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An attack on religion?

A new Biden rule on immigration is forcing thousands of foreign-born clergy to leave their churches, temples and synagogues.

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The arrogance of the Biden administration and its unelected, authoritarian regulators and the fecklessness of Congress know no bounds. You might also say the Biden administration’s obvious assault against Christians is marching forward with punitive force.

We say all of that in the wake of an announcement in this week’s Sunday bulletin at St. Martha Catholic Church. 

Pastor George Suszko announced that the Rev. Krzysztof “Chris” Frost is leaving St. Martha and the United States because of the Biden administration’s surprise change in green card rules in March 2023 — and because of Congress’ subsequent lack of will to act.

New rules — imposed by the Department of State and not legislated by Congress — are forcing Father Frost out of his job and back to his native country of Poland at the end of May. He must be out of the country before May 30; if not, he will be banned from entering the United States for 10 years.

Father Frost, 45, has been serving at St. Martha four-and-a-half years. Previously, he served parishes in Buffalo and Brooklyn. He started his ministry in the U.S. in 2012.

All the while, he has been working legally with an R-1 visa, with the intent to apply for a green card for permanent residency status.

The R-1 category is a religious worker visa that allows foreign-born religious workers — of all religions — to work 30 months in the U.S. Father Frost has extended his R-1 visa five times, legally. 

After being settled at St. Martha for two years, in 2022, he qualified to begin the process to qualify to apply for a green card. He spent an entire year off and on gathering documentation about his health and history, proving he met immigration standards to apply for a green card.

In early March 2023, after exhaustive red tape, he finally completed the documentation and sent it to his lawyer in Buffalo. A week later, his lawyer called him with the bad news.

The Department of State — without notice to anyone — changed the rules. The federal government stopped the process on all religious worker applications for green cards. The change meant his R-1 status would end, forcing him to leave the country.

“I missed the deadline by one month,” Frost said. “After so many years here and filing all the papers — it’s just unbelievable. It’s like being told you were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but they gave it to someone else.”

Thousands forced out

Frost is far from being alone. He is one of thousands of foreign-born priests, nuns, rabbis, imams and other religious workers all over the U.S. who are being forced to leave their jobs and go back to their places of origin. The Los Angeles diocese is losing 30 priests; Brooklyn is losing 30. The diocese of Venice here will lose two other priests in August.

Why did the State Department change the rules? 

Of the five people interviewed, in a report in the National Law Review and in documents from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, no one understands why the Biden administration did what it did. Nor has the Biden administration explained explicitly why. But here is what it did:

State Department bureaucrats issued an immigration bulletin in March 2023 in which it said for the past seven years the green card applications for so-called neglected or abused minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras were being placed in the wrong green-card category. So by fiat, they decided to put the minors in the same category as religious workers and declared that applicants who applied prior to March 2018 would have priority. 

This essentially gave preference to 55,000 slots previously set for religious workers to the minors who came through the southern border by the thousands as asylum seekers in 2014 and 2015.

“For religious workers and the communities they currently serve as R-1 nonimmigrants, this means they will not be able to become lawful permanent residents before their nonimmigrant status expires,” according to a letter the American Immigration Lawyers Association sent to Secretary of State Andrew Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Majorkas. “For most, the only option is that they leave” the country.

For more than a year now, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops, the immigration lawyers association and other religious groups have written letters, lobbied the State Department and Congress. 

The immigration lawyers provided Homeland Security with four detailed steps that could resolve the issue for religious workers. An assistant Homeland secretary responded last October in a one-page letter. Ultimately, she concluded: “… Only legislation can fully address the important concerns you raise.”

Frost gave us copies of responses to requests for help he sent to Rep. Greg Steube and Sen. Marco Rubio. As Frost interpreted them: “Blah, blah, blah.”

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-California, filed a bill last June to fix the matter, but GovTrack, the legislative tracking site, gives the bill a 2% chance of it being enacted.

Frost is blunt about Washington not fixing the problem: “It’s a pure lack of will.”

