During his campaign Trump pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and to deport millions of people living in the United States without documentation. With his election, anxieties and questions about the immediate future were immediately present among undocumented immigrants and their friends and family members in the Diocese and throughout the nation.
“Our healing process includes an urgent need to stand in solidarity with our migrant and undocumented brothers and sisters, and other groups who are experiencing fear due to statements made by President-Elect Trump during his campaign,” Bishop Gerald Barnes stated in a letter that was read at Masses the weekend of Nov. 17-18. “We are committed to journey with them and work so that their dignity and human rights may be respected.”
To provide spiritual accompaniment to immigrants experiencing fear, the U.S. Church declared a Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Families of Immigrants on Dec. 12, the Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Bishop Barnes also asked that the faithful incorporate prayers of intention for immigrant families during other observances and celebrations of the season including the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Simbang Gabi, Las Posadas and the Epiphany.
Father Guy Wilson, S.T., Pastor of Our Lady of Soledad Parish in Coachella, said the public response of the Church, both from Bishop Barnes and the U.S. Bishops, as a whole, has helped to quell the anxieties of his parishioners.
“It let our people know very clearly that our Church, our religious leaders, were responding,” he said.
The Catholic Church in the United States has long been a staunch advocate for comprehensive reform of federal immigration law. While opposing unlawful entry into the country and/or open borders, the Church supports, among other tenets, earned legalization for those of good moral character who are living in the U.S. without proper documentation; policies that allow families of mixed immigration status to remain together; and humane enforcement of immigration laws by civil authorities.
In the aftermath of the election, the Diocese has moved to provide basic information to immigrant families about their rights under the law and the possible fate of federal programs enacted under President Barack Obama such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Queen of Angels Parish in Riverside, in collaboration with the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, hosted two informational workshops in December and more are being scheduled in the New Year at Catholic parishes.
Father Steve Porter, Pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Rialto, said he has sensed apprehension among his parishioners following the election, with particular concern coming from young people who sought legal status under the DACA program.
“They’ve applied and now they’re afraid that the information they provided is going to be used to pick them up,” Fr. Porter said.
With the future of the DACA program uncertain at best, the Diocese is advising undocumented persons who would be eligible for it not to apply.
Catholic Charities San Bernardino-Riverside is also playing a key role in service to the immigrant community in terms of providing service and information because it offers Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) certified staff.
In May, the Diocese and Catholic Charities teamed to open the Santo Toribio Immigration Center at Our Lady of Solitude Parish in Palm Springs, where services and information are regularly provided. The intention is to open similar centers in each of the six vicariates of the Diocese and the anxieties that have emerged following the presidential election may expedite the opening of the next center, said Sister Hortensia del Villar, S.A.C., Director of Community Services and Outreach for the Diocese.
President-elect Trump won a majority of the Catholic vote in the election and Fr. Wilson noted that the Catholic response on immigration should not be seen as an opposition to Trump’s entire presidency.
“There’s got to be a way for us to say that there are some issues that the Church is standing very firmly on,” he said.