February 8, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Immigration is a complex problem that needs to be fixed

It seems like it will be a very long political campaign for a new president of our country.

The upside of the time until November elections is that we have time to study and reflect about the major issues, and to do so informed by our Catholic faith.

Shortly before Christmas, I was a guest speaker for “Theology on Tap,” a Catholic forum for young adults.

After a brief presentation on the meaning of Advent, I was asked if I would be willing to field questions, some of which had been submitted beforehand. I enjoy that kind of format as a good opportunity for communication about our faith.

The first question I was given was: “Of the current Democratic and Republican candidates for president, who would you like to be the next president?”

My immediate response was, “Surely you don’t expect me to answer that!”

They laughed with me.

What I could say was that when the time comes to vote, we need to do so according to an honestly informed conscience and that our conscience needs to be shaped by our Catholic teaching of faith and morals.

Of course, these are bright young adults, and they also asked if they are obliged to vote at all if none of the candidates’ position on grave issues are acceptable according to one’s conscience.

As good citizens, we should participate in the political process.

That being said, however, we are not compelled to vote against our conscience.

Yet the matter may not always be a clear case.

For example, if a candidate is willing to pledge that he or she would work hard to bring about the abrogation of Roe v. Wade, but does not take a position on the elimination of the death penalty, one could decide to vote for that candidate. Not all issues, while grave, are of equal priority.

Formation of conscience is not always to our liking. And it requires a willingness to take an objective look and a willingness to unpack the complexity of an issue.

I have in mind the “hot-button” issue of immigration.

The public conversation on this topic is so charged with the rhetoric of illegals taking jobs from citizens, living off of welfare, not paying taxes or undetected terrorists gaining entry to the U.S. with evil intent.

There are some simplistic and untrue myths surrounding the question of immigration.

It is unquestionably a complex problem that needs to be fixed, but some of the rhetoric of politicians is not helpful.

For example, to say simply that all illegal immigrants should get in line to legalize their situation may be right, but to act as if that is practical or even feasible under present circumstances is not helpful. Our current policies and the available process cannot handle the “stand in line” approach as such.

Many immigrants have risked their lives; indeed, many have died trying to come to a country that needs labor and where they can better the desperate conditions suffered in their country of origin.

I don’t know of immigrants whose primary goal is to “get rich.” Rather, they sacrifice a lot of ordinary human amenities in order to provide help to their families left behind and who are desperately in need.

There is no question that their illegal situation needs to be corrected; of course, breaking the law is not right.

Nonetheless, these are human persons who deserve respect and help. These are people who share our human dignity and should be treated as such. Immigration law, policies and processes need to make legalization possible and to resolve a grave problem.

Some prevalent myths need to be aired. For example, it is not true that illegal immigrants do not pay taxes. Their contribution to the national tax base is enormous, far exceeding their participation in social and medical programs.

Our chief concern should be that these good people, sisters and brothers of ours, deserve to be treated with respect.

When the people of Israel were delivered from slavery, God made clear to Moses the care that belongs to the alien: “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizens among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God” (Lev 19: 33-34).

Jesus had a lot more to say about love of our neighbor.

How can we, especially we Catholics, act as if we do not have immigrant origins?

If our federal and state leaders through the 19th and 20th centuries could provide leadership to handle the situation of our ancestors, I see no reason why we cannot do so today. †

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