Ministry systems express solidarity with immigrants, refugees in wake of travel ban

March 1, 2017

Court temporarily stays order that could be drag on health care workforce


Several Catholic health care systems have called President Donald Trump's executive order imposing a 90-day travel ban on nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries and barring Syrian refugees indefinitely from entry into the United States "disappointing" and "confusing" and pledged their support for clinicians, medical residents and other employees affected by the unexpected executive order.

Protesters denounce President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning immigrants and refugees from select Muslim-majority nations. The demonstration Jan. 28 at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was one of many such protests across the U.S.
Photo by G. Morty Ortega/Getty Images News

The executive order, signed Jan. 27, bars people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. It prevents all refugees from entering the country for 120 days and suspends the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely. After the order was issued, immigration officials detained several refugees and people from impacted countries when they deplaned at U.S. airports. Others were not allowed to board planes at their departure airports.

The order prompted widespread public protests and ongoing legal challenges in several U.S. courts, one of which produced a temporary order lifting the ban nationwide.

The executive order directs senior administration officials to review the stringency of screening procedures for foreign nationals seeking to enter the U.S. to "ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals." Opponents of the ban maintain that the order illegally targets Muslims — a charge the White House denies — and that individuals with valid visas should be allowed to enter the U.S.


The executive order set off widespread confusion over whether it prohibited the entry or re-entry into the U.S. of people with legal permanent resident status who are nationals of one of the affected countries. On Feb. 1, White House counsel said the executive order did not apply to individuals in this group.

There were media reports around the nation about a handful of clinicians from the affected countries being unable to enter or return to the U.S. Catholic health care systems and secular organizations said the immigration ban could make it harder to recruit foreign-born clinicians and medical students, who are more likely to take assignments in medically underserved communities.

Statements of solidarity
Numerous Catholic organizations, associations and congregations issued statements expressing concern about the travel ban and declaring their support for immigrants, especially refugees who might be adversely impacted by the travel restrictions.


Three bishops representing the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that the executive order had "generated fear and untold anxiety among refugees, immigrants and others." Archbishop William E. Lori, Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski and Bishop Oscar Cantú wrote that the USCCB stands in solidarity with those affected by the order, and especially Muslims. The statement said that while U.S. bishops recognize the government's "duty to protect the security of its people, we must nevertheless employ means that respect both religious liberty for all, and the urgency of protecting the lives of those who desperately flee violence and persecution."

CHA is urging its members to support the USCCB's efforts to protect refugees and immigrants by contacting elected officials to oppose the executive order. The bishops' conference provides a link on its website for sending emails to elected officials, and sample language to use.

Vital role
Providence St. Joseph Health of Renton, Wash.; Trinity Health of Livonia, Mich.; CHRISTUS Health of Irving, Texas; and Avera Health of Sioux Falls, S.D., are ministry providers that issued statements or spoke to Catholic Health World about their apprehensions in regard to the executive order.


Dr. Rod Hochman, Providence St. Joseph Health's president and chief executive, wrote on his blog that more than 300 of the health care system's care providers are nationals or dual nationals of the seven countries named in the executive order. "They play a vital role in the health of those we serve, bringing highly needed, highly technical skills to our communities." He said their work "literally saves lives."

He said the affected providers include physicians who come to the United States to learn the latest medical techniques and to advance health care in their home countries.

At the ready
Hochman wrote in his blog post that "many of our affected caregivers are unclear and anxious about what this executive action means for them and their families." He wrote that Providence St. Joseph is monitoring the situation and will support its associates.

Top executives of Trinity Health said in a Jan. 31 correspondence to system office colleagues that Trinity is identifying how best to support affected colleagues. Trinity urged colleagues who are nationals and/or citizens of the countries listed in the order to consult an attorney to learn what their travel risks may be. Trinity offered to provide legal counsel to colleagues and medical staff and other affiliated clinicians in need of it.

