Kevin Appleby will measure his efforts today when president announces plan
Last week, two high-profile bishops, Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson and Eusebio Elizondo of Seattle, went further. The prelates threw their support behind an executive order on immigration, which would remove the threat of deportation from millions of immigrants who overstayed their visas or crossed the border illegally. “(I)t would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection,” Elizondo told Religion News Service.
The media reports suggested that the bishops’ tentative endorsement of an executive order is new. In fact, the bishops’ top aide on immigration has lobbied President Obama from the left for nearly half a year.
Kevin Appleby is the director of the office of migration and refugee policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In late June, Obama proposed spending $2 billion to hire and train more immigration judges in south Texas and build more detention centers for families that attempted to immigrate to the United States.
For Appleby, the proposal was a threat to immigrants’ lives.
In mid-November, after Republicans picked up enough seats on Election Day to regain control of the Senate in January, Obama weighed the timing of his decision on the executive order. Democratic leaders such as Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Majority Leader, told the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call that he preferred Obama wait until Congress approved an omnibus spending bill, although Reid later said Obama should "act now."
Appleby suggested that if Obama waited any longer the president would face strong political opposition from progressives and Hispanic interest groups.
Through spokespersons, Appleby declined two separate email requests for an interview.
Appleby has released little information publicly about his background.
In an op-ed last August, Appleby cast an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws as a transnational duty for Catholics. “Immigrants are present in Catholic social service programs, hospitals, schools, and parishes; each day priests and other staff are approached by an immigrant asking for help for a loved one – a parent who has been detained, a child who has been involuntarily left behind by two deported parents, or a distraught family member who has lost a loved one in the desert,” Appleby wrote for Religion News Service, a liberal-leaning news organization. “Without changes in our immigration laws, priests, employees, the laity, or even bishops cannot help solve these problems or help keep their families together.”
In addition, Appleby appealed to Catholics’ self-interest and compassion.
"From my perspective, he has been absolutely instrumental in conveying the Church's position in a major policy debate that has been roiling the nation for a long time. Talking to the media is part of that, but so is his behind-the-scenes advocacy with a broad range of politicians and policy makers," the academic said.
For example, incoming Rep. Frank Guinta of New Hampshire, a Republican, said he opposes the bishops’ support for comprehensive immigration reform and the executive order. Instead of using words such as “amnesty” that rile liberals, Guinta said that an immigration overhaul would violate the will of voters who cast ballots on Election Day.
President Obama is expected to announce the executive order in a primetime address Thursday night. If he issues the order, the American Church could gain millions of adherents, as most come from heavily-Catholic Mexico.
The Catholic academic said Appleby is bound to approve of Obama's executive order: "This isn't comprehensive immigration reform, but it moves the ball down the field."
Mark Stricherz covers Washington for Aleteia. He is author of Why the Democrats are Blue.