February 24, 2006

Be Our Guest

Why the Church supports immigration reform

By Glenn Tebbe

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops never seems to miss a beat when it comes to upholding the sanctity of human life—in all its forms.

Whether it is protecting the elderly or handicapped from assisted suicide, the unborn from chemical or surgical abortion, or the incarcerated on death row from execution, the Church, like Jesus, is very pro-human being.

So it is not surprising that the U.S. bishops have launched a campaign to protect another group of human beings who are in danger of being dehumanized—immigrants.

A major concern of the Indiana Catholic Conference during the 2006 Indiana General Assembly has been the status and circumstance of immigrants, both legal and illegal, or who are sometimes called “undocumented.” And while the image is often those from Latin America, there are immigrants from throughout the world who come seeking to provide a living for themselves and their family.

Due to Sept. 11 and subsequent events, many are concerned about safety; others have concerns about people taking advantage of citizenship privileges and being a drain on public resources. And some do not understand why the Church is so concerned and has a position that appears to be supportive of “breaking the law.”

Many of the fears and concerns are based upon false information and assumptions, too many to address in this limited space. However, I will address the concern of why and upon what basis the Church speaks to this issue.

The Church respects the right of nations to control its borders and to enact laws in the best interest of its citizens. The Church does not encourage illegal immigration, and urges leaders of all countries to establish policies and practices that will respect the human needs and common good for all God’s people. The Church respects the legitimate need for the state to have reasonable requirements for citizenship and its privileges. Yet, the Church teaches that some rights are inherent in the human condition; these are natural rights, which extend beyond all national boundaries.

All immigrants, legal and illegal, have natural rights from their inherent dignity as persons, each created in the image of God.

In responding to legislation, the Church begins from a moral perspective and evaluates topics and laws in light of sacred Scripture, the teaching of Jesus Christ, and principles derived from its experience of trying to live and apply those teachings for many centuries. The Church responds to immigrants not from their legal status but from the dictates of our belief and tradition. We in the United States are especially mindful of the immigrant because the Catholic Church in the United States is an immigrant Church made up of people from all parts of earth.

The Church has a responsibility to assist the newcomer. In Scripture, God calls upon his people to care for the alien. “So, you, too, must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt” (Dt 10:17-19). And in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus identifies with the marginalized and commands us to respond: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

In responding to immigrants, the Church is following God’s law and dealing with reality. Millions of immigrants are in this country seeking only to care for their family and children. Some are refugees fleeing persecution and seeking to have their family reunited. In addition, others who are here legally encounter obstacles, unworkable rules and requirements just to be reunited with family members.

A good summary and illustration of the real problems our brothers and sisters in Christ face as they try to provide for themselves and their families was published by Catholic Charities USA. It can be found online at www.catholic

charitiesusa.org/immigration. In addition, more information regarding an explanation of the Church’s concerns and rationale is available from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, whose Web site is www.usccb.org/mrs/legaliza.shtml.

America’s immigration laws are in need of reform. By encouraging immigration reform—to protect the immigrant—the Church is supporting and promoting Catholic values such as family, marriage and human work.

(Glenn Tebbe is executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference.)


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