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Posted in Archbishop Chaput's column, Weekly column from Archbishop Chaput, on June 24th, 2013

Immigration reform: Renewing the soul of a nation

En espanol

“Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of us Anglifying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs?”

— Benjamin Franklin, 1751

“Immigration is about more than immigration.  It is about renewing the soul of America.”
— +Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, 2013 

Last week, in a June 18 editorial, the Wall Street Journal reminded Americans that “the evidence overwhelmingly shows that today’s immigrants are acculturating and moving up the economic ladder like previous generations,” and that “despite fears and much bad data [among the general public], immigrants continue to be the American asset they have always been.”

Hispanic and Asian immigrants make up about 70 percent of foreign-born adults in the United States.  And studies show – no surprise — that “second generation Hispanics and Asians place more importance than does the general public on hard work and career success.”

For Hispanics and Asians, as with earlier waves of immigrants, education is highly valued, with “English [the] dominant language of the second generation, and by the fourth generation, fewer than a quarter can still speak the immigrant tongue.”

The Journal speaks from economic common sense. But sane voices have been rare in America’s immigration debates.  We’re a nation of immigrants constantly worried that the next gang of newcomers will ruin the country.  More than 260 years ago, Benjamin Franklin fretted that newly arrived hordes of German-speaking aliens would steal the identity of Pennsylvania.  We know how that turned out.

So it goes today.  Both political parties share the blame.  Republicans, especially in the House, channel the country’s fears of being overrun by foreign freeloaders and criminals.  The current (Democratic) administration, for all its pro-Latino rhetoric, has kicked out roughly 1.5 million people over the past four years, more than the previous Bush administration.  The current White House had no qualms about declining to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, yet it relentlessly deported more than 400,000 “illegals” in 2012 alone – a record number.

The human cost of this immigration gridlock is massive. As Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez writes in his extraordinary new book, Immigration and the Next America:

“More than 5 million children [in the United States] are growing up in homes with one or more ‘illegal’ parents, and about 80 percent of these kids are American citizens, born in this country… We say we are worried about the long-term social costs of illegal immigration.  If we are, then we should be looking for every way possible to integrate the undocumented into our economy so that they do not become a permanent underclass of dependent people.  Our policy today, unfortunately, is only helping that underclass grow in numbers.  The underclass grows every time we break apart a family by deporting a working father and leaving women and children behind in poverty.  We [risk] creating, through our inaction, the very conditions that we claim to be afraid of – a generation of people who can’t assimilate, and who don’t have the education and skills to contribute to our economy.”

The word “extraordinary” doesn’t fully capture the value of Archbishop Gomez’s brief book.  The Wall Street Journal sees immigration as mainly an economic matter.  But Archbishop Gomez goes deeper into the issue, tying together culture, faith, social research, history, a hemispheric perspective and his personal experience as an immigrant.

Born in Monterrey, Mexico, and a naturalized U.S. citizen, the archbishop has roots in both cultures, with family on both sides of the border.  But the special love he bears for his adopted country emerges from every page.  He has no use for the politics of ethnic bitterness or entitlement.  He wastes no time on naïve sloganeering.  Instead, he repeatedly makes clear his respect for those who are wary of immigration reform out of concern for public safety, financial stability and the integrity of our nation’s laws.  He shares some of the same concerns.

At the same time, he makes a powerful case – the best case I’ve seen so far – for the urgency of deep reform now.  Real reform must include a reasonable path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers now living in the United States; an end to the deportations that destroy families; and – eventually – a serious effort to remedy the hemispheric inequities that drive foreign workers into our country out of desperation.  For Gomez, what’s at stake is the soul of our nation in the years ahead:

“If immigration reform is to succeed – if the American dream is to be renewed – we need to reject the [cynicism of America’s cultural elites] and the careless disregard for American identity.  We need to restore the ideal of citizenship based on integration and Americanization.  Immigrants should be welcomed within a civic framework built on a common American story and universal values.  We should be promoting broad expectations for citizens – including the understanding that individual rights presume common duties; and that freedom doesn’t mean doing whatever we want, but instead means doing what is true and beautiful and good.”