Gabriela Saenz is vice president of advocacy and government affairs for CHRISTUS. She said that while CHRISTUS is not aware of specific associates impacted by the order, it is investigating who might be affected, and plans to assist any associate harmed by the restrictions.

Workforce shortage
The Medicus Firm, a Dallas-based physician recruiting company, said more than 15,000 doctors in the United States are from the seven Muslim-majority countries covered by the travel ban, including about 9,000 from Iran, about 3,500 from Syria and about 1,500 from Iraq.

Saenz said, "We have concerns that this order could cause disruption for health care workers, as many are trained abroad and need to be able to travel to the U.S."

She added that as an international organization — CHRISTUS operates health care facilities in three countries besides the United States — "we know a strong workforce is critical to ensuring the best quality of care," and associates from other nations are a critical part of that workforce.

Bob Sutton is executive vice president of human resources for Avera, a system that predominantly serves rural communities throughout the Midwest. He said that any new limitation on legal immigration is problematic from a workforce standpoint. He said it is increasingly difficult to recruit workers of all stripes — from physicians to housekeepers — to rural communities. Rural health care facilities have become extremely reliant on immigrants to staff difficult-to-fill positions. And, Sutton said, the need for foreign-born workers will only increase, since the United States-born workforce is aging and will not keep up with the demand for workers.

Sutton said while Avera appreciates that the government has a right to secure the border, it is important to recognize there are consequences for restricting immigration.

Welcoming the stranger
The future of the travel ban is unclear. As Catholic Health World went to press, the temporary restraining order issued Feb. 3 by Judge James Robart, a federal district court judge in Seattle, created a nationwide stay on enforcing the executive order. In a Feb. 9 order, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco unanimously refused the government's motion to immediately reinstate the travel ban. The litigation continues.

Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet joined in a protest Feb. 4 in St. Louis against President Donald Trump's travel ban. Here, from left, are Fr. Jack Lau, OMI; Angie O'Gorman, co-founder of an organization called The Kitchen Table; Sr. Sandy Straub, CSJ; Sr. Janet Kuciejczyk, CSJ; Sr. Mary Ann Boes, CSJ; Sr. Rita Marie Schmitz, CSJ, a member of provincial leadership for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet; and Sr. Clare Bass, CSJ.
Photo by G. Morty Ortega/Getty Images News

Also on Feb. 3, Providence sent a letter summarizing its concerns about the order to members of Congress who represent communities served by Providence. In the letter, Hochman wrote, "It is our hope that reforms to immigration policy balance our nation's historic embrace of new immigrants with our nation's security and economic needs. We encourage you to work with the Trump Administration to craft immigration and refugee policy that ensures human rights are protected, and that the inherent dignity of every person is recognized."

Saenz said that CHRISTUS has been asking its elected officials to support a revocation of the executive order "based on the harm it will cause vulnerable refugees, immigrant families and our employees."

Long-held organizational values — most notably compassion and equity — compel CHRISTUS to oppose the travel restrictions, she said.

In a message to system office colleagues, Trinity's top executives wrote of their disappointment in the executive order. President and Chief Executive Dr. Richard J. Gilfillan was joined by mission executive Sr. Mary Ann Dillon, RSM, and human resources head Ed Hodge in stating "we believe that welcoming immigrants, refugees and newcomers is an act of love and hope."

Click here to access a letter that Providence St. Joseph Health sent to elected officials to convey concerns with President Donald Trump’s executive order.



Catholic organizations, congregations react to travel ban

Catholic congregations and associations were among the many groups that issued statements opposing President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the U.S., suspending refugee admission to the U.S. for 120 days and barring refugees from Syria indefinitely.  A federal district court in Washington stayed the ban Feb. 3, eight days after it was issued.

Organizations issuing statements of opposition to the order included:

  • American Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, Washington, DC, which expressed its "strong opposition" to the executive order, saying the organization joined other Catholic and higher education organizations in recognizing "the moral obligation of our country to assist migrants, particularly those who are fleeing any kind of persecution." The association cited statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and from Pope Francis in urging humane treatment of newcomers to the U.S.

