Immigration: Sharing America's Blessings

The Register continues to present Catholic voices on the controversial topic of immigration reform.

(photo: Shutterstock image)

Reform Promotes National Sovereignty



Some opponents of immigration reform like to criticize the U.S. Catholic bishops and other pro-immigrant advocates as proponents of “open borders.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

In fact, reforming the current immigration system, as the bishops propose, would help our nation gain control of our borders.

Church teaching recognizes the right of the sovereign to control its borders. Pope Pius XII, in his apostolic exhortation Exsul Familia, wrote that nations have the right to secure their borders, consistent with the common good of their citizenry. He added, however, that this must be done with particular attention to human rights and that nations should accommodate migrants who seek to work and support their families to the greatest extent possible.

Comprehensive immigration reform, as supported by the U.S. bishops, would help achieve the seemingly incompatible principles of a secure border and a generous immigration policy. Enforcement-only policies, which our nation has pursued for two decades, have not solved the challenge of illegal immigration.

Let us look at some of the facts. Since 2000, the U.S. government has spent more than $100 billion on immigration enforcement. During the same period, the number of undocumented persons has grown from 6 million to 12 million, and border communities continue to see drug-related violence. Since 1998, nearly 5,000 migrants have died attempting to cross the American desert.

Clearly, the broader approach of immigration reform is needed to both secure the border and protect human rights.

The main tenet of an immigration reform plan would be a path to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented persons in the country.

How would this make us more secure? By bringing 12 million persons out of the shadows and requiring them to register with the government, law enforcement would be able to distinguish between those here to work and those with criminal intent. It would place the 12 million on the right side of the law, freeing up law enforcement to pursue criminals who should be detained and deported.

Most Catholics agree with this analysis. In a recent poll conducted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 69% of Catholics supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented, provided they register with the government.

Another component of reform would be the creation of a new-worker program, which would permit unskilled migrant laborers to obtain visas to come to the United States legally and work under certain conditions. Currently, only 5,000 permanent visas exist in the immigration system, far below the annual demand for workers in agriculture and other important industries.

Such a program would help make our border more secure by reducing illegal immigration across the southern border, again providing the border patrol more resources and time to go after criminal elements — smugglers, human traffickers and drug traffickers. Migrants would instead enter through ports of entry in a safe, legal and orderly manner, and away from the dangers of human smugglers and the harsh and deadly conditions of the desert. Law enforcement would know who they are, where they were going, and for what purpose, making the American public more secure.

Many law enforcement officials concur with this assessment. The Association of Border Patrol Agents, for example, testified before Congress that the creation of a worker program was necessary to assist the border patrol in achieving its mission of a secure border.

A final component of immigration reform would be the adoption of a nationwide employment-verification system to ensure that employers hire only legal workers. The U.S. bishops would not oppose such a system provided that:

1) all 12 million undocumented workers are legalized and are brought into the legal workforce;

2) a transparent appeal process is available to workers who are wrongfully dismissed or targeted by employers; and

3) any government database that verifies status is not fraught with errors, so that U.S. citizens and other legal workers are not wrongfully dismissed.

An employer verification system, properly administered, would provide both employers and migrant workers incentive to play by the rules. It would make it more difficult for unscrupulous employers to hire undocumented workers under the table and off the books at low wages, undercutting U.S. workers. It also would provide an incentive for migrant workers to seek visas through the new-worker program instead of relying on smugglers, since it would be less dangerous and guarantee them a job on the other end.

In sum, by making necessary changes to all parts of the immigration system, a comprehensive immigration-reform bill would make our nation more secure, not less. It would replace illegality, which the current system encourages, with legal status and legal avenues for migration, thus restoring the rule of law. Catholics and others who care about the rule of law and respect for human rights should embrace this approach.

Kevin Appleby is director of migration policy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In Everyone's Best Interest?



Stories about migration and the migrant experience surface throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament.

