The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Tuesday added to the nearly $3 million the church has invested in the past year on immigration reform efforts, saying they sense a political opening on a topic that’s long been a concern for a strongly immigrant faith.
The organization of U.S. Catholic bishops said it would make $800,000 in grants available for projects aimed at mobilizing regular Catholics to push for the bishops’ immigration platform That includes family reunification, a path to citizenship and addressing the root causes of immigration, among other things.
The bishops’ anti-poverty program in the past year has invested more than $3.5 million in grass-roots immigration reform.
For a decade, the bishops have had a clear policy on immigration, called “Strangers No Longer.” In addition to being part of general church teaching, support for newcomers matches the demographics of a U.S. church built by immigrants. Even today, half of Americans born abroad are Catholic.
While church policy has been clear, the bishops have not spoken about immigration in recent years as much as they have addressed other priorities, particularly opposition to same-sex marriage and a White House mandate that employers provide access to contraception.
A recent Pew poll showed just 32 percent of churchgoing Catholics had heard about immigration issues at church. Among Catholics overall, just 7 percent said religion was the main force in shaping their immigration views.
Some advocates said the bishops might be stepping up their investment because they see a political opening.
“There’s a real opportunity now to get it done,” said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, director of immigration for the National Council of La Raza.
“It just shows they understand how challenging it can be,” said Kevin Appleby, director of the bishops’ Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, “and without the full commitment of the church it might not happen.”