Letter to President Trump: Welcoming the Stranger

Editors’ Note: This is one of a pair of letters written to the major party candidates for president. See the letter to Vice President Biden here.

Dear President Trump,

We write to you as Catholics and citizens. We regard these principles of Catholic Social Teaching as essential: the dignity of the human person and the promotion of the common good. These principles, and many others, are held dear by Catholics throughout our country. 

There are many Catholics who support you in large part due to your position on the issue of abortion, which the US Bishops have re-affirmed as the “preeminent priority.” As you well know, many Catholics are passionate supporters of the Pro-Life movement, due to their belief that the dignity and life of the human person, including the unborn from the moment of conception, must be respected and protected.

In your address to the UN General Assembly in September, you promised that “America will always be a leader in human rights.” This past winter, you made history by being the first president to attend and address the March for Life. In your remarks, you united yourself with those gathered “to defend the right of every child, born and unborn, to fulfill their God-given potential.” You went on to state that “Together, we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and sanctity of every human life.” 

This is language that many Catholics take seriously, not just when it comes to being against abortion, but across many other issues. 

We are writing to ask you to make good on your words. The US Bishops have been very clear: “All the life issues are connected, for erosion of respect for the life of any individual or group in society necessarily diminishes respect for all life.” (§25) We ask you to extend your concern for the human dignity of all persons and to seek policies that protect all life: whether it be the life of an unborn child or the life of a child seeking safety at our borders; whether it be religious minorities abroad or racial minorities who continue to endure racism and racist violence daily here in our country. 

Specifically, we ask that you reconsider your policies on immigration, particularly the separation of children from their families, the “Remain in Mexico” policy, and your desire to further build a border wall on our southern border. You have spoken of your desire to protect and honor the lives of children, both born and unborn. And yet due to policies under your administration in 2017 and 2018, there remain over 500 children whose parents cannot be located; furthermore, US border authorities have expelled Central American children unaccompanied to Mexico, a foreign country where they likely have no family ties. Though the separation of families was discontinued, the “Remain in Mexico” policy makes migrants wait for asylum claims that will take months, maybe years to process, further exposing vulnerable people, including children, to starvation and violence. When we think of these children, we cannot help but recall the Holy Family who fled their homeland to protect the life of their precious child. (Mt 2:13 – 15)

We echo Pope Francis’ remarks that the “builders of walls … will become prisoners of the walls they make.” Though Catholic teaching on immigration does say that sovereign nations have the right to control borders, we question whether building a wall serves that purpose effectively, and we agree with Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, TX who has written: “[The wall] is not just a tool of national security. More than that, the wall is a symbol of exclusion, especially when allied to an overt politics of xenophobia. It is an open wound through the middle of our sister cities of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.” 

Both of us have spent time on the border in El Paso, receiving migrants and asylum seekers, many of whom have had small children with them and carry almost nothing with them. We have listened to their harrowing stories of fleeing violence and dire poverty in their home countries. We have seen the face of Christ in their faces. Being in their physical presence has reminded us that our nation’s broken immigration policies must be mended and made more humane, loving, and centered on the dignity of persons. 

We wish to point out as well that your rhetoric about immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers does not respect their dignity and worth as human persons. At various rallies and speeches, you have used terms like ‘invaders’ and ‘killers’ over 500 times to refer to migrants. This rhetoric not only dehumanizes people, but stirs xenophobic and racist attitudes among many and increases the specter of violence. Mr. President, your rhetoric carries great weight among many. Bishop Seitz’s letter, cited above, was in response to the 2019 mass murder, una matanza, in El Paso, which left 22 dead and many more wounded. This matanza was motivated by racism and xenophobia. 

Additionally, nearly 2.5 million have temporary residency due to TPS, pending asylum cases, and DACA. Your decision to terminate TPS status for hundreds of thousands of people and to deny further application to young people eligible for DACA threatens to cast many individuals and families into uncertain and potentially deadly situations. Though we are relieved that you have not entirely ended protection for those who currently hold DACA, we ask that you back policies that would grant DACA holders a more permanent status, through working with Congress to pass the Dream Act. We ask that you support young people who contribute positively to the building up of our society. 

We have chosen to focus much of our letter on issues related to immigration. We do so knowing that it is not the only issue where your administration’s policies conflict with Catholic teaching. We have serious reservations about your actions (and lack of action) regarding racism and racist violence, your support of capital punishment, and your administration’s rollbacks of environmental protections. 

Whether you win or lose this election, we ask that you use your remaining time in office to advance policies that promote the dignity of all persons.

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