Facing criticism, CatholicVote head says ‘let’s get the facts’ about Catholic charities’ role helping migrants

CNA Staff   By CNA Staff


A male Border Patrol agent in La Joya, Texas, speaks in November 2021 with a Honduran man holding his daughter and waiting to be transported to a processing center after turning himself in to seek asylum. / Shutterstock

Denver Newsroom, Feb 11, 2022 / 16:42 pm (CNA).

The leader of a Catholic political advocacy group Friday pushed back against criticism of the organization’s legal efforts to obtain federal documents related to the work Catholic dioceses and charities are doing to assist undocumented migrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border.

“Catholics and Americans more broadly are frustrated with the situation at our border, and anyone truly concerned should welcome more facts,” Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote, told CNA, adding that transparency “can only be a good thing.”

In an email Feb 9, Burch announced that CatholicVote had joined the conservative group Judicial Watch in filing a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleging that the agencies were dragging their feet responding to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records requests CatholicVote filed on Sept. 1, 2021. The requests sought copies of “all communications” between the agencies and Catholic-affiliated groups working on the border.

“We want to know: What role are Catholic charities, dioceses, or Catholic-affiliated relief organizations playing in this effort? Are they helping house migrants in homes, hotels, or shelters? Are they paying for transportation, flights, buses, or other services — with government money?” Burch wrote in the email. “Is what they are doing legal? And is it the right thing to do?”

The FOIA requests specifically ask for records relating to the following groups and individuals: the Diocese of Brownsville; Brownsville Bishop Daniel E. Flores; Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley (CCRGV); Sister Norma Pimentel, CCRGV’s executive director; the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The lawsuits and the focus of the records requests met with sharp criticism from some Catholic leaders and groups.

“There is nothing wrong with feeding the hungry and providing care for those here in our country,” Pimentel told the National Catholic Reporter.

Bishop Flores also objected to CatholicVote’s actions. “I question why Catholic Charities is being singled out when a number of other NGOs and city entities have received and are also receiving funding,” he said. Bishop Michael F. Olson of the Diocese of Fort Worth echoed the same sentiment in a tweet posted Friday.

Amid the backlash, Burch agreed to respond to CNA’s questions about the controversy via email. Below are CNA’s questions and Burch’s answers. Minor editing changes were made for clarity.

How can your FOIA request of communications between Catholic Charities be perceived as anything other than an attack on the necessary, urgent work that Catholic organizations are doing at the border in the name of Christian charity?

Transparency is never a bad thing. The Freedom of Information Act was established to make government activities more transparent and accountable to the public so that citizens can be better informed when they work to influence public policy. So far, the Biden administration has refused to answer our legitimate request for communications with these Catholic entities. And the unfortunate fact is that Catholics across America have little understanding about what the federal government is doing today with Catholic-affiliated charities and organizations at the border. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent with these entities and everyone should welcome this attention.

Why do you specifically target Catholic leaders including Bishop Flores or Sister Norma Pimentel, who have been responding to a humanitarian emergency?

Our request simply named the Catholic organizations and entities responsible for the work being done on the border in partnership with the federal government. An intelligible FOIA request requires this. Further, our request made no judgment about the motives or work of these entities.

But you also raise an important point. There is indeed a humanitarian emergency on the border. And while many people are doing good work to address this crisis, the problem persists, and has worsened precipitously over the past two years. It’s time we ask some hard questions about whether our public policies, leaders in government, and even the Catholic response to this crisis are helping, and how things can be improved or changed. Catholics and Americans more broadly are frustrated with the situation at our border, and anyone truly concerned should welcome more facts.

How is the FOIA request not political or not politically partisan, when it targets a Democratic administration and is filed in conjunction with Judicial Watch, a noted conservative organization?

The humanitarian crisis at the border is a problem for both parties and for all Americans. Responsible citizenship includes asking our government hard questions sometimes, regardless of what party is in control. Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, recently said that the “Church must be political,” and that “We do a disservice to our membership if we call for an apolitical Church, because that would be a Church that is aloof to the concerns of the human family.” We agree, and we believe this is especially the responsibility of the laity, which is why our organization was founded.

With respect to this administration, Sister Pimentel recently disclosed that grant monies are being used to transport migrants across the country. That admission only came after investigative reporting by Bill Melugin, who found that federal agents were escorting migrants from Catholic Charities to a bus station that sent them away from the border. Catholics deserve to know the details of how the Biden administration is working with these charities.

