From the Hill: Family Separation & Climate Action

Photo above: Columbans participate in a protest against family separation at the Capitol.

“From the Hill” is the Columban Center’s recap of some of the month’s most pressing issues. Staying up-to-date on current events seems especially overwhelming these days, so we’re here to offer the Columban take on what’s happening in Washington, DC and around the world.

This month we delve into the current state of play on migration legislation and the Catholic commitment to climate action.

Family Separation 

Widespread Pushback on Family Separation and Migration Legislation

The separation of families at the southern border has gripped the American public’s attention. Reports now say the administration has separated 2,300 children from their parents in the past several weeks. These separations are the consequence of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, which requires criminal prosecution of all migrants crossing the border between ports of entry, including asylum seekers. Check out last month’s From the Hill for more background on this policy. You can also read the Columban Center’s statement in response to these actions here.

There has been an intense outcry and pushback over the inhumanity of this policy. In an attempt to address the pushback, the president signed an executive order last week on family separation. Far from stopping this cruel practice however, the executive order did not end all forms of family separation or address how families will be reunified. Instead, it replaces family separation with family detention, which the faith community does not consider a humane alternative.

Detaining migrant families is not a new practice; we have seen its traumatic impacts before. Due to the negative impacts detention has on children, however, the government, under law, must place children in facilities with certain health and wellness standards and can hold them in said facilities for no more than 20 days.

The administration has the power to immediately end family separation but so far has refused to do so. Family detention is not the answer. Many alternatives to detention exist and yet aren’t being considered as options. The administration manufactured this crisis and has proposed equally inhumane solutions.

Where is Congress in all this?

Throughout all this uproar, Congress has been busy crafting immigration legislation. In response to a group of moderate Republicans putting pressure on House leadership to bring up a permanent solution for Dreamers through a ‘Queen of the Hill’ bill (this tactic would bring 4 immigration bills to the floor for consideration, including the Dream Act and a broader immigration enforcement measure), the House of Representatives has been negotiating immigration proposals for the past few weeks. Instead of allowing the Queen of the Hill strategy (which included 2 bipartisan, real solutions) to move forward, House leadership circumvented it by bringing up two different bills, both of which included extreme immigration enforcement measures in exchange for minimal Dreamer protections, in one case making Dreamer protections contingent on border wall funding.

Speaker Ryan scheduled these two bills for a vote last week. The first, H.R. 4760 Securing America’s Future Act, was voted down, with 41 Republicans voting against it. In the face of this defeat and contradicting messages from the president, Republican leadership has postponed a vote on the second bill, H.R. 6136 Border Security and Immigration Reform Act. The vote on this bill has not been rescheduled because House leadership is still attempting to get more support from moderate Republicans. Columbans asked all Representatives to vote “no” on both bills.

In the midst of debate over these bills, Congress has also been attempting to respond to family separation. So far, the bills introduced by the Republican Party in the Senate offer solutions similar to the President’s: that is, the prolonged detention of families. These bills in the Senate may gain traction next week.

Throughout all of this, it is important to remember that the administration has the power to end family separation immediately. However, it will be increasingly important to analyze Congress’ ‘solutions’ so they don’t subject families to even more trauma.

Click here for information on rallies across the country this Saturday to protest family separation!

Click here to tell your Members of Congress to protect family unity. 

Catholics Declare "Still in" on Climate Action

Nearly 600 U.S. Catholic institutions released a declaration, organized by Catholic Climate Covenant, affirming their commitment to reduce their contributions to climate change. Columbans across the U.S. signed this declaration. Released on the third anniversary of Laudato Si, the declaration includes this call to action:

As Catholic communities, organizations, and institutions in the United States, we join with other institutions from across American society to ensure that the United States remains a global leader in reducing emissions. We call for the Administration to join the global community and return to the Paris Agreement.


(c) Catholic Climate Covenant

Last June, President Trump announced the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. While we still technically remain in the agreement until Nov. 4, 2020 (one day after the next U.S. presidential election), the administration has dramatically eliminated regulatory action on climate and has undercut efforts to plan for the impacts of rising global temperatures nationally.

The Paris Agreement brought the countries of the world together with a commitment to accelerate and intensify the actions needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The agreement aims to keep the global temperature rise beneath 2 degrees Celsius, while recognizing we should work to push that even further to below 1.5 degrees rise. Each country must put forward their own ‘nationally determined contribution’, essentially their national plan for how they will implement the agreement.

The agreement came out of the United Nations conference on climate change in 2015. We are now approaching the third UN conference since then. Despite the U.S. withdrawal, this is a critical moment for the rest of the world to show that they are committed to implementing and strengthening the agreement. When added together, the current commitments from countries are not enough to keep the world below the 2 degrees Celsius goal.

Even though the U.S. government is not taking the appropriate and necessary climate action, non-governmental institutions are stepping up, including the Catholic Church. The U.S. Catholic Climate Declaration will remain open until September 12 - click here to read the declaration and find tools to get your parish or organization signed on!

Quick Takes

And for all those issues we didn’t cover in-depth this month…

  • Check out our recap of the US/North Korea summit and learn more about the work of Columbans in Korea here.
  • Read a reflection from Fr. Bob Mosher on his experience accompanying asylum seekers across the U.S/Mexico border here & listen to Fr. Mosher offer perspective from the border on recent edition of Interfaith Voices radio show.