May 10, 2013

Editorial

Support for immigration reform is based on Church doctrine

While the U. S. Senate began debating the current immigration reform bill on April 22, two Church leaders from both ends of the country weighed in. Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York and Archbishop Jose H. Gomez of Los Angeles were part of a conference call during which they criticized some aspects of the Senate bill.

Cardinal Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, emphasized that the Church’s support for migrants “isn’t some wild, left-wing cause. This is classic Catholic teaching, an essential element of Catholic doctrine.”

We might add that it is also an essential element of Judaism and Islam, and any religion that includes the Old Testament as part of its teaching. The Old Testament repeats over and over that we must “treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the native-born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself” (Lev 19:34).

That quotation from the Book of Leviticus, and others like it, goes on to say why the Israelites were to treat aliens as themselves “because you too were once aliens in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:34). We, too, or our ancestors, were once aliens in this country, but most of us were fortunate that our ancestors came when immigrants were being welcomed. Those arriving at Ellis Island had only to prove that they were healthy and that they had $15 in their pocket.

Archbishop Gomez, a Mexican-born immigrant who now heads our country’s largest diocese, not only participated in the conference call but also used his column in his archdiocesan newspaper, The Tidings, to call for immigration reform. He called reform of immigration policies “the civil rights test of our generation” and said that it’s long overdue.

He wrote that many people don’t understand the Church’s commitment to this cause. We suspect that he’s right. We also suspect that many people don’t understand how nearly impossible it is for migrants to become permanent residents of our country legally.

As Archbishop Gomez wrote, “Because of the broken logic of our current laws, it can take more than 10 years to get into this country legally. The waiting lists are even longer for applicants from most Latin American countries.”

Many of those people, perhaps most of them, are here because our nation decided not to enforce our laws for a period of almost 20 years. We wanted those immigrants here and recruited them for construction companies, service industries, agricultural and landscaping jobs. They became our neighbors and have been contributing to our economy.

Two-thirds of those we call “illegal” have lived here for at least a decade, and more than half have families. They live in fear that, with no warning, they will be picked up and deported, and they might not see their families again for a decade or more. During the last four years, the federal government has deported more than 1 million people.

Yet some people want illegal immigrants to leave the country and get in line to re-enter legally. As Archbishop Gomez wrote, “When we say that, we’re asking them to choose not to see their spouse, their children, their relatives for a decade or more. Is that a fair question to ask them? What would we do if we were faced with that kind of choice? Would we follow a law that means maybe never seeing our families again?”

During that conference call, Cardinal Dolan answered critics who want to hold up the immigration bill because the Boston Marathon bombers were immigrants. He said that it’s “illogical, unfair and unjust” to label an entire class of hardworking people because of the actions of a few.

He noted the anti-immigrant fervor of previous times in American history when “anti-Catholic vitriol” opposed those coming from Ireland, Italy and Germany. He compared that to the anti-Muslim sentiment today. He said that some New York Muslim leaders recently asked him how Catholics became assimilated in American culture and became “respected as reliable American citizens without losing the elements of their faith.”

The bishops are convinced that now is the time for immigration reform. Cardinal Dolan said, “We can’t wait any longer to reform a system that’s broken, unjust and unfair.”

—John F. Fink

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