Again, transparency can only be a good thing.

Judicial Watch is a well-known organization with expertise in filing and securing responses to FOIA requests from both Republican and Democratic administrations. They fought (former Republican Vice President] Dick Cheney all the way to the Supreme Court. The importance of getting Catholics the information they deserve to make informed judgments about the crisis on our border is a non-partisan issue.

Do you have any reason to believe the delay in having your FOIA request fulfilled is anything out of the ordinary? Doesn’t it often take months, or longer, to obtain this type of information from the government, especially in the case of documents shared by multiple federal agencies?

Sure, it’s common for government agencies to stonewall the public. They often don’t want to be forthcoming with documents and information. This is why watchdog organizations routinely have to use lawsuits to force these agencies to act. Our FOIA requests were filed in September of last year. The courts have agreed that six months is a reasonable amount of time to expect a response before a lawsuit is ripe.

What practical purposes can this move have when it is likely that CatholicVote will most likely have to wait months and even years for a response?

We hope we don’t have to wait that long. Already our lawsuits are bringing attention to this issue, and reminding our political and religious leaders that the public cannot be ignored. That’s good for everyone, from ordinary Catholics in the pews who are concerned with what they’re seeing on the border, to public officials who are tasked with advancing the common good, to the refugees and migrants themselves — many of whom are suffering the most from the humanitarian crisis at the border. Our lawsuits have also already prompted insiders to share information about what they know, which is helping shape our understanding of what is happening.

In addition to filing your FOIA requests, have you sought to obtain the information you are seeking from Catholic Charities and the other groups themselves?

We are reviewing all available public documents, grants, tax filings, and reports. But this information is limited. We also want to understand the ways in which our government is using these Catholic agencies to carry out its immigration policies. The charities have no obligation to respond, but Catholics do have a right under the Freedom of Information Act to ask these questions of our government, and to get answers. You only need to look at the vicious attacks leveled against us already to understand why we had to proceed in the way we have.

Is it fair to publicly imply that something possibly illegal is going on with respect to Catholic Charities and similar groups at the border, before finding out the facts first?

We need to move beyond the phony binary framework, where it’s assumed that any work being done on the border is righteous and beyond scrutiny, and anyone raising questions is a racist enemy of the Church, or of migrants. We are seeking facts. Every Catholic in America deserves them. In doing so, we have raised legitimate questions about whether the federal government and their partnership with these agencies is helping, or indeed legal. If nothing improper is occurring, then there is nothing to worry about.

The terrible situation at the border deserves more sunlight and attention, not less. We’ve seen murders, countless children going missing, and women and young girls routinely assaulted and sexually trafficked. According to some sources, 30% of women are being raped during migrations. The worst actors — cartels and people smugglers — have made a lucrative business for themselves based on the status quo. And there’s also the plight of migrants who do make it through our disorderly border, only to find themselves trapped in an underground economy. Meanwhile, dangerous drugs make their way into our own communities where they destroy our own citizens. Nobody wants this to continue.

Let’s get the facts. Let’s have an informed debate. Let’s stop shaming Catholics who are asking hard questions. The status quo is unacceptable. Something needs to change.

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  1. Thank you, Brian Burch, for you courage and the clarity of your replies to CNA. Any work done in the dark by people purporting to serve the Church needs o be illuminated.
    We pray for you success.

  2. There is much good associated with feeding the hungry and providing care for those here in our country. There is much bad when a sister feeds her neighbor while not feeding her brothers. Defending disorder gives lie to charity.

    Catholic Vote and Judicial Watch have every right to information. If ‘Catholic’ Charities and other ‘Catholic’ charitable initiatives have nothing to hide, why fight truth?

  3. Catholic Charities is actively cooperating the Biden Administration in flouting the immigration laws of this country. Both parties, along with other NGOs, have created the “humanitarian crisis” they claim to be responding to. They are exploiting immigrants to further the Great Replacement political agenda and collect hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars. Their greatest crime, though, is the treason they are committing against the American nation and its people. In a better world, the people who run Catholic Charities and the bishops who support them would be brought up upon on charges.

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  1. Facing criticism, CatholicVote head says ‘let’s get the facts’ about Catholic charities’ role helping migrants – Via Nova Media
  2. Facing criticism, CatholicVote head says ‘let’s get the facts’ about Catholic charities’ role helping migrants – Catholic World Report – The Old Roman

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