immigration reform.
BRIDGES stands for the “Bar Removal of Individuals who Dream and Grow our Economy” Act. It would extend legal protection to undocumented young persons under the age of 36 who have been in the United States for five years, arrived before the age of 16, have been educated in American high schools and colleges, and have not been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor. These are the very deserving individuals protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program of the Obama Administration.
Many Vincentians, especially those residing along our southern borders, have long provided charity and sought justice for thousands of migrants fleeing northward who face numerous obstacles in their quest to find a better life. Other fellow Vincentians encounter immigrants in our urban and rural areas struggling to get by and often being exploited. If they are undocumented, they live in fear of deportation and separation from their families and loved ones. They come from diverse backgrounds and faiths, yet in true Vincentian spirit, Vincentians render aid and seek justice because in our immigrant friends we see their inherent, God-given dignity as human persons. We have no litmus tests for our charity.
Now, as a result of the Executive Order, not only are our southern borders being closed, but also our airports and other entry points for those fleeing from certain Middle Eastern countries. Our national policy appears to be evolving to one where we collectively disavow the work of the good Samaritan and dismiss the Scriptural call to be our brother’s keeper.
In a Statement issued January 30, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, Vice-President of the USCCB, explained that while “[w]e must screen vigilantly for infiltrators who would do us harm…we must always be equally vigilant in our welcome of friends.”
The Society has long supported a warm and caring welcome for immigrants, with our views first formally crystallized in a 2004 Position Statement. Last year, that Position Statement was updated with a strong call for comprehensive reform of our nation’s immigration laws, which has sadly not yet happened for more than 30 years now, despite widespread agreement that such is long overdue.
Pope Francis and our Catholic Bishops continue to call us to open our hearts and communities to refugees and immigrants. Our Catholic organizations remain in the forefront of refugee resettlement initiatives and verify from direct experience that our country’s existing resettlement vetting processes are vigorous and comprehensive, claims to the contrary notwithstanding.
As Vincentians, we now need to show that “Welcome the Stranger” is not just a noble-sounding catch phrase but a call to action and justice.
Yours in Christ,
Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Council of the United States