The head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said at today’s spring meeting in Fort Lauderdale that the Trump administration needs to remember that “at its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life.”
The statement from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, was supported by the rest of the U.S. bishops in response to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision that victims of domestic violence or people fleeing gang violence in Central America and Mexico would not be eligible to seek asylum.
“Our nation’s immigration laws provide for asylum to be granted to individuals who have been persecuted, or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their membership in a particular social group,” the Justice Department said in a statement accompanying Sessions’ opinion Monday. “But victims of personal crimes do not fit this definition — no matter how vile and reprehensible the crime perpetrated against them.”
Sessions told Fox on Tuesday that in 7 years the number of asylum-seekers jumped from 5,000 to 94,000, and more than 80 percent of claims are ultimately denied.
“You do not get to come to America if you have a private threat or someone personally attacks you. You do not get to have asylum for that based on your race, your religion, your nationality,” Sessions said. “If you are part of some special identifiable group that’s being persecuted in your home country, that’s what it takes to have an asylum and we need to get this straight. And I think it will help us, the decision I made.”
DiNardo said Sessions’ policy “elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection.”
“These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence,” the cardinal said. “Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors.”
“We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.”
On another immigration policy — the separation of children from parents at the border in what Sessions said is intended to be a deterrent to illegal immigration — DiNardo said he joined Bishop Joe Vásquez of Austin, chairman of USCCB’s Committee on Migration, in “condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration’s zero tolerance policy.”
“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,” DiNardo said. “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,” he added. “Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.”