'Outrageous and insulting' - US bishops reject Bannon's immigration remarks

By Matt Hadro

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Steve Bannon speaking at the 2017 CPAC in National Harbor, Maryland. Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY 3.0.

The U.S. bishops’ conference on Thursday sharply rejected claims by former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon that the bishops support undocumented immigrants in order to fill churches and make money.

“It is preposterous to claim that justice for immigrants isn’t central to Catholic teaching. It comes directly from Jesus Himself in Matthew 25, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food…a stranger and you welcomed me,’” said James Rogers, chief communications officer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“Immigrants and refugees are precisely the strangers we must welcome,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Bannon, who was the White House chief strategist before leaving the Trump administration on Aug. 18, told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” host Charlie Rose, in an interview set to air on Sunday evening, that he thought the U.S. bishops support illegal immigration because of a cynical “economic interest.”

When asked by Rose about the Trump administration’s announcement that they would be phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), Bannon defended the decision. Rose pressed Bannon on it, noting that he is a Catholic and that Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York – among other Church leaders – opposed the administration’s ending of the program.

“The Catholic Church has been terrible about this,” Bannon said, in comments reported on CBSNews.com on Thursday morning.

The bishops, he said, “need illegal aliens to fill the churches” and “have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”

He added that, on immigration, “this is not about doctrine. This is about the sovereignty of a nation.”

Rogers, speaking for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Thursday afternoon that Bannon’s claim of the bishops having an “economic interest” in “unlimited illegal immigration” was “outrageous and insulting.”

“The Bible is clear: welcoming immigrants is indispensable to our faith,” Rogers said.

And the bishops advocating on behalf of those who will be affected by the end of DACA, he said, “is nothing more than trying to carry out that seemingly simple, but ultimately incredibly demanding, commandment.”

DACA was a program begun by the Obama administration in 2012. Eligible immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, by their parents, and who did not have a criminal record, could participate in the program.

Beneficiaries of DACA could receive a stay of deportation for two years. In that time, they could apply for benefits like a work authorization or eligibility for Social Security, and could work to extend their stay in the U.S. Among other requirements, beneficiaries, or “Dreamers,” had to have lived in the U.S. for five years and been brought by their parents to the U.S. before the age of 16.

The Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it would be ending the program in six months, and phasing it out in the meantime. An estimated 800,000 persons were benefitting from DACA.

In a statement on Tuesday, leading U.S. bishops called the planned termination of DACA “reprehensible.”

“These youth entered the U.S. as minors and often know America as their only home,” the bishops’ statement read. “Now, after months of anxiety and fear about their futures, these brave young people face deportation. This decision is unacceptable and does not reflect who we are as Americans.”

In comments reported on Thursday, Bannon said that rhetoric manifested a desire by the bishops to promote illegal immigration to deal “with the problems in the church.”

However, the bishops’ advocacy for immigrants is at the heart of the faith, and is connected to other vital issues, Rogers said.

“The witness of the Catholic bishops on issues from pro-life to pro-marriage to pro-health care to pro-immigration reforms is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ rather than the convenient political trends of the day,” he said.

“We are called not to politics or partisanship, but to love our neighbor.”

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