For Archbishop Gomez, “a civic framework built on a common American story” demands that we honor our Anglo-Protestant roots as a nation.  But it also demands that we recover — at long last — the other, missing half of our story: the Hispano-Catholic legacy that predates the Thirteen Colonies by many decades.  America’s real “first Thanksgiving” took place in Spanish Catholic Florida, not Puritan Massachusetts.

“Two hundred years before any of the founding fathers were born,” the archbishop reminds us, “this land’s people were being baptized in the name of Christ.  The people of this land were called Christians before they were called Americans.  And they were first called this name in the Spanish tongue.”

On June 30, we celebrate Justice for Immigrants Sunday across the archdiocese.  It’s a key moment in the life of our Church.  I urge every one of our parishes in the coming months to read and discuss Archbishop Gomez’s words.   Rich in content, vividly written and profoundly hopeful in spirit, Immigration and the Next America is a priceless gift in a small package; the kind of book we need to carry around in our hearts as we deal with the changing landscape of our nation.  Read it.  Pray over it.  Then share it with others.  It’s that important.


“Immigration and the Next America: Renewing the Soul of Our Nation,” by Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, will be published in English (July 5) and Spanish (July 19) by Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN.  Available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.


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8 Responses

  1. Clearly, Immigration Reform is a Democratic Issue while Immigration Prevention is a Republican Issue. The Catholic Church is clearly siding with the Democratic Party on the Immigration Issue as it has sided with them on many “people” issues in the past like unionization and social security. The Catholic Church has gotten into trouble when it sides with the Republicans who are only interested in maintaining the status quo.

    By: Robert on June 24, 2013 at 12:39 pm

  2. Most Reverend Bishop,
    Thank you for your service to our Lord and His Church, it is appreciated. There is something that we ask you prayerfully consider. There are Catholics based on there own life experiences, friends or knowledge they personally have that make policy calls by some Bishops scary.
    Case in point this so called Immigration issue. the following are factual issues that are not taken into consideration.
    1. I purchased last year about 10 Documentary DVD’s showing that there is more to the illegal aliens coming across the border, there are Camera’s in place at the border all over the place to document the actual evidence that Our Catholic Church is either refusing to believe or denies it’s existence that greatly increases the actual and not just a perceived threat.
    2. Is the leadership of the Catholic Church also considering the voting record of the majority of those being allowed in? They vote for the same party that supports Abortion, Gay marriage and the Party that needed to vote three times to accept the word God in it’s platform.
    Why does ANY Bishop in Catholic Church leadership support these things that are against Christ’s Churches teachings?
    Most Reverend Bishop it is nothing short of heart Breaking to see Church Leadership that Christ entrusted His church to make policy decisions that have no logical, rational, reasonable or Moral basis and will not listen or even consider any evidence that supports the views of the Catholic Church yet is not in line with certain Bishops views?

    In Christ’s love, I thank you for being able to share this as there are many like myself that are well versed on this and other issues.

    By: Matthew & Patricia Ribarich on June 24, 2013 at 1:51 pm

  3. Why do bishops try to make ILLEGAL immigration a political issue? Did it ever occur to them it is a RIGHT and WRONG matter? Doesn’t the CCC say, “…authorities may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions Immigrants are obliged to respect….”

    No reasonable person wants to see families torn apart but why blame LEGAL citizens? While demonizing illegal deportations, please remember, we allow more LEGAL immigrants than any other country—1,000,000 every yr.
    There are 11 million—some say 23 million—here ILLEGALLY. Many will recall, in 1986, amnesty was granted, with the promise of boarder security..it didn’t happen so here we go again.

