February 18, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Good immigration policy respects a person’s God-given rights

I am deeply concerned about proposed state legislation that addresses immigration issues and will come before our Indiana legislators in the near future. I realize that immigration is an issue that evokes strong emotions. Yet, we must not let the frustration that many people are feeling about this issue lead our legislature to pass bad laws.

For this reason, I participated in a ceremony at the Indiana Statehouse on Feb. 9 with Bishop Timothy Doherty of the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana, other faith leaders, and business and social services leaders of Indiana. We introduced and signed the Indiana Compact, which is intended to set the bar for rational debate on the immigration situation.

Clearly, we need immigration reform in the United States—and our country certainly has the right and responsibility to control its borders. This is a matter best addressed at the federal level. The wide range of groups represented at the press conference was evidence that the people of Indiana want a national answer to this problem, and not an inadequate patchwork of state and local laws.

My deep concern surrounding the development of local immigration policy is the seeming absence of real human faces—the children and families—in the proposed legislation. Lawmakers need to keep in the forefront of their decisions that immigrants have inherent human dignity alongside all other people. It seems like children are almost always forgotten in the debate about immigration policy.

Some rights are inherent in the human condition. These are natural rights which extend beyond national boundaries. All immigrants, legal or illegal, have the natural right to be respected.

Each person is created in the image of God. That is a fundamental moral fact. The challenges before us are great, but it would do us all good to reflect on the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (MT 25:35).

I believe we can craft a national policy that welcomes the stranger—and Jesus present in the stranger—and also serve the common good without denying anyone their natural God-given rights.

The Indiana Compact, which I signed with other leaders of our state, is a statement of five principles for guiding rational debate on immigration policy.

The Compact simply declares:

  1. Federal solutions—Immigration is a federal policy issue between the U.S. government and other countries—not Indiana and other countries. We urge Indiana’s Congressional delegation, and others to lead efforts to strengthen and reform federal laws. We recognize that border security is a critical element of national security, and further urge our Congressional representatives to work to protect the borders as part of a comprehensive immigration policy.
  2. Law enforcement—We respect the rule of law, and support law enforcement’s professional judgement and discretion. Local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.
  3. Families—Strong families are the foundation of successful communities. We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families. We champion policies that support families, and improve the health, education and well-being of all Indiana children.
  4. Economy—Indiana is best served by an economy that maximizes individual freedom and opportunity. We acknowledge the economic role that immigrants play as workers and taxpayers. Indiana’s immigration policies must affirm our global reputation as a welcoming and business- friendly state.
  5. A free society—Immigrants are integrated into communities across Indiana. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way that we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about immigrant neighbors. Indiana should always be a place that welcomes people of good will.

Let’s work together for a comprehensive national immigration policy that provides a legalization program so undocumented workers have a path to permanent residency. We need to reform the employment-based system so that low-skilled workers can enter the United States, and work in a safe, legal, orderly and humane manner. We also need to reduce the waiting times for families to be reunited.

Admittedly, my primary focus and concern in the debate before us is on the fundamental moral issues that are basic to the protection of the dignity of the human person and our God-given natural rights. Yet, potential economic consequences of bad local law would be disruptive.

“Immigrants in Indiana contributed more than $2.3 billion in tax revenues to federal, state and local funds in 2007, and account for more than 160,000 jobs and more than $10 billion in economic activity,” said Kevin Brinegar, the president of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

In a word, immigration policy impacts jobs and business growth, with potentially far-reaching consequences for immigrants and non-immigrants alike. The bottom line is that we have a moral duty to treat our fellow humans with dignity and compassion. †

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