On the other side of the issue, there is the demonization of those who challenge current lack of enforcement of immigration laws, often referring to them as dictatorial or racial bigots. It’s no wonder that many try to avoid the issue, making it difficult to engage in a meaningful dialogue on this topic.

Many of us are children or grandchildren of immigrants, and it is important to remember that we, as a country, welcomed those who sought to make their home here. It could be argued that our greatness as a nation was built on those who came from other countries in order to build a better life here.

For more information about the U.S. Catholic bishop’s plan for immigration reform, visit

Now we are confronted with the question of the millions of illegal immigrants. Certainly there were laws prohibiting illegal immigration, but the execution was not always enforced. In fact, it might be suggested that many governmental agencies looked the other way and even tolerated illegal immigrants. If the law is not being enforced, does a sudden radical enforcement severely injure those individuals and families that relied upon the tolerance?

Many of us do not realize how difficult it is to become a citizen through the normal channels. It can take up to 12 years, and legal immigration cannot only be expensive but is often extremely bureaucratic and sometimes arbitrary. However, those individuals are standing in citizenship lines making the legally responsible effort. Therefore, those who would propose total amnesty would be rejected by many Americans who view this as a type of cutting in line.

Likewise, those who want to load all illegal immigrants on buses, planes or trains and have them returned to their homeland would be exempting our society from the responsibility that we have had as Americans for creating the environment which permitted and tolerated the current situation. Here we have the two extremes: send all illegal immigrants  back or grant them all citizenship. Neither is a satisfactory solution for the majority of Americans. Therefore, the answer stands somewhere in the middle.

Since 2003, U.S. Catholic bishops have called for comprehensive immigration reform. The USCCB has presented five basic principles:

1. Persons have the right to find opportunities in their homeland.

2. Persons have a right to migrate to support themselves and their families.

3. Sovereign nations have a right to control their borders.

4. Refugees and asylum seekers should be afforded protection.

5. The human rights and the human dignity of all should be respected.

All of these principles are part of the dignity of the human person which is grounded in our faith and reflected in natural law. Likewise, the USCCB has called for five specific areas of reform.

1. Easier and fairer pathways to citizenship.

2. Better treatment of immigrant families.

3. Attention given about legal avenues for workers.

4. Protection of (human and legal) rights of immigrants.

5. Going back to root causes. Why have they immigrated?

Perhaps these areas could be a starting point for our discussion of why the need for reform and the necessity as Christians to maintain the dignity of the person in the midst of this emotionally charged environment.

We must remind ourselves that many of the illegal immigrants are from Mexico and South America and that they are Catholic. They are our brothers and sisters in faith. They will often look to the church for spiritual support and personal needs. We must be ready to be Christ for them and to see Christ in them.

We lost much of our innocence as a nation after 9/11 as we became highly suspect of all strangers. Our lives were radically changed. However, our greatness as a nation will depend upon our ability to secure and protect the rights and dignity of all persons – even the immigrants  among us.

In order to keep current on the immigration issue please visit the USCCB Justice for Immigrants Web site www.justiceforimmigrants.org or contact Rob Shelledy, coordinator of social justice ministry for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, at shelledyr@archmil.org.

We can only achieve success in the immigration issue if we respect one another and recognize that we are all members of God’s family.