In the Old, Abram was sent forth by God to a land that he promised to show him, and Moses led his people out of Egypt and to the threshold of the Promised Land. The Gospel of Matthew begins by recounting Mary and Joseph’s flight back into Egypt, following threats made by King Herod and in their desire to protect the Baby Jesus.

More than just examples of the migrant experience, these stories, among others, help to provide a moral framework that we are compelled to acknowledge, internalize and make use of in our daily lives.

In his 1997 message on migration, John Paul II employed biblical imagery and called on Catholics to personify the Good Samaritan by drawing close to the illegal immigrant and refugee who is the “contemporary icon of the despoiled traveler.”

As Catholics, we are obligated to build up a spirit of hospitality and assist in the provision of the physical and spiritual needs of migrants in need of help, regardless of their legal status.

While humanitarian and spiritual support to migrants both domestically and abroad is central to our Christian calling, it alone is not enough to address the issue of mass migration in the modern world. In his recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the growing interdependence of nations and the international character of unregulated migration that requires a coordinated response at all levels of society.

This increasing interdependency, according to John Paul II in Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, obliges nations and individuals alike to live in solidarity through “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all.”

Conversion is necessary, as is the recognition that our own good requires the firm foundation of the common good in which all can participate.

The U.S. bishops, in their pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer,” called on the international community to work in solidarity to raise the standard of living, to uphold human rights and to implement complimentary political institutions in the underdeveloped world so that people can have the chance to prosper in their homeland, rather than having to migrate to find opportunities elsewhere.

The reasons why people migrate are multifaceted. Some leave their home countries because of political or religious persecution, others due to environmental catastrophes that leave the land barren and unusable, and still others because of systemic poverty and an absence of professional and educational options. Such conditions stifle human flourishing and create an environment in which the God-given gifts that we are all called to actualize only atrophy. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that many of these people seek a better life elsewhere, through both legal and illegal means.

Drawing again on biblical imagery, John Paul II reflected on the disparities of wealth between rich and poor nations and highlighted the need to recognize each person’s right “‘to be seated at the table of the common banquet,’ instead of lying outside the door like Lazarus, while ‘the dogs come and lick his sores.’”

Such overt disparity constitutes an unacceptable state of affairs that will likely only exacerbate migratory trends in the future. A recent joint statement by the Catholic bishops of the Western Hemisphere noted that the “root economic causes of migration must be addressed so that migrants can remain in their home countries and support their families.”

It is thus important to question whether U.S. policies are based on a solidarity that looks not only to the immediate good of the United States, as important as that is, but to the common good of the international community. Making this task a priority will benefit underdeveloped nations by helping them achieve economic and political sovereignty. It will benefit America and the developed world by addressing some of the significant root causes of illegal immigration: economic and political instability.

Although disagreements are bound to arise regarding the most effective solutions to these policy issues and on the broader question of immigration reform, it is crucial to maintain a sense of humility and evenhandedness when engaging in debate.

In recent years, such discussions have too often devolved into shouting matches, name calling and inflammatory rhetoric that risks any possibility of civil discussion. The contentious nature of recent debates on immigration has had the further effect of undermining solidarity in the Church herself.

The disunity and the dissension that are a consequence of these heated exchanges fail to reflect the perfect communion that we find in the Trinity and which the Church is called to reflect.

Discord in the Church brings with it the risk of another danger: Both migrants and the native born alike ought to feel at home in the Church, but divisive rhetoric on immigration and related policies has the unfortunate tendency of alienating those who we as Catholics are called to welcome. As the bishops noted in their pastoral letter “Strangers No Longer,” “many migrants, sensing rejection or indifference from Catholic communities, have sought solace outside the Church.”

Instead of building up a spirit of hospitality, divisive and hurtful rhetoric too often brings discord into the Church. Wherever each of us stands on the issue of immigration reform and questions pertaining to foreign policy, it is important that dialogue be based first on love for the truth and disagreement attended to in a spirit of charity.

Todd Scribner is education outreach coordinator for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services.