    I read a plan—not 100’s of pages rather a “one-Page Immigration Proposal” http://t.co/3MNpHYc2wP Keep it simple. Perhaps the only thing I would add is to increase the number of legal immigrants—maybe double or tipple.

    The good bishop makes another excellent point–many are Catholic. Here are the POLITICS of the argument. Bishops have done a poor job of instructing regarding Catholic voting principles. 71% of Hispanics are Catholic; 68% voted for the abortion candidate. Asians, while only 4%, Catholic, voted 73% for the abortion candidate. Does that make anyone eager to add more death supporters?

    Perhaps some naval gazing is in order. “The Church makes a moral judgment about economic and social matters, ‘when the fundamental rights of the person or the salvation of souls requires it.’…” (CCC 2420) Have immigrants—or Catholics in general-—been advised the fundamental moral responsibility to support life?

    By: margaret on June 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

  4. Your Grace, I am a practicing Catholic. I try (though sometimes fail just like every other human on the planet) to live my faith, I partake of the Sacraments, I go to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. I respect and try to promote the views of the Church, have even attempted to do so through helping out with RCIA and getting involved within the parish and so on. I even tutor ESL students (mostly Latino, many of whom are “illegal”; I know some Spanish. I also have friends among these people). All that being said, I HONESTLY have a hard time knowing where to stand on this issue of illegal immigration.

    I have no problem with immigration in and of itself. We are a nation of immigrants, after all. My maternal great-grandparents came over “on the boat” in the early 20th century. But they went through legal channels, came through Ellis Island and all that.

    My problem is that I don’t know how to feel about “ILLEGAL” immigrants. On the one hand, I see the problem with the deportation of these immigrants whose children, by virtue of being born here, are American. I see how hard it is on these people who come here out of a true struggle to survive because their own countries are war-torn and poverty-stricken (don’t such conditions allow for amnesty, after all?). And from what I’ve heard, the citizenship tests are so strict and hard that even natural-born, life-long American citizens would likely not be able to pass them.

    On the other hand, I also understand the concerns of Conservative types (of which I consider myself to be) who are against amnesty of undocumented immigrants. America, like every nation, has the right to defend herself from outside invaders. Every country has the right to protect its borders and to give its citizens certain national rights and to withhold those rights from non-citizens. Every country has the right to implement some sort of initiation process for those non-citizens who would like to become citizens of that country. Would you not agree? I mean, while Lady Liberty does say, “Give me your poor, your homeless, your downtrodden,” etc., there’s got to be a certain legal process by which people can come here. To just let people through willy-nilly with no “rite of passage,” so to speak, is unfair to the established citizenry and could be downright dangerous to the security of the country, as well. Is it fair to American citizens to have their jobs taken away, their benefits and rights given freely to others while they themselves struggle? I know American citizens who make far less money than many undocumented workers do (myself included), and I frankly don’t see why undocumented immigrants who come here should expect hand-outs. I am not exaggerating; many citizens – well-intentioned though they are – encourage these illegal aliens to take advantage of tax-paid programs that should only be meant for American citizens. The immigrants become dependent and even begin to expect hand-outs, and if they don’t get them, then they do things like march on Washington to DEMAND their RIGHTS (their RIGHTS????).

    So what’s to be done? I hear all this talk about some “pathway to citizenship,” but just what IS this pathway? What does it entail? It seems to be all talk; nobody really explains what it IS and HOW we are to handle the illegal immigration problem. On the one hand, I understand the plight of these illegal aliens, but on the other, I completely understand the issue from the point of the [Conservative – by which I mean traditional and not Socialist] American citizen, of which I am one.

    Please help me to know what’s the right way to think and what’s the right thing to do (other than pray) as both a Christian and an American.

