11/23/2010 3:39:00 PM Immigration reform a part of looking out for dignity of life, bishop says
Bishop Gerald Kicanas
From Strangers No Longer -- 2003
As bishops we have decided, in the words of Pope John Paul II, to "put out into the deep" in search of common initiatives that will promote solidarity between our countries, particularly among the Catholics of both countries. We are committed to the new evangelization of our continent and to the search for new ways of leading our peoples to encounter Christ, who is "the path to conversion, communion and solidarity."
We recognize the phenomenon of migration as an authentic sign of the times. We see it in both our countries through the suffering of those who have been forced to become migrants for many reasons. To such a sign we must respond in common and creative ways so that we may strengthen the faith, hope, and charity of migrants and all the People of God. Such a sign is a call to transform national and international social, economic, and political structures so that they may provide the conditions required for the development for all, without exclusion and discrimination against any person in any circumstance.
In effect, the Church is increasingly called to be "sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race" (Lumen Gentium, no. 1). The Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico, in communion with the Holy Father in his 1995 World Migration Day message, affirm that
In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere. As a sacrament of unity and thus a sign and a binding force for the whole human race, the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. It is the task of the various Dioceses actively to ensure that these people, who are obliged to live outside the safety net of civil society, may find a sense of brotherhood in the Christian community. Solidarity means taking responsibility for those in trouble.
The Church must, therefore, welcome all persons regardless of race, culture, language, and nation with joy, charity, and hope. It must do so with special care for those who find themselves–regardless of motive–in situations of poverty, marginalization, and exclusion.
We ask our presidents to continue negotiations on migration issues to achieve a system of migration between the two countries that is more generous, just, and humane. We call for legislatures of our two countries to effect a conscientious revision of the immigration laws and to establish a binational system that accepts migration flows, guaranteeing the dignity and human rights of the migrant. We ask public officials who are in charge of formulating, implementing, and executing immigration laws to reexamine national and local policies toward the migrant and to use their leadership positions to erase misconceptions about migration. We ask adjudicators who process immigrants' legal claims to create a welcoming atmosphere that does not threaten their confidence or security. We encourage the media to support and promote a genuine attitude of welcoming toward migrants and immigrants.
We, the Catholic bishops of the United States and Mexico, pledge ourselves to defend the migrant. We also pledge to support the creation of the necessary conditions so that all may enjoy the fruit of their work and life in their homeland, if they so wish.
We stand in solidarity with you, our migrant brothers and sisters, and we will continue to advocate on your behalf for just and fair migration policies. We commit ourselves to animate communities of Christ's disciples on both sides of the border to accompany you on your journey so that yours will truly be a journey of hope, not of despair, and so that, at the point of arrival, you will experience that you are strangers no longer and instead members of God's household. We pray that, wherever you go, you will always be conscious of your dignity as human beings and of your call to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ, who came that we "might have life and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10:10). We invite you who are forced to emigrate to maintain contact with your homes and, especially, to maintain fidelity to your families so that you treasure your cultural values and the gift of faith and so that you bring these treasures to whatever place you go.
The appearance of Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Juan Diego revealed the compassionate presence of God reaching out to Mary to be in solidarity with and to give hope to a suffering people. In the same spirit, we, the Catholic bishops of the United States of Mexico and the United States of America, have written this letter to give hope to suffering migrants. We pray that you will experience the same hope that inspired St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans:
What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? As it is written: "For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:35-39)
And may the blessing of Almighty God come down upon you and be with you forever: the blessing of God the Father, who loves you with an everlasting love, the blessing of God the Son, who was called out of exile in Egypt to be our Savior, and the blessing of God the Holy Spirit, who guides you to extend Christ's reign wherever you go. And may Mary of Guadalupe, our mother, bring you safely home.
Comprehensive immigration reform makes sense on all levels, says the outgoing vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"I think what the church is saying is quite reasonable and when people hear it, they like it," Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson told a Portland audience Nov. 22.
In one of his first public talks after losing an election to become president of the bishops' conference, Bishop Kicanas vigorously resumed his call for transforming immigration law.
Bishop Kicanas, 69, finds he must repeat something regularly: comprehensive reform is not amnesty. The plan the bishops support would require undocumented immigrants on the path to citizenship to pay fines, learn English and go to the back of the line behind those who went through legal processes.
"Immigrants who are here would pay their debt to society and earn their way," Bishop Kicanas told the Portland group, gathered in All Saints Church for the annual Tobin Lecture on Catholic social teaching.
The immigration reform plan the bishops support would also end the separation of family members because of deportation.
Bishop Kicanas says that if reform is enacted, enforcement on the border could focus on the real problems — drug running, gun smuggling and human trafficking.
"The power of drug cartels must be broken," he said.
The November election has dampened whatever hope was left for comprehensive reform. However, during Congress' lame duck session, there may be hope for small advances, including the DREAM Act, which would allow young undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship by attending college or serving in the military.
Bishop Kicanas' passion has sparked the ire of people who favor only stringent enforcement, especially on the nation's southern border.
He has received hate mail and threats for his work. The volume increased when he spoke out against Senate Bill 1070, the now-declawed Arizona law that would have allowed police to investigate immigration status during unrelated encounters with citizens.
The white-bearded bishop refuses to demonize those who attack him. He says most of the interlocutors are good people who simply don't have all the information and who may be altered by fear spread via media.
"Fear does difficult things to people and it brings out our worst," the bishop said."The sound bite has taken over the conversation. And the sound bite is, 'You're for amnesty,' or 'What part of illegal don't you understand?'"
Bishop Kicanas contends that Senate Bill 1070 was not so much about prejudice as it was about frustration that nothing has been done yet to reform immigration.
As spiritual leader of a large diocese that borders Mexico, he has personal experience. He decribed his visits to a Mexican town that serves as a staging area for crossings. There, he saw beleagured migrants warehoused in triple bunks, preparing to make an attempt despite hardship and exploitation along the way.
"When I asked them why they keep coming, they said, 'We have no choice. There is nothing for us in our home country. We have to improve our lives,'" the bishop told the Portland listeners.
He related stories of individual immigrants, including a Honduran man who made a three-month trek just to get to the border and was beaten by police all along. The man chose to focus on the good people who helped him.
Another migrant was coming north to make money for his family, but fell off a train as he was trying to board, losing his legs. Dejected, he felt he would be a burden to his loved ones, not a help.
"They are people like us, seeking a decent way of life for themselves and their families," the bishop explained.
Bishop Kicanas, new chairman of Catholic Relief Services, says CRS is working in Mexico and other countries to create business opportunity. Improving conditions in countries of origin can both serve the poor relieve immigration pressures on the U.S., he said.
In her introduction of the bishop, Archdiocese of Portland Chancellor Mary Jo Tully called him "someone who genuinely believes in the worth and dignity of others."
While in Oregon, the former seminary professor took up his old calling, teaching in a symposium at Mount Angel Seminary.
Scripture is clear on the need to achieve justice for those on the margins and church teaching is based on the dignity and sanctity of life from conception to natural death, said Bishop Kicanas, explaining that immigrants are no exception. The Vatican and bishops all over the world have taught "consistently and persistently" that the world must be attentive to the needs of migrants, he said.
"We cannot as a nation continue to kick the problem down the road," Bishop Kicanas concluded. "A federal solution is needed and needed now."