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New Jersey cardinal blasts GOP for ignoring immigration reform

Catalino Guerrero, 59, greets Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark during the Faith in New Jersey program at Bethany Baptist Church on May 4, 2017, in Newark, N.J. Photo courtesy of NJ Advance Media/Aristide Economopoulos

NEW YORK (RNS) As the nation’s capital buzzed about President Trump’s latest tweets and political fate, a Catholic cardinal who is one of the hierarchy’s most visible champions of undocumented immigrants blasted Republicans for ignoring immigration reform and “inflicting cruelty on innocent people.”

“Now think about it, especially right now, with apparent one-party rule in our government: Congress and the president could pass comprehensive immigration reform tomorrow if they wanted to,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark told an audience of journalists meeting in Brooklyn on Wednesday (May 17). “They could bring nearly 12 million people out of the shadows — if they wanted to.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin discusses immigration in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 17, 2017. Photo by Ian West courtesy of DeSales Media/Diocese of Brooklyn

“Because after all – and let’s be serious – this isn’t about border security. This is about being attentive to the reality of people who are already in our communities, most of whom are functioning even in their marginal shadow existence and making contributions to their communities,” said Tobin at a conference sponsored by the Diocese of Brooklyn to mark the Catholic Church’s annual World Communications Day.

“A person unbound by Christian charity,” he added, “would say that you really have to believe in inflicting cruelty on innocent people to choose to support the policies (on immigration) we’ve seen in recent months while possessing the power to change the law.”

Last October, Pope Francis stunned church observers — and Tobin himself — when he named Tobin, then archbishop of Indianapolis, a cardinal. Francis next transferred Tobin to Newark, a much larger archdiocese in terms of population but one that had never had a cardinal.

READ: New Jersey’s first cardinal evokes Pope Francis as he takes helm

The moves were viewed as putting a churchman who is very much in the pastoral mold of Francis himself in a more prominent and influential role.

Tobin has always made it a priority to help the marginalized, and in 2015 he clashed with then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — now Donald Trump’s vice president — over Pence’s effort to stop the settlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. Tobin ignored Pence’s order and continued to resettle refugees who had gone through a rigorous screening process.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin processes into Sacred Heart Cathedral on Jan. 6, 2017, in Newark, N.J., for his installation Mass as the new archbishop of Newark. RNS photo by Tom Gallagher

Tobin’s move to the New York media market plus Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigrants have combined to give the cardinal’s statements and actions even greater resonance.

That was demonstrated in March when Tobin joined an interfaith delegation accompanying Catalino Guerrero, a 59-year-old Mexican native who had lived and worked in the U.S. for much of his life after entering illegally as a young man, to a hearing to determine if Guerrero would be deported.

Guerrero, who is ill, was eventually granted an extension.

Tobin said Wednesday that one purpose of that effort was to “put a face on people who are frequently dehumanized” or simply viewed indifferently, if at all, by the rest of society.

“Racism today is not a bunch of people riding on horses dressed in bedsheets, burning crosses and annoying people,” he said. Racism, he said, “is just not seeing. Or, if you see, you don’t understand.”

But Tobin said the other purpose of the demonstration on Guerrero’s behalf was to “put a face on us and the call to solidarity” — that is, on the witness of people of faith.

“When I accompanied Mr. Guerrero to his deportation hearing, it’s impossible to deny that I brought with me the trappings of the office [that] Pope Francis sprang on me last fall,” Tobin said.

“Whatever those trappings are,” he continued, delivering an implicit challenge to his peers in the church, “it doesn’t change the nature of grace. What if every cardinal accompanied an undocumented person who crossed our paths to the deportation hearing? What if every bishop did? Every pastor? Every mayor?

“Of course,” he said, “these aren’t the people in our society who have been vested with real power to make a positive difference in our country’s immigration policy. Those would be the members of our Congress and our president.”

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • It’s interesting that you can get two opposite interpretations of the Bible on immigration as shown in the posts in this site over the many articles dealing with the subject.

  • Not Tobin, nor any other US Catholic prelate, has offered the use of his properties as sanctuaries i.e. where “cooperation with the national government effort to enforce immigration law” would be limited in any way.

