Giving a face to immigrants without documentation is essential to advocating for their rights, Cardinal Joseph Tobin said during a visit to Georgetown University on Monday.

Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, N.J., John Carr, director of the Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life at Georgetown, Mizraim Belman Guerrero (SFS ’20) and Habon Ali (SFS ’18) discussed the role of the church in advocating for refugees and immigrants without documentation in a Dahlgren Chapel panel discussion.

Before the panel, Tobin and Carr held a press briefing in Maguire Hall on the same topic.

The Dahlgren Dialogues, a series of discussions on social justice, are organized by Georgetown University’s Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life.

Tobin said religious leaders must voice their support for immigrants to affirm their humanity to the public.

“If we recognize the humanity of a person, we find it much more difficult to treat them inhumanely. And so why I think it’s important religious leaders stand with immigrants is to put a face on them, so people who want to do inhumane things know what they’re doing,” Tobin said at the press briefing.

Tobin said the issue of supporting students without documentation is moral, but also inherently political — which is not a problem, in his view.

“I don’t think the [Catholic] Church is barred from commenting on political issues,” Tobin said during the press briefing. “There is a distinction between the political sphere and the religious. But that distinction begins to diminish when you begin to look at what both are purportedly about, and that’s the common good. It’s about human flourishing. It’s about men and women at their best, so we have an interest in the polis, which is the common good.”

Tobin advocated a legislative replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, an executive program established in 2012 by the Obama administration that provide work authorization and legal protection to about 800,000 immigrants without documentation who came to the United States as children.


However, Tobin warned that a legislative compromise could lead to a bill with provisions with negative outcomes for immigrants.

“I personally feel we should hold out for a clean DACA because I’m very concerned. And I think I’m not simply being hysterical, if you examine the budget proposals, the administration is preparing for a mass deportation,” Cardinal Tobin said at a press briefing. “If we accept a deal uncritically thinking that’s all we can get, well, then we may be establishing a foundation that will result in a greater harm.”

Following a 2015 terrorist attack in Paris for which the Islamic terror group ISIS claimed responsibility, 31 state governors, including then-governor of Indiana and current Vice President Mike Pence, attempted to bar Syrian refugees from entering their states.

Tobin, who was at the time the archbishop of Indianapolis, requested to meet with Pence in order to introduce him to an Iraqi immigrant and naturalized citizen. Tobin said he wanted to show Pence the types of people his actions would affect.

“My intention was to say, ‘This is what a refugee looks like,’” Tobin said during the Dahlgren Dialogue. “He was very happy to explain to the governor all he was doing and how much he loves his job as a coffee manager.”

Belman Guerrero echoed Tobin’s sentiment.

“What I tried to emphasize in my remarks was the need to continue to humanize the conversation,” Belman Guerrero wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Another point that I highlighted is the need to stop looking for the ‘perfect immigrant’ and to focus on the humanity of each individual migrant.”

“If you’re talking about human beings, statistics are going to rob them of their face,” Tobin said during the press briefing.
Tobin illustrated his point with a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “There are three types of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Since leaving Indiana to come to the East Coast, Tobin said he has continued to focus on ways he can use his role to help immigrants without documentation.

“I asked every parish in the archdiocese to have a workshop that informs undocumented [immigrants] what their rights really are,” Tobin said during the press briefing. “Secondly, it’s working with coalitions of very generous attorneys to give, to the best of our ability, guaranteed representation.”

Tobin traces back his motivation to help undocumented immigrants to his Catholic faith and to his upbringing.

“People of goodwill wonder why the most helpless and vulnerable people of society are subjected to the most inhumane treatment,” Tobin said during the press briefing. “We felt it was part of our mission as the Catholic community to find a home [for those] who were fleeing from violence.”

During the Dahlgren Dialogue, Tobin recounted growing up in a diverse Detroit neighborhood and his attraction to the church for its willingness to stand with people of all origins.

Tobin also acknowledged the deep-rooted compassion for immigrants that exists within the Catholic faith, referencing a verse in the Book of Exodus – you shall not wrong an alien, “for you once were aliens,” Tobin said.

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