June 6, 2014

Reflection / John F. Fink

Immigration reform is essential for both business and justice reasons

John F. FinkPlease bear with me as I set the scene for this reflection. I’ll eventually get to the point.

With my wife, Connie, I was part of the pilgrimage, led by Msgr. Bill Stumpf, that began in Rome with the canonizations of Sts. John XIII and John Paul II. Afterward, we spent a day in Assisi, made famous by Sts. Francis and Clare. Then we boarded a cruise ship for 12 days that took us, among other places, to the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, the Cathedral of St. James at Compostela, and the D-Day landing beaches of Normandy.

Of course, we also enjoyed the amenities of modern cruise ships, ours being the Eurodam, part of the Holland America line. The ship had room for 2,104 passengers plus 800 crew members, including, of course, all the workers in its restaurants.

It happens that many of those workers, including our waiters but excluding our wine steward, were from Indonesia. The wine stewards, and all the bartenders and waitresses in the lounges, were from the Philippines. The reason for this is that many Indonesians are Muslims who aren’t supposed to have any connection to alcohol.

However, the point is that Holland America hired Indonesians and Filipinos for these jobs because they can’t get Americans or Europeans to take them. The workers sign on to work 11 hours a day, seven days a week, for 10 months a year. Young people from Western countries don’t want to do that, but our waiter, from Bali and the father of four children, was in his sixth year as an employee of Holland America ships.

I thought about this when I saw a story that American businesses are urging immigration reform in this country because they can’t get Americans to fill low-skill jobs. A report by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that the supply of low-skill jobs remained steady between 1990 and 2010, but the number of U.S. workers willing to fill them has dropped about 1 percent each year.

Therefore, business leaders say, it’s essential to the U.S. economy to change our immigration rules. Randel K. Johnson, a senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “Immigration reform would create a means to bring in more workers to carry the load created by demographic realities.”

Yes, that’s one reason for the need for immigration reform. But it seems a bit selfish. Wouldn’t a better reason be that it’s essential to bring justice to immigrants who might have entered the United States illegally, but who were almost forced to do so because of economic conditions in their former country?

That’s what Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, believes. On April 6, he said that those who entered the country illegally “because they had no other means to work” to provide food for their children “broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”

The Catholic Church agrees. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin” (#2241).

Children brought here at an early age, and who are now adults, certainly should be given a path to citizenship so they can contribute to our society as well as to their families.

It’s not too late for Congress to pass an immigration reform bill this year. The Senate passed such a bill, but the process is stuck in the House of Representatives where some members seem to be captivated by the xenophobic views of their constituents.

Our representatives need some prodding.

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!