Immigration is an important issue for the U.S. Catholic Church, but it’s not the fundamental concern it was during earlier periods of American history. And yet, the first nativist candidate ever elected to be president of the United States has won office with a majority of the white Catholic vote.
That has disheartened many Catholic immigrants. Donald Kerwin, executive director of the Center for Migration Studies of New York, noted as much at a major Catholic conference on immigration held last November in San Diego. In a summary of the conference, he wrote:
Many participants wondered why their parish priests and bishops had failed to speak in their defense during the election campaign and why so many of their coreligionists were willing, at the very least, to overlook Trump’s slanderous attacks on them. Would any other religious community, they wondered, ignore such consequential threats toward its members?
With some exceptions, Catholic institutions aren’t responding to the current surge of nativism with the urgency that they brought to earlier crackdowns on immigration. Despite that, immigration remains essential to the flourishing of the American church. For just as immigration laws have changed the face of the Catholic Church in America before, the dramatic overhaul being put forward now will do the same. In the long term, it points toward a smaller and less vital church.
The RAISE Act—the so-called Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment bill—will diminish the size of the Catholic population by cutting deeply into immigration permitted from several heavily Catholic countries. The legislation, embraced by President Donald Trump, would eliminate family-sponsored immigration for all but the spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. The resulting cut in immigration would come heavily from Mexico, the world’s second-largest Catholic country, where four out of five people identify as Catholic.