Last month on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Hispanic/Latino bishops of the United States issued a letter to our immigrant sisters and brothers. They wrote to assure all immigrants, especially those who lack proper authorization to live and work in the U.S., that they are not alone or forgotten. They said, “We open our arms and hearts to you, and we receive you as members of our Catholic family.” I would like to believe that those are the sentiments of every Catholic in this archdiocese. They are certainly mine. But I do understand that not every Catholic agrees.
With our broken economy these are difficult times to open arms and hearts widely to all who are in need. In reaction to this situation too many U.S. citizens presently appear to show disdain for immigrants and even blame them for the crisis. The Hispanic/Latino bishops remind us all that we cannot find a solution to such problems by showing hatred. The solution will be found by showing a sense of solidarity among all workers and co-workers — immigrants and citizens — who live together in this great nation of ours.
In all the dioceses of the U.S., National Migration Week will be held in this new year Jan. 8-14. The theme, “Welcoming Christ in the Migrant,” reminds us all of our Christian responsibility to provide hospitality to those in need, particularly migrants and those who find themselves far away from home and in vulnerable situations. The theme reminds us how Christ’s disciples met him on the road to Emmaus in the guise of a stranger after his glorious resurrection. As Christ was present to those disciples so he is present to everyone who is a lonesome traveler or a newcomer or a migrant. Last month, at his noon reflection on Dec. 4, Pope Benedict XVI expressed concern for the millions of migrants around the world and he encouraged assistance on their behalf. He said, “I entrust to the Lord all those who, often forcibly, must leave their homeland, or who are stateless.”
Immigration reform has been on the agenda of the U.S. Congress for several years now. Our failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform brings some real consequences that are unfortunate for far too many of our sisters and brothers. Ours is not the only nation struggling with this problem, but our nation is probably best equipped to resolve this situation amicably and justly for all. Far too many men, women and children live in fear, with their lives and their future put definitely on hold because legal remedies to address their immigration status remain up for grabs.
There is one group of individuals whose status among the “undocumented” is no fault of their own. I am referring to the kids. Many of them came to this country as infants. They have excelled in school and they would have bright futures, if their status could be legalized. The DREAM Act (Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) was proposed to benefit immigrant students who had grown up here in this country, graduated from high school here and could demonstrate good moral character. Polls a year ago suggested that 70 percent of our fellow citizens supported these provisions of the DREAM Act. Thus far this reasonable proposal remains in limbo.
Opponents of immigration reform forget one basic fact: most of the illegal immigrants have not come to this nation because they prefer being here rather than back home. They come because they need to find work to support their families and, as bad as our economic situation might be, it is far worse in other nations, especially south of the border. Many of those who do come here and obtain employment perform some of the most difficult jobs and receive minimal salaries with no health insurance or social security. They make significant contributions to the well-being of our country, performing tasks that most of us will not perform. They receive no thanks whatsoever and wind up being treated as criminals because they are in violation of current unjust immigration laws.
They also suffer great pain because they are separated from the land they love and from their families. This situation is further exacerbated when one member of a family that had successfully migrated to the USA is apprehended and sent back home. Countless young adults have grown up illegally in this country but, because they really know no other land or culture, this is their home. Yet whatever dreams they have for a bright future are shattered because they lack legal immigration status. We who are people of faith must challenge ourselves and see whether there is any unwillingness in our heart to right this terrible wrong.
For a number of years now U.S. Catholic bishops have been in the vanguard of those proposing comprehensive immigration reform. The important elements of our proposal include earned legalization whereby a large population could finally come “out of the shadows;” a future worker program that would help foreign-born workers enter the country safely; family-based immigration reform, which would allow an increase in the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting time; restoration of due process rights that were taken away back in 1996; addressing the root causes of migration by confronting the need for sustainable economic development in the sending countries; and legitimate enforcement by our government, which can only take place when and if there is an increase in the lawful means for migrants to enter, live and work here, thereby permitting law enforcement to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety, such as drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would-be terrorists.
Our new year is beginning. The feast of Epiphany, this year on Jan. 8, is the culmination of our celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. On that solemnity we acknowledge the world-wide ramifications of the birth of that holy child in Bethlehem so long ago. When the wise men visited his birthplace they came from distant lands, reminders that we are all God’s children, sisters and brothers, each one of us gifted by God with dignity and basic rights. I encourage all of us to be more sensitive to the needs of the immigrants among us, especially those who are presently undocumented. With the Hispanic/Latino bishops, I urge the immigrants among us not to lose faith or hope. The Catholic Church pledges to continue to advocate for all immigrants. As this new year unfolds, may our arms and our hearts open even wider to all who live together in these United States.