October 13, 2017

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Catholic social teaching brings thoughtful guidance on immigration

David BethuramI’m generally not one to weigh in on the political talk of the day, as those who know me can attest. The issues are important, and I do have my opinions, but I would rather focus on helping the person right in front of me and let the headlines take care of themselves.

That being said, there are times when I feel compelled to speak up, especially on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. I see these people every day in my role at Catholic Charities. They turn to us for help, and they need us to be their voice.

This is one of those times.

The role of immigration laws, as well as refugee and asylum status, has been front and center in the news. In the past months, I’ve lost track of the number of people who have contacted me to say how glad they are to know that Catholic Charities is helping welcome and serve those who come to us from around the world. It’s reassuring and powerful to me to hear that kind of support, because the stories of the people we are helping are breathtakingly sad.

I think of Isaack who grew up in Sudan. He attempted to live his life and raise a family in his homeland, but one night changed everything for him. While staying with his cousin, he awoke to the sounds of the Janjaweed breaking into the house and killing his cousin. Fearing for his life and the lives of his wife and two young children, they fled to the neighboring country of Chad.

They lived in a refugee camp for five years before they were approved to come to Indianapolis. Isaak’s family has grown since they arrived here. He was employed within months of arriving, and has worked consistently for seven years. He says he is amazed by how his family’s life has changed. His family is safe.

To me, this is what the refugee and immigration debate is about: at the center of this roiling discussion, it is about families trying to be safe, holding on to hope, and taking an enormous risk to come to America.

I understand there are many considerations when it comes to immigration policy. I find these three principles of Catholic social teaching to be thoughtful and nuanced guidance for all of us.

People have the right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families.

A country has the right to regulate its borders and to control immigration.

A country must regulate its borders with justice and mercy.

Balancing those principles is an extremely difficult challenge, and I pray for those tasked with meeting that endeavor. In the meantime, we can do our part by living Jesus’ call to love our neighbor and serve the poor.

I think of the fear so many families must experience not knowing their future. I cannot begin to imagine life if my family were pulled apart suddenly, and I pray we can find ways to help those families while meeting our duties to the common good.

So, please, just remember as our nation works through some really tough decisions, that we are called to welcome those strangers. Think about what you would do for your family if faced with the same devastation of war, famine or oppression. Wouldn’t you want someone not only to welcome you as a stranger, but to work as hard as they could to help you become their neighbor?

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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