A Shepherd's Message - Feb. 11, 2014
February 11, 2014
Immigration reform has begun to show up again in news stories as it appears that both national parties in the House of Representatives are growing closer in dealing with this important topic (the Senate already voted on a bill last summer).
The current situation on immigration is unworkable and piecemeal legislation will only exacerbate the problems. Comprehensive immigration reform is required.
For a long time, religious leaders, including an interfaith coalition of religious leaders here in Houston, have been voicing the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
It is a view that is also being shared more and more by representatives of the business community.
The Catholic Bishops of the United States have been writing and speaking on comprehensive reforms for many years.
Our fundamental approach is first based on the Scriptures and Catholic social teaching, it is an approach developed over centuries, but most significantly shaped by Papal teaching since Pope Leo XIII in the 1880s and confirmed by successive Popes, most recently by Pope Benedict XVI.
That heritage of instruction calls upon us to “welcome the stranger” as exemplified in the Book of Deuteronomy 10:17-19 in the Old Testament and in the Gospel of St. Matthew 25:35 in the New Testament. Our approach also takes reason into account as well as the political realities that are present in any given moment of possible legislation.
A few months ago Pope Francis spoke about the special tenderness that is expressed by the Church towards those who are obliged to flee their own country “and exist between rootlessness and integration.”
In this Archdiocese and in many other local churches we witness the human consequences of the current immigration system, a system that does not work.
Our social service agencies like Catholic Charities, our hospitals and our schools deal with this broken reality every day and they see its effects on the human person.
The current system does not help the rule of law and does not serve the rights of the human person.
Its flaws are systematic. Incentives for legal behavior must be matched by fairness and also by a way for renewed opportunities for immigrants.
It should also be noted that many polls in the past year show that the majority of the citizens of this country are favorable to an immigration reform that gives undocumented immigrants an opportunity to gain legal status. A central issue for those of us who are religious leaders is the unification of families and keeping families together. Catholic Charities workers have constant stories of the break-up of families, especially those with young children, because a parent is in detention or deported. The family and its unity must remain the cornerstone for immigration reform that works.
In the last two years there has also been a significant increase in the number of unaccompanied minors who were trying to enter the United States and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol.
In 2012 there were some 24,000 juveniles detained along the southwest border of our country.
These juveniles are very vulnerable to exploitation — they leave home because they are desperate, they frequently have no contact with families at home or here, and then are repatriated to their country of origin in places which puts them further at risk.
It is true that work must be done to push and to help other countries to improve their economic conditions and political stability so that immigration to another country will not be necessary.
Border security for our own country is also important; however, some proposals in Congress make border security the only priority and they want 100 percent effective enforcement before any measures are enacted to regularize the millions of undocumented persons who are already here.
Enforcement must be matched simultaneously by policies that regularize the undocumented and open an accessible and achievable path for citizenship for a maximum number of persons.
There are political and social dimensions to the public debate that is now taking place in Congress over comprehensive immigration reform. This involves a certain give and take in the lawmaking process.
However, there are also Biblical and moral dimensions that are equally important — dimensions that remind us of the meaning of the human person, especially the vulnerable human person, a meaning that has been cemented into our Catholic Faith from its origins.
As a society and as citizens, we will be judged by our care of the unborn, the terminally ill, the disabled, the poor and weak, and the alien and the immigrant. They all have a special place in the compassion of God and must mark the hearts of God’s people. †