BALTIMORE (AP) – The nation's Roman Catholic bishops, meeting just days after Donald Trump was elected president, urged him Monday to adopt humane policies toward immigrants and refugees.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said serving people fleeing violence and conflict "is part of our identity as Catholics" and pledged to continue this work. Pope Francis has made helping immigrants one of the core issues of his pontificate.
"We stand ready to work with a new administration to continue to ensure that refugees are humanely welcomed without sacrificing our security or our core values as Americans. A duty to welcome and protect newcomers, particularly refugees, is an integral part of our mission to help our neighbors in need," the bishops said at the assembly in Baltimore.
Trump had said during the campaign that he would build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and immediately deport all 11 million people in the country illegally, although he later distanced himself from that position. In an interview that aired Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes," he said he would focus on deporting people with criminal records beyond their immigrant status, "probably two million, it could even be three million." The Obama administration has deported more than 2.5 million people since taking office in 2009, according to the Homeland Security Department.
Trump also told "60 Minutes" that his promised solid border wall might look more like a fence in spots. House Speaker Paul Ryan rejected any "deportation force" targeting people in the country illegally.
A representative of the bishops had released the statement on Trump and immigration soon after Election Day. The statement was read aloud and affirmed by the bishops' conference as they opened their gathering.
American Catholics have built a vast network of aid and advocacy programs for immigrants and refugees. U.S. bishops are especially attentive to the issue given that Latinos comprise about 4 in 10 U.S. Catholics and are already a majority in several dioceses.
Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, Indiana, had opposed a request from Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, that the Catholic church stop settling Syrian refugees in the state. Tobin brought an Iraqi refugee to a meeting with the governor, who is now the vice-president elect. Tobin is one of three U.S. church leaders whom the pope will make cardinals in a ceremony Sunday in Rome.
The bishops have pledged to work with a Trump administration and the leaders of Congress.
Trump's exact policies remain a mystery, but he may find common ground with Catholic leaders if he fulfills his pledges to appoint anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and protect the conscience rights of religious conservatives who do not wish to recognize same-sex marriage.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, outgoing president of the bishops' conference, highlighted care for immigrants and religious liberty as key issues in his address Monday.