  • Catholic Charities USA of Alexandria, Va., which issued a Jan. 25 release expressing solidarity with immigrants, a Jan. 27 release decrying the suspension of the U.S. refugee program, a Feb. 2 release launching a fundraising campaign to support immigrants and refugees and a Feb. 10 release applauding the U.S. 9th Circuit Court's decision to continue to block  the travel ban. The organization's president and chief executive, Sr. Donna Markham, OP, said in the Feb. 10 release that Catholic Charities is "committed to supporting vulnerable people coming here in search of a safe life."

  • Catholic Relief Services of Baltimore, which hosted Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service for an early February press conference. Cardin said at the event that the executive order was "not in keeping with the traditions and values of our country." A CRS representative said at the media gathering that the nation's security "must not be built on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world." On Feb. 11, CRS issued a release welcoming the 9th Circuit Court's decision blocking the executive order while the issue was litigated in the Seattle federal district court.

  • Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word of San Antonio, which posted a statement Jan. 30 on its website, supporting immigrants and refugees. In part, the sisters said recent actions against immigrants have "caused great fear and suffering." It cited Gospel passages and Pope Francis statements to underscore the need to welcome and serve vulnerable people. The sisters wrote, "We are a congregation founded by immigrants, for immigrants. … We stand for and with our brothers and sisters who still have the trust and courage to leave all that they know and love to build a better life for themselves and others."

  • The Dominican Sisters of Peace of Columbus, Ohio, said on Jan. 30 that they denounced anti-immigrant actions including "the President's executive order to begin construction of a border wall, the denial of funding to sanctuary cities around the country, the increased detention and deportation of immigrants, and most recently, the ban on refugees from predominantly Muslim countries." The sisters said they respected the government's obligation to protect those in the United States from terrorism. They said, however, that the recent actions harm the most vulnerable and marginalized and deny basic human and civil rights.    

  • Interfaith Immigration Coalition. In a letter to the president and to members of Congress, the coalition said it represented more than 3,500 religious leaders in calling for the elected officials to "demonstrate moral leadership and affirm their support for the resettlement of refugees from all over the world to the United States." In the letter, the coalition wrote that "this nation has a moral responsibility to receive refugees and asylum seekers who are in dire need of safety."

  • Leadership Conference of Women Religious of Silver Spring, Md., which wrote in a Jan. 30 statement that the organization "is deeply disturbed by many of President Trump's recent executive orders. His misplaced priorities and denigration of the values that form the bedrock of this nation, threaten us all." They wrote that the orders will exacerbate the concerns immigrants and refugees face in the U.S. and abroad. The sisters denounced the president's plans to build a wall and further militarize the U.S. southern border, to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities and to institute the travel ban. The organization vowed to continue to welcome immigrants and refugees.

  • Sisters of Mercy of the Americas of Silver Spring, Md., which wrote in a Jan. 31 release that the congregation denounces as immoral the Trump Administration's executive order and calls for its rescission.  The congregation said in the statement that given the scale of the worldwide refugee crisis, the order would "deepen the tremendous suffering of those fleeing unimaginable conditions of violence, poverty and war and further tear families apart."

  • Sisters from the U.S. Region of the Adorers of the Blood of Christ of St. Louis were among those who took part in a protest against the travel ban on Jan. 31 in Belleville, Ill. The Adorers issued a statement that said in part: "As a community of religious women, proud U.S. citizens and faithful voters, we stand with those who must leave their homeland in search of a safe and secure place to live." The Adorers spoke of the human dignity of all people and renounced President Trump's travel ban. The sisters called for its repeal "to allow refugees who have already been vetted, provided necessary documentation and paid for their visas to enter this country." They called for reform of immigration laws "so they are humane and provide a path to citizenship."


Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact
Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.