April 18, 2008

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

Justice for the poor

John ValentiIt is false to assume that most issues are either “black” or “white” when, in fact, there may be alternative perspectives and solutions.

Regarding comprehensive immigration reform, manufacturers took advantage of

low-wage workers in Mexico over the past 50 years to provide products primarily for the U.S. market.

These manufacturers are now moving to China, where labor is cheapest. Mexican people who have grown dependent on providing their labor no longer have these jobs, which have subsidized our American lifestyle for our entire lives.

Desperate to provide for their families, these immigrants risk everything to go where there are jobs.

While we post a “no trespassing” sign at our border, we erect a “help wanted” sign at the workplace. The fact is we have had an open door policy for years, right up through the Trans-Texas Highway.

I think it’s fair to say that American attitudes toward the poor—and perhaps not just in America—are mostly disdain and fear. They are perceived as dangerous and different.

Sometimes people think that their condition is their own fault, and that they are simply lazy or inferior.

Other Americans are more kind-hearted, but prefer not to look at the poor too closely. It’s depressing, and they are surely not fun people to be with, they think.

For too long, we have ignored justice for the poor south of our border. We have done little else than take advantage of them.

These attitudes are a world away from God’s attitudes as described in Scripture and what our Catholic Church teaches:

“Persons who enter a nation without permission should be treated with respect and dignity. They should not be detained in deplorable conditions for lengthy periods, shackled by their feet and hands, or abused in any manner. They should be afforded due process of the law and allowed to articulate a fear of return to their home before a qualified adjudicator. They should not be blamed for the social ills of a nation.” (From “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” a pastoral letter published by the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico in 2003.)

Obviously, adding to the misery of the poor is bad; exploiting workers, oppressing immigrants, robbing the needy.

Our job is to help the poor and needy. Pleading the cause of the poor, being their advocate and defender, is simply something a good person does.

I am proud of our Catholic faith which, when others are silent, advocates for the poor—in our community, in our Church, in our nation and in the world.

The overwhelming majority of migrants simply want to work, and they work hard and contribute to the American economy.

They labor in important industries in our economy—agriculture, construction and service—and, overall, contribute through their taxes, purchasing power and “sweat equity.”

They pay into the income, property and sales tax system and into the Social Security system every year.

Getting people together is the best way I know to discover workable solutions.

Consider starting a discussion group at your parish.

In addition to the immigration education PowerPoint presentation on the archdiocesan Web site, there is also a Scripture reflection: “Notes On God’s Commands Concerning the Poor.”

(John Valenti is the associate director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. E-mail him at jvalenti@archindy.org.)†

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