  • “inflicting cruelty on innocent people.” that is why many have left the nations with cultures and histories dominated by the Roman Church. The RCC should put their efforts in the home countries of the illegal alien so that he or she has little reason to leave?

    Immigration reform, whatever that means, would cut off the supply of cheap labor for the business people in this country either by deportation or by allowing currently illegal alien legal status and the ability to demand labor protection and full rights from an employer.

  • When the pope visited, I didn’t see him being concerned with giving compassion to US Citizens who are poor, uneducated, who have lost their jobs to Illegal Aliens. This effect was warned about in 1965:

    “In light of our 5 percent unemployment rate, our worries over the so called population explosion, and our menacingly mounting welfare costs, are we prepared to embrace so great a horde of the world’s unfortunates? At the very least, the hidden mathematics of the bill should be made clear to the public so that they may tell their Congressmen how they feel about providing jobs, schools, homes, security against want, citizen education, and a brotherly welcome… for an indeterminately enormous number of aliens from underprivileged lands.” “We should remember that people accustomed to such marginal existence in their own land will tend to live fully here, to hoard our bounteous minimum wages and our humanitarian welfare handouts…lower our wage and living standards, disrupt our cultural patterns.” Myra C. Hacker, Vice President of the New Jersey Coalition of Patriotic Societies, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act

    “Whatever may be our benevolent intent toward many people, the bill fails to give due consideration to the economic needs, the cultural traditions, and the public sentiment of the citizens of the United States.” Myra C. Hacker, on the 1965 Hart Celler Act

    Also, isn’t it interesting that the catholic church is one of the largest recipient of financial “donations” in the world? If the pope is so concerned for these migrants, then why doesn’t he exhort those countries (including his native Argentina) to take care of their citizens in need?
    Catholic Church collects $1.6 billion in U.S. contracts, grants since 2012

    “Not to be lost in the pomp and circumstance of Pope Francis’ first visit to Washington is the reality that the Catholic Church he oversees has become one of the largest recipients of federal largesse in America.”

    “We also note that the majority of the undocumented are Roman Catholics who would formally join their parishes and help support them with their just wages.”

  • An Atlantic Monthly article that shows that most economists’ thinking that an increased influx of immigrants provides more jobs for Americans is FALSE and does harm jobs for US workers and the economy:
    The Conscience Of A Liberal–Paul Krugman

    “First, the benefits of immigration to the population already here are small.”
    ” But as Mr. Hanson explains in his paper, reasonable calculations suggest that we’re talking about very small numbers, perhaps as little as 0.1 percent of GDP.

    “My second negative point is that immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants. That’s just supply and demand…

    “Finally, the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear. ”

    Also, it is patently untrue that “immigrants” are the solution to low rate of start-ups:

  • It’s good to repeat some Inconvenient Truths:

    From one of the most liberal news sources:

    “You know how for so long we have thought that the racist wing of the Democratic Party called the Dixiecrats, that were based in the South were dead and replaced by Republicans? The actions of Democratic officials like gov Jay Nixon, always thought there had to be something slimey about a Democrat named Nixon, and Bill McCulloch, the vile St. Louis DA who smirked as he gave cops the green light to keep murdering
    young African-American males have proven that assumption wrong.

    This is where the “big tent” philosophy gets us, folks. How can we point the finger at Republican racism with so much racism in our own party? We need to drive these people out. If this party has no standards and no limits on what the people we put up for office believe and how they conduct themselves, what’s the point.”

    From one of the most liberal news sources:

    “So far, national Democrats haven’t discouraged Southern conservative newcomers. Congressional campaign committee heads helped Childers and Cazayoux, just as they did Heath Shuler in 2006. They helped recruit Webb and promoted him over the more conventionally liberal Harris Miller. Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel have even been willing to boost
    pro-life and pro-gun Democrats north of the Mason Dixon line, including Bob Casey in Pennsylvania and both Brad Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly in Indiana. Jack Davis has even run as a Pat Buchanan Democrat against Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds in New York. It may not seem like much of an innovation to run culturally conservative candidates in culturally conservative areas, but it took years for the Democrats to decide that they liked being in the majority better than imposing litmus tests.”