From the Hill: September 2018 Edition

(CNS photo/Simone Orendain)

"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 discuss...

Environmental Safeguards

Collective Consequences
We are now about two weeks away from the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, marking the end of the Season of Creation. Caring for creation, however, does not have an end date.

Last week, while the nation watched Hurricane Florence slam into North Carolina causing damage that will take years to repair, Typhoon Mangkhut wreaked havoc in countries where Columbans serve on the other side of the world. The storm ripped through the northern Philippines, China, and Hong Kong, forcing millions to evacuate. It was this year’s most intense storm on the planet.

The aftermath of both of these storms will require months of investment and rebuilding. The most vulnerable and those living in poverty will be the least able to recover.

What’s this have to do with environmental safeguards?
These storms are becoming more frequent and more intense and we know why.

Since we wrote to you last month with news of the administration’s replacement to the Clean Power Plan, the administration has begun the process of eliminating more environmental safeguards meant to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

What do these safeguards do?
Taking aim at the third pillar of the previous administration’s plan to lessen the US’s contributions to climate change, the Trump administration weakened methane pollution standards on both private and federal land. Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas.

This move completes the trifecta of rolling back environmental safeguards that would improve vehicle efficiency standards, lower carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, and reduce methane emissions.

Unfortunately, these three are not all of the administration’s rollbacks. In previous months, protections for endangered species, national monuments, and clean water have also been weakened.

Why are these safeguards important?
We are facing a time of ecological crisis. Collectively, the elimination or weakening of these safeguards shows that the administration does not appreciate the extent to which the insatiable energy demands of our economy are tearing apart the web of life. Not only do these rollbacks further contribute to climate change, they also intensify public health threats, ecosystem instability, and the mass extinction of non-human life.

The US’s contributions to climate change have impacts far beyond our borders. For examples of these impacts check out our Season of Creation resource.

Take a moment today to send a message to the EPA on their Clean Power Plan replacement. As people of faith, we believe in caring for our common home, and the administration's rollbacks do not live up to this sacred obligation.


Following the Money

As the national crisis of family separation and harmful immigration enforcement continues, Congress is making their way through the process to fund the federal government.

What do the two have to do with each other?
Right now, Congress is determining how to fund the government after September 30, 2018. They are debating how much money will be allocated for the agencies (e.g. Immigration and Customs Enforcement & Customs and Border Protection) that carry out actions like deportation, detention, family separation, border wall infrastructure, etc. These agencies have consistently received increases in their funding to expand their reach.

What are the impacts of increased funding?
More money means more capacity to detain, deport, and traumatize. Unfortunately, this money does not often come with the necessary agency oversight, accountability, and transparency. Consistently allocating increased amounts of funding for enforcement activities in a broken immigration system results in more trauma and more family separation.

For example, the federal government has chosen to prioritize detaining migrants, including unaccompanied children, for the duration of their cases. In the case of children, instead of releasing them to family members after processing while they await a decision in their cases, they are detaining them. The number of detained children has since skyrocketed to the highest number ever recorded. 12,800 children are currently being held in detention instead of with their families. For comparison, there were 2,400 children in detention in May, 2017.

Near El Paso, TX (where the Columban Mission Center is located) the government is beginning operations to expand one such facility, Tornillo, that holds unaccompanied children. This expansion would triple the amount of children held there to 3,800.

Additionally, the administration is currently attempting to expand their ability to detain family units. Billed as a solution to the crisis of family separation, which they created, family detention is not a new practice. The administration, however, is pushing to make it possible to detain families for indefinite amounts of time and in substandard facilities. Check out this backgrounder from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for more information.

Both of these actions require funding to carry out.

Are their better solutions?
Yes! In the case of detention, there exist alternatives such as the community-based programs for families that allow them to be placed in the least restrictive setting while having access to community supports, which increases their ability to make sure their case is heard fairly and thoroughly. Currently programs like this do not receive the funding required to operate.

How can I take action?
This week, the Interfaith Immigration Coalition is hosting a Faith Week of Action calling on Congress to stop fueling unjust detention, deportation, and border enforcement policies through the funding process. Check out this backgrounder for more information!

This Wednesday, people of faith from around the country will be calling their representatives with this message. Look for an email from us on how to participate!

You can also download our “Border Solidarity Toolkit,” which includes a number of activities for prayer, education, and action.