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Religious Groups Criticize Trump Immigration Policies


The Trump administration's policy of separating children from their parents as they try to cross the border without documentation is the subject of growing criticism including this week from America's Roman Catholic bishops. Thomas Wenski is the archbishop of Miami and joins us now. Excellency, thanks so much for being with us.

THOMAS WENSKI: Thank you, Scott, for having me on.

SIMON: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this week called that order immoral. Why?

WENSKI: Well, it's - it goes against the values of our nation and the values of helping families stay together. Separating a child, a toddler, for example, from his mother or father is traumatic to this child and should only be done under the most grave of circumstances. And basically the administration has - in deciding to separate children from their parents, are trying to weaponize children, using them as a leverage against the parents applying for their asylum applications, a right that they have both under the national law and under our own United States laws. People have a right to petition for asylum and go through the legal process. And they should not have their children be used as an incentive for them not to apply, which is what is behind this.

SIMON: Archbishop, let me - I'm sure you are familiar with what Attorney General Sessions said this week. He had a Bible lesson.


JEFF SESSIONS: And I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes.

SIMON: So let me ask the archbishop of Miami, how is his Bible scholarship?

WENSKI: Well, (laughter) I'm a Catholic priest, and the Catholics, we don't believe that the individual has a right to interpret scripture on his own. We think that Luther was wrong about that. But more to the point, he is trying to instrumentalize (ph) the scripture to promote an agenda. And this has been done in the past many, many times by people with nefarious motives. It was used - scripture was used to justify slavery. It was used to justify murder as Jesus himself was confronted by these Pharisees that told him that this woman caught in adultery was to be stoned, according to the Scriptures. And Jesus had a different interpretation of that. So I think his - he should go back to Bible study, and he would find that that's not the case. And the Scriptures talk about the injustice done to the poor as crying out to heaven for avenge - vengeance. So the Scriptures do not comfort the powerful. They are usually meant to us to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted. And he was using it in the opposite way.

SIMON: Archbishop, we've got about a minute left. Let me ask you - do you believe that, let's say, border agents and administration officials who are tasked to enforce the laws that you and the bishops have called immoral have a moral responsibility to refuse to do that?

WENSKI: I think they have certainly to play - use their conscience. You know, there have been laws that are unjust laws, and people have defied unjust laws. Rosa Parks refused to sit in the back - in the back of the bus, breaking the law. And oftentimes, you know, people will resign rather than do something that goes against their conscience. So there's something to be said for that. But generally, I think the Border Patrol people are attempting to do their job. They are following orders. They're following orders that are often legitimate.

But I think this calls for a soul-searching, not on the part of the people down on the line but on the policymakers. And I think they have to make the policy a little bit more humane, a little bit more just and a little bit more in accord to the values of our country. And as I've said so many times, we can make America great again, but we won't make America great by making America mean.

SIMON: Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, thanks so much.

WENSKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.