Said Pastor Suszko: “It will have to be a new government. A new government can change it.”

Suszko himself is concerned. Unless the rules and law are changed, he too will lose his work visa and be forced to leave his pastorship at St. Martha and return in November 2026 to his home country of Poland. Suszko has been on his first assignment in the U.S. at St. Martha for the past two-and-a-half years.

Worsens clergy shortage

The adverse consequences of this ruling go beyond the clergy themselves. Suszko said St. Martha needs at least four priests to meet the demands of the parish, visiting the sick in hospitals and overseeing St. Martha Catholic School. Now it will be down to three.

What’s more, this brilliant regulatory decision-making comes when Catholic parishes around the country — as well as other Christian denominations — are already struggling because of a shortage of clergy.

According to The National Catholic Reporter, a Catholic University of America study of priests indicated 24% of priests serving in the U.S. are foreign-born (8,900). And of those, 15% were ordained outside the U.S., said Brandon Vaidyanathan, chair of Catholic University’s Department of Sociology and the study’s lead researcher.

“If we assume, for instance, that foreign-ordained priests are largely on visas — that’s a large chunk of your 15%, given just the priest shortage, and the number of parish closures,” Vaidyanathan told The National Catholic Reporter. “A single priest is sometimes responsible for three to five parishes. So you can imagine with that situation, losing 10% to 15% of your priests, that becomes a serious crisis.”

For now, the Diocese of Venice says it does not have a shortage of priests. “Not yet,” said diocese Chancellor Volodymyr Smeryk. “But we could in the long term. It takes up to six years to finish in the seminary.”

Nonetheless, when you hear the Rev. Frost’s story and frustrations, you can multiply that by the thousands across the country. 

Because of new Biden immigration rules giving preference to unaccompanied minors who crossed the southern border in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the Rev. Krzysztof “Chris” Frost of St. Martha Catholic Church in Sarasota is one of thousands of foreign-born clergy and religious workers in the U.S. being forced to return to their native homelands. Frost will return to Poland at the end of May.
Photo by Matt Walsh

“You have to deal with all your belongings,” Frost said. “I’ve already shipped two boxes (back to Poland). I have two more. I’m selling my bike, my computer. I have to close my bank accounts.

“I still can’t believe after almost 12 years, I cannot do what I love to do,” he said.

Frost will be returning to his hometown of Chelmno, an 18,000-population city in northern Poland. “My mother is counting the days,” Frost said. He hasn’t seen her or his brother or sister in more than three years. Traveling back to Poland during that time would have jeopardized his visa status.

Frost said he would like to come back to the United States and continue his ministry, but it’s not likely. To return, he would have to wait a year to apply for another R-1 visa, which then would take another six to eight months to obtain. A green card would likely take another five to 10 years.

“I see on YouTube thousands of illegal immigrants crossing the border and then get picked up by Uber and taken to a hotel,” Frost said. “I’m tired of the whole process and really discouraged.”

Assault on Christians?

As we’ve often noted, the famed economist-philosopher Thomas Sowell said there are no solutions to problems, only tradeoffs. And in making the tradeoff — to give preference to unaccompanied (illegal) minors from Central America over religious workers serving millions of congregants, the federal government clearly demonstrated what the famous libertarian writer and newspaper columnist of the 1940s, Isabel Paterson, said about government:

“Government is solely an instrument or mechanism of appropriation, prohibition, compulsion and extinction; in the nature of things, it can be nothing else, and can operate to no other end.”

What’s more, she wrote: “It is a fundamental error to suppose that a law may do some good and cannot hurt anyone. Whether it does any good or not, a law enforced must hurt someone.”

As his administration has done throughout his term, Biden and his immigration bureaucrats are hurting thousands and thousands of clergy, their families and hundreds of thousands of Christian, Jewish, Muslim congregants throughout the United States.

Whatever government touches, it always makes matters worse. What’s more, it’s difficult not to suspect or see this deporting of mostly Christian clergy as another Biden administration assault on religion and Christianity.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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