December 5, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Immigrants make a positive contribution to our society

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the patroness of the United States. We celebrate her feast as a solemnity on the 8th of December.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patroness of America: North, Central and South America. The latter declaration was decreed by the late Pope John Paul II on the occasion of the Synod on America.

It was an appropriate declaration considering that Our Lady’s appearance to St. Juan Diego in Tepeyac, Mexico, is a unique appearance in America.

In that same synod, Pope John Paul II spoke of our continent as being one America.

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe has been entered in the liturgical calendar of the United States on Dec. 12. Both celebrations honor the same Mother of God and Mother of the Church, and add an appropriate recognition of Mary in the joyful and hope-filled season of Advent.

When we observe the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, we join our Catholic sisters and brothers of Mexico for whom this feast is enormously important.

The Mother of God appeared to a simple peasant with whom poor people everywhere can identify. I can’t help but think of the thousands of Mexican immigrants who find hope and solace in their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

I also believe that the Blessed Mother must look down with perplexity at the complexity and controversy surrounding the status of immigrants in our country.

It was disappointing that during the recent presidential election this topic was largely overshadowed by other issues, especially the economic turmoil.

In fact, some of the myths surrounding the current controversy of immigration have an impact on the economy. Some prevalent myths would have it that this impact is negative.

Last May, Bishop William L. Higi of the Diocese of Lafayette did a great deal of homework concerning some of the myths that touch on the economy of our country and state. With his indulgence, I am borrowing from his enlightening study which was published on May 25 in his diocesan Catholic weekly, The Catholic Moment.

The first myth that the bishop addressed was this: Immigrants take jobs and opportunities away from Americans.

The United States Department of Labor projects that by 2010 the United States will have created 22 million new jobs. If a correct projection, 9 million more jobs will be created than the number of native-born workers entering the job market. As the baby boomers enter retirement age and leave the job market, after 2010 that gap will increase.

Bishop Higi rightly observed that immigration laws do not reflect the demographic and economic realities. He raised the question: Would native-born Americans take the low-paying jobs currently being filled by immigrants, documented and undocumented?

He noted that, in a birth control culture, we are not the only developed country that has come to rely on immigrants to fill its labor needs. He also noted that, in the big picture, immigrants fill the gap between jobs filled and native-born Americans entering the work force.

There is a second myth: Immigrants don’t pay taxes. In fact, both documented and

non-documented immigrants pay taxes. A range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 billion and $140 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes.

The Social Security Administration’s “suspense file” (taxes that cannot be matched in worker’s name and Social Security number) now totals ­approximately $420 billion from the earnings of immigrants who cannot claim benefits.

Bishop Higi pointed out that the majority of undocumented immigrants pay income taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), which the IRS has issued to more than 8 million people without regard to immigration status.

In addition to state income taxes, all immigrants pay the same sales tax as the rest of us. Whether they own homes or not, property taxes are passed on to them through rent.

The National Research Council estimates that the economic benefit of immigration runs as high as $10 billion annually. People who want to claim that immigrants are a burden for the American economy and the labor force are not doing their homework or else they are misrepresenting the facts.

Bishop Higi concluded his study: “The bottom line is that immigrants contribute more in taxes and Social Security payments than they consume in public resources. The fact is that immigrants contribute to the economy by taking jobs and performing services vital to our way of life. And they pay taxes. While there may be no easy way to fix our broken immigration system, efforts to do so should not be based on myths.”

Immigrants make a positive contribution to our society just like our ancestors. The Mexican immigrants also witness an admirable devotion to the Mother of God and our Blessed Mother. †

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