Last May, four sitting pastors in the Diocese of Burlington resigned their parishes after their religious worker visas expired. Although the diocese dutifully applied for permanent residency (Green Cards) for the priests, the backlog of cases delayed the applications over two years. These logistical hurdles forced the priests to return home lest they face deportation.
The situation faced by the Diocese of Burlington is not unique. Many American bishops, forced to grapple with a dearth of clergy, seek the assistance of foreign-born priests to staff parishes. But the convoluted bureaucracy in Washington gives little hope these priests will remain in lawful status. The chaos which invariably ensues leaves bishops with a tough choice. A bishop can either risk applying for visas with uncertain outcomes or he can close parishes, often resulting in disillusionment among the faithful. The burden weighs heavily upon those chosen to shepherd God’s flock. President Biden, who often touts his Catholic faith as pivotal to his political formation, should place religious worker visas at the top of his immigration agenda.
The inappropriate prejudices some Americans wield against immigrants often stem from unfounded stereotypes, particularly when they are exacerbated by illegal migration. Religious workers from foreign countries — priests, brothers, and religious sisters — give renewed hope to a struggling Church in the United States. They also provide positive examples that immigration policies can, and indeed do, work. Unless the president and his administration fix the crumbling immigration bureaucracy, those examples will prove fruitless.