December 8, 2017


Pope, bishops teach about justice for migrants

The Catholic bishops in the U.S. realize that many Catholics don’t accept the Church’s teachings about immigration. That was discussed during the fall meeting of the bishops in Baltimore the week of Nov. 13.

It happened after Bishop Joe S. Vasquez of Austin, Texas, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, said that there needs to be a “path to legalization and citizenship for the millions of our unauthorized brothers and sisters who are law-abiding, tax‑paying and contributing to our society.”

When other bishops pointed out that many Catholics disagree with that approach, did the bishops back down? Definitely not. Instead, they voted to prepare and issue a statement calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

Whether those who support President Donald J. Trump’s immigration rhetoric listen to the bishops remains to be seen. But a bishop’s first duty is to teach the faith, and that’s what the bishops plan to do.

As Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami said, “We can make America great, but you don’t make America great by making America mean.”

The bishops disagreed with those who think that Catholics can support Trump’s views about immigrants. Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco said that disagreement about a “justice issue like immigration” cannot be taken lightly.

A week after the bishops’ meeting concluded, they got support from Pope Francis. On Nov. 24, the Vatican released the pope’s message for World Peace Day, which will be observed on Jan. 1, 2018. The theme of the message is “Migrants and refugees: Men and women in search of peace.”

The pope wrote, “Those who, for what may be political reasons, foment fear of migrants instead of building peace are sowing violence, racial discrimination and xenophobia, which are matters of great concern for all those concerned for the safety of every human being.”

International organizations estimate there are some 250 million migrants around the globe, and about 22.5 million of them are refugees who have fled war, violence or persecution. It’s a major global problem.

It is true that countries have both the right and the obligation to protect their borders. That has always been Catholic teaching, and Pope Francis acknowledges that in his message. However, he says, basic human decency requires sheltering those whose dignity is at risk.

Why would Americans look upon immigrants as a problem? Except for Native Americans, all of us are descended from emigrants—most of whom arrived before there were laws that kept particular ethnic groups out.

The Irish, for example, had to flee the potato famine that killed so many in Ireland in the mid-19th century. There were no quotas to keep them out of the United States, as there are today for Latinos who had to flee poverty in Mexico until 2008 and gang violence in Central America more recently, resulting in 11 million illegal immigrants.

Businesses enticed those illegal immigrants because they’re needed for the economic health of our country. With the unemployment rate as low as it is, industry and agriculture are hurting for employees to do the work that U.S.-born citizens refuse to do.

Thus, in his message, Pope Francis points out that welcoming refugees and migrants actually benefits host countries. He said that migrants and refugees “do not arrive empty-handed. They bring their courage, skills, energy and aspirations, as well as the treasures of their own cultures; and in this way, they enrich the lives of the nations that receive them.”

This is especially true of the young adults who arrived here as children and were raised as Americans even if they didn’t have proper documentation.

The U.S. bishops have in the past called for comprehensive immigration reform. That hasn’t happened since the Simpson-Mazzoli Act was passed in 1986, 31 years ago. That was accomplished through the recommendations of a bipartisan Commission on Immigration Reform chaired by Holy Cross Father Theodore Hesburgh, who was then president of the University of Notre Dame. It granted amnesty to the 3.2 million illegal immigrants then living in the United States.

A study after the passage of that law, by the way, found that the legalization of those immigrants reduced crime by 3-5 percent, primarily property crime, because of greater job opportunities for the immigrants.

—John F. Fink

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