The Obama Administration’s Border-Crisis Plan B: Use the Catholic Church

by Ryan Lovelace
The federal government reaches out to a California diocese to help shelter illegal immigrants in California.

In order to avoid future clashes with the citizens of Murrieta, Calif., over attempts to transfer illegal immigrants there, the Obama administration has turned to an unusual bedfellow: the Catholic Church. Deacon Luis Sanchez of the Diocese of San Bernardino tells National Review Online that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent approached the diocese on July 2, 2014, and “expressed his desire for the Church to help in helping these families reach their destination.” Since that time, he says, diocesan officials have spoken on the phone with ICE, and they held a planning meeting on Monday.   

John Andrews, the diocese’s director of communications who attended the planning meeting, tells NRO that the idea is to set up “transitional centers” where volunteers and representatives from Catholic Charities would provide food, medical, and spiritual care for families who have been processed at a Border Patrol station. He says he hopes to help the people pushed out of Murrieta, and would need to accommodate 140 people arriving every three days. Andrews says he expects the centers will house mostly mothers and their children for one or two days. But if there’s a situation where a family needs to stay longer than a day or two, he says that placing illegal immigrants with a local family would represent a “very viable option.”

Andrews says several of the parishes within the diocese might be used as part of the plan, but he would not provide details about the locations he disclosed at Monday’s planning meeting. He has withheld such details, he says, because he does not want to invite the “type of folks who gathered in Murrieta to protest” to disrupt their plans. “They [the Murrieta protesters] don’t see the immigrant in the same way we do, which is as a human being that’s created in God’s image with dignity, just like everyone else,” he says.

Some Church officials appear to take the view that the “type of folks who gathered in Murrieta” must be seen differently from the immigrants. In her blog, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that images of the Murrieta protesters recalled the “fire hoses and snarling police dogs in Birmingham, Alabama, used against African-American students protesting racial segregation.” The images also reminded her of a picture of a “little girl in North Vietnam running terrified and naked with burning skin after South Vietnamese planes accidently dropped napalm on Trang Bang” in 1972. Walsh referred derisively to the “mob in Murrieta,” and wrote that she awaits a “moral conscience moment” similar to what occurred with the passage of civil-rights legislation 50 years ago and the moment when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam.  

Parishioners in San Bernardino do not uniformly share Walsh’s view of illegal immigrants flooding into their community, however. One couple who attended the planning meeting called into Rush Limbaugh’s radio show to offer an alternative position. Eddie, a caller identifying himself as a retired doctor, said he’s concerned about the spread of illnesses that might result from the plan put together by the Obama administration and the Catholic Church. “We’ve got FEMA facilities that can provide medical care, housing, nutrition and clothing, safety and transportation, and stabilize the situation so that these people can be reintegrated or be dealt with,” Eddie said. “But to put us and subject us to health-care problems, risk, whatever you want to call it, seems to be an incompetence on behalf of the government when they themselves, these different agencies are not talking to each other.”

It may come as a surprise that government officials are collaborating with the Catholic Church, given recent conflict between the two. The Little Sisters of the Poor faced hefty fines when they challenged the Obamacare contraception mandate. While the Obama administration objects to the kind of health care the Little Sisters would like to provide their employees, it is working on a plan with the Diocese of San Bernardino to allow Catholic Church officials to provide medical attention to illegal immigrants, according to Andrews. And though Massachusetts state government officials have shuttered Catholic Charities’ adoption service, churchgoers in California may soon be permitted by federal government officials to house entire families in their homes.

The Los Angeles ICE office did not return requests for comment about the plan, and Sanchez and Andrews would not disclose the name of the ICE official who has worked with the diocese. But if the plan described by Andrews comes through, the Obama administration may begin using the Catholic Church to shepherd immigrants all over the country.  

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.