Immigration is at the very heart of America. We are a country of immigrants. Robert F. Kennedy said, “Our attitude towards immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal. We have always believed it possible for men and women who start at the bottom to rise as far as the talent and energy allow. Neither race nor place of birth should affect their chances.”
As Americans and Catholics, this is the country we all believe in. However, recent interpretations and opinions on immigration have challenged our beliefs.
In 1998, St. John Paul II wrote: “Immigration is a complex question, which concerns not only individuals searching for more secure and dignified living conditions, but also the population of the host countries. In the modern world, public opinion is often the chief rule that political leaders and legislators prefer to follow. The danger is that information, filtered only according to a country’s immediate problems, will be reduced to absolutely inadequate aspects, far from expressing the tragic reality of the situation.” By having public opinion as the main criteria for our reflection on immigration, we will miss the true demands of our faith and the understanding of the tragic reality of this issue.
Immigration involves the encounter of the individual right of the person genuinely seeking for better living conditions and the responsibility of the hosting country in providing safety and security for the communities. These two, however, are not exclusive. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) explains that by embracing the following steps, we honor both the individual right to migrate and the necessary security of the hosting country:
A comprehensive immigration reform. “Regulating immigration, according to criteria of equity and balance, is one of the indispensable conditions for ensuring that immigrants are integrated into society with the guarantees required by recognition of their human dignity.” (Compendium of Social Teaching, 298) This reform should include: earned legalization, a future worker program, family-based immigration reform, restoration of due process rights and addressing root causes of migration. Welcoming the immigrant is at the heart of who we are as Church. Christ — the cornerstone of the Church — reveals himself in those in need: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” (Mt 25: 35-36) Our quest for the Risen Lord will inevitably take us to meet the immigrant and the refugee. A person-centered immigration law will provide millions of people to come out of darkness and prevent the unjust slavery of fear and lack of opportunities. The current situation and law are feeding the gangs in our streets and dividing families and communities.
A discriminative enforcement of the law, which adhere to the following three principles: (1) “U.S. enforcement interventions and resources should be narrowly tailored, focusing on the dangerous and criminal elements. U.S. enforcement should not rely upon ethnic and racial profiling and should not be so overly broad as to curtail basic rights.” (USCCB); (2) “Enforcement of immigration laws should not feature unnecessary penalties, or rely upon unnecessary force. Immigration enforcement officers and border patrol agents should receive intensive training on appropriate enforcement tactics and the appropriate use of force. Border enforcement policies should not drive migrants to risk their lives or violate the due process rights of migrants. Because immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility, the civil enforcement of immigration laws should remain in the hands of the federal government, not transferred further to local or state law enforcement authorities whose role is maintaining public safety and fighting crime.” (USCCB); (3) “In any enforcement action, the human rights and dignity of the person should be preserved and respected to the greatest extent possible.” (USCCB)
St. Paul tells us that “the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal. 5:14) We are able to carry out that commandment because we are first loved by God. God’s love of us empowers us to love one another. We do that as individuals and as an entire Church. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical ‘God is Love’, “today, as in the past, the Church as God’s family must be a place where help is given and received, and at the same time a place where people are also prepared to serve those outside her confines who are in need of help.”