Women religious, bishops denounce US withdrawal from UN talks on migration, refugees

Migrants arrive at a naval base Nov. 24 in Tripoli, Libya, after the Libyan coast guard rescued them. (CNS / Reuters / Hani Amara)

New York, N.Y. — Women religious and Catholic bishops are criticizing a decision by President Donald Trump's administration to pull out of United Nations-sponsored talks on two linked global compacts on migration and refugees, calling it a failure of American leadership.

According to a statement by the United States Mission to the United Nations, the U.S. government withdrew from the talks Dec. 2 because it believes the New York Declaration — a 2016 U.N. declaration leading up to the expected compacts next year — "contains numerous provisions that are inconsistent with U.S. immigration and refugee policies and the Trump Administration's immigration principles."

Trump, the mission said, "determined that the United States would end its participation in the Compact process that aims to reach international consensus at the UN in 2018."

But the Leadership Conference of Women Religious took issue with the president, calling the withdrawal a "misguided decision" that is " yet another example of the president's attempts to wall off this nation and subvert its values. Furthermore, the withdrawal from the New York Declaration is yet another demonstration of the failure of U.S. leadership in the global community."

"The world faces an unprecedented global migration crisis," the LCWR statement said. "More than 66 million people are on the move, more than at any time since World War II. Some 17.2 million are refugees; most are children. They have been forced from their homes displaced by war, natural disaster, and endemic poverty. These brothers and sisters of ours are quite literally running for their lives."

The Dec. 4 statement by the association of 1,300 congregational leaders representing approximately 38,800 women religious in the United States went on to say: "The United States has a long history of welcoming immigrants and sheltering refugees. Women religious have been blessed to be able to accompany and serve immigrant and refugee communities across this country and around the world for a very long time.

"We strongly object to any attempt to limit our ability to heed the scriptural command to welcome the stranger and care for our neighbors. Catholic sisters remain committed to welcoming refugees and migrants and will continue to demand that the dignity and rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status, are honored."

A boy in Mexico looks through the border fence Nov. 18 at Border Field State Park in San Diego. (CNS / Reuters / Mike Blake)

The United Nations is expected to debate and adopt in 2018 two international compacts, according to UNHCR, the U.N.'s refugee agency: a global compact on refugees and a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration that the world body says "will be guided by a set of common principles and approaches," including developing guidelines "on the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations."

The U.N. debate and expected response will draw on the New York Declaration, approved with U.S. support in 2016, that calls on the U.N. for a document that among other things would "protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status," including the rights of women and girls "and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions."

Archbishop Timothy Broglio, the chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Bishop Joe Vásquez, who chairs the bishops' conference Committee on Migration, also expressed disappointment with the Trump administration's decision in a Dec. 5 statement.

"With a growing global concern about protracted forced migration situations, the UN process provides an opportunity for the United States to help build international cooperation that respects such rights and protections on behalf of those seeking safety and security for their families. Participation in that process allows the US to draw on our experience and influence the compact," Broglio said in the statement. "Therefore, the USCCB encourages the Administration to reconsider its decision to withdraw from this process."

Vásquez said in the statement: "Catholic social teaching on migration recognizes and respects the sovereignty of each nation, indeed each nation's right and responsibility, to ultimately decide how it will regulate migration into its territory.

"The Church has long articulated that it is the obligation of nations to assure human rights for all migrants and special protections for vulnerable migrants, such as refugees, forced migrants, victims of human trafficking, and women and children at risk," he said. "Pope Francis has described such obligations as part of building 'global solidarity' on behalf of migrants and refugees. In fact, the Bishops continue to promote the international campaign initiated by Pope Francis, Share the Journey, as a sign of solidarity with our immigrant brothers and sisters."

Sr. Margaret Mayce of the Dominican Leadership Conference, left, and Sr. Margaret O'Dwyer, who represents the Company of the Daughters of Charity at the U.N. (GSR photos / Chris Herlinger)

Sr. Margaret O'Dwyer, who represents the Company of the Daughters of Charity at the U.N., told GSR in an email that failing "to collaborate on the Global Compact flies in the face of the common good. It speaks of nationalism and gives one the impression that the world has evolved into a 'survival of the fittest' mode, one in which there is 'no room at the inn' for many."

She added: "Four months ago, Pope Francis issued a 20-point action plan on refugees and migrants to address one of the greatest modern challenges. The intention was to build an inclusive, sustainable, and common home for all. How can the world 'leave no one behind' and 'welcome the stranger' when nations avoid collaboration and common seeking?"

The statements by women religious and bishops come as Pope Francis is making refugees and migrants the centerpiece of his message for the upcoming 2018 World Day of Peace, in which the pope declares his support for the two global compacts.

"As shared agreements at a global level, these compacts will provide a framework for policy proposals and practical measures," the pope says in the message. "For this reason, they need to be inspired by compassion, foresight and courage, so as to take advantage of every opportunity to advance the peace-building process."

He says: "We know that it is not enough to open our hearts to the suffering of others. Much more remains to be done before our brothers and sisters can once again live peacefully in a safe home. Welcoming others requires concrete commitment, a network of assistance and goodwill, vigilant and sympathetic attention, the responsible management of new and complex situations that at times compound numerous existing problems, to say nothing of resources, which are always limited."

"By practicing the virtue of prudence, government leaders should take practical measures to welcome, promote, protect, integrate and ... permit [refugees] to become part of a new society," the pope says.

Dominican Sr. Margaret Mayce, the representative of the Dominican Leadership Conference at the United Nations, told GSR in an email that the U.S. decision is "yet another example of just how far off the mark the U.S. is in terms of its capacity to offer any kind of moral leadership."

"It literally is all about 'us' — which is an incredibly dangerous perspective in today's world," she said. "The inability, or perhaps better said, the refusal to see our own well-being as a nation connected to that of others is stunning. I fear it will come back to bite us."

A boy holds a sign during a children's refugee protest in 2016 in London. (CNS / EPA / Hannah McKay)

In a Dec. 2 statement, Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said the U.S. government felt the compact could affect U.S. migration and border policies.

"America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our long-standing moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations across the globe. No country has done more than the United States, and our generosity will continue," she said.

"But our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country. The global approach in the New York Declaration is simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty."

O'Dwyer said the challenges of global migration cannot be solved by a "go-alone policy" by any country.

"Drivers causing displacement and migration are complex. It takes a world-wide, team effort to address them," O'Dwyer said, noting that this is the second pullout by the Trump administration from a major U.N. action. Earlier this year, the administration said the United States would withdraw from the 2016 Paris Agreement focusing on global climate change.

"Let's hope the 'inn-keepers' of nations still pursuing the compact will continue to use a common good, common home approach by collaborating on a united, comprehensive, and humanitarian response to the horrendous, current crisis," she said.

Mayce said the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals, an agenda to fight poverty and environmental damage, "will be severely compromised if we do not respond to the unprecedented crisis of refugees and migrants. This is why we are moving towards the global compact."

On Twitter, Samantha Power, Haley's predecessor at the U.N., criticized the U.S. decision.

"How to further insult your Mexican neighbor, turn your back on humanity's most desperate, and make America irrelevant on a hugely destabilizing global crisis in one easy step," Power said.

[Chris Herlinger is GSR international correspondent. His email address is cherlinger@ncronline.org.]