    By: C.H. on June 24, 2013 at 4:39 pm

  5. The points addressed are eloquent. But you miss and so does AB Gomez the entire reality which most US citizens hold. Majority of Hispanic immigrants are here illegally – which means they preferred NOT to obey our nations’ laws. Whereas the majority of German immigrants which you indicate came here LEGALLY – after 2+ months of wrenching sea travel (below decks); some only to be sent back to Germany/Europe because of being considered undesirable due to health or other concerns; were held at Ellis Island indefinitely until proof was obtained of a US citizen’s sponsorship (i.e, economical, physical, and social responsibility for them until these immigrants became US citizens themselves.)

    All other European immigrants came under these same constraints as listed. My family was among them on both sides of the family so I know from personal histories. Their lot wasn’t any easier than these who choose to disobey the laws of US. They too were often fleeing from corruption; wars; conscription; famine; poverty; desire to change their options in life. Yet they set themselves nevertheless to conform and obey. i.e, whatever it took to immigrate to US. Most everyone couldn’t wait until that day when they could become US citizens legally and did relish it that day it occurred; not because they crept in and had no price to pay but because they paid a very high price for US citizenship. Often immigrants coming here died aboard ship or became very ill; others died before they could swear their oath as US citizens. Yet few considered it a given or something owed to them. They recognized as US citizenship something hard won but worth the price for themselves and for their future families. Those who regretted the choice of US returned to their homeland. That was the only other choice.

    Majority of them were proud to say “I AM AN AMERICAN CITIZEN” even w/a definite accent from some other country because they HAD to learn our nation’s history; and, speak, read and write in our nation’s language before they could make that statement.

    Pope Benedict XVI has said that a nation is entitled to establish it’s borders and to the laws governing those you enter therein.

    By: sam on June 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    • I agree with Sam. My grandparents came from Europe, escaping poverty and lack of employment. They came here on a ship and they entered legally. They studied the laws and were proud to finally achieve American citizenship.

      Illegal immigrants have broken our immigration laws. And we are rewarding them with a privilege, a right? What message does that send to everyone? Break the law and it doesn’t matter because you will not be punished, instead you’ll be rewarded.

      Where is my right as an American citizen, entitled to the full protection of the law? I want the borders secured but the president refuses to do that, thereby putting me and every American citizen at risk.

      What did entering the U.S. legally, as so many people did, mean?

      What is happening to our immigration laws? If illegal immigrants can be granted citizenship, even though they broke our law by entering this country illegally and living here illegally, then laws mean nothing.
      And God help us, if we disregard the laws and “bend” them to the will of cunning, crooked politicians, who have their own agendas in mind by allowing illegals to have citizenship.

      And, again I ask, where are the rights of legal American citizens who want a secure border, and their plea is ignored time and again by the president?

      By: Patricia on June 24, 2013 at 11:29 pm

  6. I think what right wing people miss is that it takes two to tango – yes, certain people are here illegally, but, they are only here because we didn’t catch them in time. It seems to me that illegal migrants who are here for a long period and who typically have a family here should be given the chance to gain legal status as a matter of fairness and a reflection of our ineptness in not catching them; on the other hand, as of a certain future date ANYONE who tries to cross our borders illegally should be stopped and returned to their Country of origin.

    By: Robert on June 25, 2013 at 10:11 am

  7. For those suggesting that today’s immigrants should have “followed the law” as their immigrant ancestors did, recall a few facts: there was no federal immigration law until 1875, which attempted to restrict “undesirable” Chinese immigrants. The next federal immigration law was 1924, which again tried to restrict “undesirable” Eastern and Southern Europeans. If one’s ancestors immigrated to the United States in the early 1900s, as most Italians, Slovaks and Poles did, there were no laws restricting their entry at that time, except for reasons of health.
    Lastly, those immigrants worked hard, raised intact families, used their language and followed their own customs. Their children and grandchildren became culturally assimilated and fluent in English, while serving loyally as Americans and faithfully as Catholics. The same process is repeating itself today with Latino immigrants, according to recent studies.

    By: CatholicPhilly MG on June 25, 2013 at 4:31 pm

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