The Catholic Church’s teaching on immigration is based on three clear principles: that families have the right to migrate for economic opportunities, for freedom, or for safety; that nations have the right to security, to fixed borders and ordered policies for immigrants; that as an obligation of justice and mercy, nations who can receive immigrants without detriment to the welfare of their citizens should do so.
By those standards, the immigration policy of the United States is in serious need of reform.
The United States does not adequately address its citizens’ right to safety, because it does not adequately address the challenges posed by those who enter the country illegally, or those arrive legally and, after visas have expired, remain illegally. Nor does the United States base immigration quotas and limits on unbiased and fair assessments of our economy and infrastructure’s capacity to welcome immigrants to our nation. Finally, the byzantine rules governing immigration to the United States, which often include waiting lists decades long, do not adequately respect the natural right of families to migration. Many experts believe that there is no reasonable way for the average Latin American family, for example, to enter the United States legally.
In short, our immigration system is broken, and that broken system is the cause of serious injustice.
There are some who suggest that our immigration system is broken because some industries benefit from the status quo: they depend on paying undocumented workers illegally low wages, and therefore oppose reforming the system. The more common assessment is that our immigration system is broken because overhauling it would require that political leaders on all sides put aside partisan posturing and incendiary rhetoric, in order to reach meaningful and comprehensive agreements.
Whatever the reason for it, our broken immigration system is an injustice to immigrants and to all Americans. That injustice has tragic consequences in the lives of real families, who reflect the image of the Trinity.
This week, President Trump issued a directive ordering the deportation of millions of people living in the United States illegally. That order will do very little to resolve the immigration problems in our country. It will not change the economic and social conditions which lead people to leave their homes and enter the United States illegally. It will not change the demand for low-wage workers in our economy. It will not secure the borders or change the immigration process.
Nor will it meaningfully impact the security of our nation, or the safety of our citizens. In fact, over the last eight years, President Obama deported more people than any other president in United States history, with no meaningful or demonstrable impact on our country’s security or safety.
Mass deportation is a panacea: the appearance of an answer without really resolving anything. And, after eight years of mass deportation under President Obama, President Trump’s administration has doubled down on that panacea, proclaiming now the time to “take the shackles off” America’s deportation officials.
Of course, some immigrants, legal and illegal, prove themselves to be a danger, and should not be permitted to remain in this country. Unrestricted amnesty proposals are also unrealistic panaceas.
Certainly, entering a country illegally is a crime. The government has an obligation to uphold the rule of law, and to punish those who commit crimes. But the crime of illegal immigration must be considered in light of other factors: the rights of parents to provide for their children, the poverty and danger families face around the globe, and the injustice of American laws and policies governing immigration in the first place. Many immigrants who have been exiled by the circumstances of their homelands want to follow the law, but our broken system makes that impossible. The consequences of illegal immigration should be determined in light of the sovereignty of the family, and the inhumanity of separating children, often US citizens, from their parents.
My friend, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, says that today’s immigration policy reflects “indifference and cruelty.” None of us can be indifferent, or turn a blind eye to suffering. Human beings, made in God’s image, deserve better than that.
Surely, our government, in wisdom, and creativity, and human decency, can find just means of addressing the crime of illegal immigration, without severing marriages, sending children to foster care, and returning people to situations of abject hopelessness. Surely, if America is truly great, it can respond to these challenges with ingenuity, and virtue, and charity. Catholics must lead that charge.
The consequence of America’s immigration enforcement policies is that families are living in fear. Children are afraid they will come home from school to find their parents gone. Families are afraid they will be returned to violent homelands. Many Hispanics are afraid that they might be profiled and targeted by the police, or presumed by neighbors to be criminals. Fear feeds on itself, and quickly, a sense of panic conflates truth and fiction, making it all the more difficult to separate rumor from reality. Panic leads people to desperation, and to hopelessness. This is the situation in which many Catholics now find themselves.
For Catholics, the current immigration orders should remind us of our history in this nation. The Catholic Church in America is an immigrant Church, and since the time of the American Revolution, Catholic immigrants have been targeted with discriminatory social policies and widespread cultural suspicion. The integrity and loyalty of Catholic immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Bohemia, Italy and many other nations have been attacked at various points in our nation’s history.
Today 38% of the Catholics in the United States are Hispanic. When Catholic immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are portrayed as thuggish criminals or economic liabilities, our history should remain forefront in our minds. Immigration enforcement policies rooted in stereotypes, rather than facts, are attacks on all Catholics. We are united in the body of Christ, and brothers and sisters to one another. When members of the Body of Christ are unfairly stereotyped, or unjustly treated, each one us must stand up in solidarity.
I stand in solidarity with immigrant families living in fear of what might be coming for them. I stand in solidarity with American citizens, looking for real security, instead of political showmanship and rhetoric. I stand in solidarity with those politicians and law enforcement agents working to find fair and humane solutions to complex problems. I stand in solidarity with those living in poverty or danger, seeking some promise of safety, and opportunity for their children. I ask all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln to join me in that solidarity.
As Catholics, we must continue to call for real, comprehensive, safe, and just immigration reform. But we cannot accept the panacea of mass detention and deportation. Americans, immigrants, and the Church should expect something better than that.
Prayer for Migrants and Refugees: Heavenly Father, no one is a stranger to you and no one is ever far from your loving care. In your kindness, watch over migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, those separated from their loved ones, those who are lost, and those who have been exiled from their homes. Bring them safely to the place where they long to be. Send your Holy Spirit over our government leaders, that they may enact laws and policies in accord with the dignity of every human person. Grant us the grace of holy boldness to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable among us and to see in them the Face of Your Son. We ask this through Christ our Lord, who too was a refugee and migrant. Amen. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us.