The Catholic commitment to the dignity of the immigrant comes from exactly the same roots as our commitment to the dignity of the unborn child. Any Catholic who truly understands his or her faith knows that the right to life precedes and creates the foundation for every other human right. There’s no getting around the priority of that fundamental right to life. But being “prolife” also means that we need to make laws and social policies that will care for those people already born that no one else will defend.
Around the United States today, we employ a permanent underclass of human beings who build our roads, pick our fruit, clean our hotel rooms, and landscape our lawns. Most of these men and women, like millions of immigrants before them, abide by our laws and simply want a better life for their families. Many have children who are American citizens, or who have been in America so long that they don’t know any other homeland. But they live in a legal limbo. They’re important to our economy, but they have inadequate legal protections, and in recent years many families have been separated by arrests and deportations.
We need to remember that how we treat the weak, the infirm, the elderly, the unborn child and the foreigner reflects on our own humanity. We become what we do, for good or for evil. The Catholic Church respects the law, including immigration law. We respect those men and women who have the difficult job of enforcing it. We do not encourage or help anyone to break the law. We believe Americans have a right to solvent public institutions, secure borders and orderly regulation of immigration.
At the same time, we can’t ignore people in need, and we shouldn’t be silent about laws that don’t work — or that, in their “working,” create impossible contradictions and suffering. Despite all of the heated public argument over the past decade, Americans still find themselves stuck with an immigration system that adequately serves no one.
We urgently need the kind of immigration reform that will address our economic and security needs, but will also regularize the status of the many decent undocumented immigrants who help our society to grow. Congress and the president, despite their serious differences, do have an opportunity in the coming months to act justly to solve this problem. Legislation could begin moving in Congress as early as this spring.
The bishops of the United States have suggested at least five key elements needed for any serious reform: (1) a path to citizenship for the undocumented; (2) the preservation and enhancement of family unity, based on the union of a husband and wife and their children; (3) the creation of legal channels for unskilled laborers to enter and work legally in this country; (4) due process rights for immigrants; and (5) constructive attention to the root causes of migration, such as economic hardship, political repression or religious persecution in the sending countries.
As many as 11 million undocumented persons now live and work in our nation. We can’t refuse to see them. Catholics of good will can legitimately disagree on the best way to bring about immigration justice. In an age of terrorism and organized drug violence, public safety is a pressing and understandable concern. There are also pitfalls and unhelpful agendas in some elements of the immigration debate that need careful discussion. But again, we can’t simply continue to posture and delay in dealing with an issue that impacts so many lives.
We become what we do, for good or for evil. If we act and speak like bigots, that’s what we become. If we act with justice, intelligence, common sense and mercy, then we become something quite different. We become the people and the nation God intended us to be.
Our country’s chronic immigration crisis is a test of our humanity. Whether we pass that test is entirely up to us. That’s why the Catholic community needs to engage the issue of immigration reform as prudently and unselfishly as possible — not tomorrow or next week, but now. The future of our country depends on it.
The U.S. bishops’ “Justice for Immigrants” campaign can be accessed at www.justiceforimmigrants.org
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The reason Americans can’t get jobs when illegal immigrants can is because the illegals aren’t earning minimum wage. Businesses who get caught paying less should be closed and the government should auction off all their assets to provide the money to enforce the laws. The Americans personally involved should be thrown in prison. And the government should do whatever else is necessary to ensure that businesses follow that law. At that point many illegals would find it difficult to gain employment and would return to their homelands. But as long as businesses can get away with underpaying employees because their victims are afraid to speak up for fear of being deported, we will continue to have the problem of illegal immigration in this country.
I don’t understand why they can’t do what the early Americans did and revolt against the tyranny of the Mexican and Central American governments to better their lives in their homelands.
My hope and prayer is that the conference of Bishops will speak as forcefully for immigration reform and a path to citizenship for those eleven million immigrants as they did for changing the contraception mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act. This same desire applies for a strong voice for sensible gun control legislation.
It seems to me that the illegal imigrants that we have now should be granted citizenship because we didn’t catch them in a timely manner (in effect the statue of limitations has run out). Future illegal immigrants, on the other hand, should be blocked from entering the USA and,if caught, should be sent back to their Country of origin.
Every illegal immigrant means one less legal immigrant who has been waiting patiently (many years) and honestly for the system to work itself out. Why should illegal immigrants be able to deprive their brothers like this and receive the support of the church? How do you punish their selfish actions except by sending them back, since anything less is a reward? Not sending them back is unjust to the ones that wait patiently. We have vast resources and can and should share them with our less fortunate neighbors (whether they want to emigrate or stay), but we have to fix the illegal entry problem (or at least declare it unfixable) before we can erect solutions of enhanced legal immigration.
Thank you Bishop for your insightful reply. I am the pastor of a parish with a large Hispanic Population. I think most of us can count on one hand the generations from when our parents came to this country. People often seem to forget this. Then however the regulations were not so onerous.
It is very important to find a way to keep families together who only hope to live a better life of opportunity and peace. This is not a Republican or Democratic issue.
A simple solution could be a fine for those here illegally, a tax credit for lawyers who help straighten out the paper work, and a fine for those employers who have hired people illegally, the fines could be used to defray the costs of the current immigrant population.
Fr. Glenn Kohrman,
Pastor St. Vincent de Paul Elkhart Indiana
Thank you for a well conceived argument. But what policies would our Faith best support? It seems to me that amnesty should be given those who’ve been here and worked here all their lives. Justice requires it. But the opposing arguments have gotten support in some areas of the Southwestern United States as well. And then what do we do with those caught coming across the borders illegally? It is difficult to see clearly what should be done.
This is clearly a Democratic Party perspective. The Republicans must be cringing after reading this opinion from the Archbishop.
Not this Republican. But as an American of European descent whose ancestors came here in the 1800’s and a mother of young adults who are having a very difficult time finding ANY EMPLOYMENT due to the lack of higher education I believe that we need to also find a way to employ our young citizens along side the “permanent underclass who build our roads … ” because I, personally, and my children as well have been unable to get employment where the illegal immigrant population are preferred. I am not a bigot and do not hold them responsible.
Also, I agree that we have to also use some diplomacy to help understand why the feel the need to leave their homeland.