WASHINGTON — There’s a renewed focus on immigration reform, and a retired Catholic cardinal is one of the first voices to weigh in.
The Church’s stance on immigration emphasizes the “basic dignity and God-given human rights of the human person,” said Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Washington.
He made his remarks before a subcommittee on immigration of the Senate Judiciary Committee Oct. 8.
As one of several religious speakers during a hearing entitled “Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Faith-Based Perspectives,” Cardinal McCarrick said the current immigration system needed to be reformed. He labeled it “morally unacceptable” because it could lead to “family separation, suffering and even death.”
He recommended that the government enact laws that provide a path to permanent residency for undocumented workers, allow low-skilled workers to enter the country and work in a legal and humane manner, and reduce waiting times for families to be reunited.
He also advocated for policies that encourage long-term economic development, especially in the countries where the workers were born, and that help prevent migrant abuse and deaths.
“The Church’s work in assisting migrants stems from the belief that every person is created in God’s image,” said Cardinal McCarrick, a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration. He expressed his hope that immigrants are not treated as scapegoats for the country’s economic and social problems.
Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy for the bishops’ conference, said that many Catholics support the Church’s position to help immigrants.
He pointed to an October 2008 Zogby International poll that said that 75% of Catholics agreed that the Church has a moral obligation to help provide for the humanitarian needs of immigrants regardless of their legal status.
On the subject of whether they would support legislation that would provide legal status and a chance for earned citizenship for illegal immigrants if such immigrants were required to register with the government, 69% of those surveyed said they would favor that kind of legislation.
Some of the ways the Church will help advance immigration reform is its Justice for Immigrants campaign (JusticeforImmigrants.org), a postcard campaign to Congress in January to advocate for immigration reform, and National Migration Week, sponsored by the U.S. bishops, in early January, Appleby said.
He added that a testimony like the one that Cardinal McCarrick offered on Capitol Hill was important in the public debate of the issue.
“Someone of his stature indicates the importance of the issue to the Church and how serious we are about it,” Appleby said.
One of the leading proponents for immigration reform is Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., who is working on proposing new immigration legislation that will be presented to Congress some time after Thanksgiving, said Rebecca Dreilinger, the congressman’s press spokeswoman.
Gutierrez held a rally in early October in Washington to announce several core principles of what he hopes to propose. Some of them mirror the Church’s positions, including a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers and family unity, as well as professional and effective border enforcement.
“We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you,” he said in a statement on his website. “But if you are here to work hard and to make a better life for your family, you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship. We need a law that says it is un-American for a mother to be torn from her child, and it is unacceptable to undermine our workforce by driving the most vulnerable among us further into the shadows.”
One organization that was critical of Cardinal McCarrick’s stances was the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Ira Mehlman, a spokesman, said the Church has a role in reminding others that immigrants are humans, but he said the Church is not really advocating charity.
“What Cardinal McCarrick and other prominent people in the Church are essentially doing is being charitable with other people’s resources,” Mehlman said. “They’re saying to somebody, ‘Unfortunately, you may have to surrender your job or a chunk of your wages to accommodate this person. Your child may have to sit in a school where the needs of all the kids coming in who don’t speak English simply strain the resources to the point where nobody’s child gets a quality education.’”
But Mark Franken, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said the laws on the books today are not “responsive” to today’s realities. He gave the example of how obtaining visas for siblings from certain countries to rejoin a family member in the United States takes 20 years.
“You’ve got estimates that 12 million people are truly living in the shadows of our society, increasingly fearful, and that underclass of people in our society hasn’t been bestowed legal status,” Franken said. “And we’ve seen the damage that does to our country, morally and otherwise. These folks are here. They have families that are contributing to the community. They are paying taxes if they are working. And the vast majority of them are working. They’re paying Social Security taxes. All of these things that folks on the other side suggest that they are not, that they are somehow living off of welfare — it’s just a myth.”
He said the key is educating people.
“It’s about changing hearts and minds, particularly Catholics and others,” Franken said, “toward immigrants and toward this notion of being a welcoming Church.”
Carlos Briceño writes
from Naperville, Illinois.