Standing With Our Brothers and Sisters

COMMENTARY: As President Obama and Congress focus on immigration reform, Catholics have an opportunity to assist in fixing the current flawed system.

Kim Daniels
Kim Daniels (photo: Catholic News Agency)

In Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Obama recognized that “our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants” and that “right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement and faith communities all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s Republican response — given in both English and Spanish — took up immigration reform as well. After speaking movingly of his own parents’ immigrant experience, Rubio noted that economic growth depends on “a legal immigration system that allows us to attract and assimilate the world’s best and brightest” and a “responsible, permanent solution to the problem of those who are here illegally.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., went out of his way to call President Obama’s comments on immigration reform “measured” and “productive,” noting that it was “an area [where] we have a good chance of getting something done.”

Even Sen. Rand Paul’s Tea Party response recognized that “we must be the part that sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities.”

Regardless of politics, all agree that our immigration system needs fixing. While the details have yet to be hammered out, a bipartisan Senate group has already arrived at a general reform framework, and similar bipartisan proposals are circulating in the House as well.

Catholics have serious differences with President Obama on fundamental issues like abortion, marriage and religious liberty. But we shouldn’t let those differences prevent us from coming together where we can.

We’re an immigrant Church whose bishops have long been leaders on this issue. Answering the Gospel call to welcome the stranger, Catholic social-service groups across the country have years of practical experience serving immigrants’ day-to-day needs. And it’s largely our Catholic brothers and sisters who suffer under our current flawed policy.

Catholics should stand together to bring our teachings, experience and, most of all, our faith to the national conversation on immigration reform.

Catholic themes of family, solidarity with the vulnerable and the dignity of work resonate across political lines and have particular relevance here. While economic issues and border security are important concerns, Catholics have a particular role to play in raising awareness of the moral issues at stake.

Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, the chair of the bishops’ Committee on Migration, reminds us that “millions of persons remain in the shadows, without legal protection and marginalized from society.”

Catholics can help ensure that such human suffering does not get lost in the conversation.

Of course, as Catholics, we also respect the rule of law. As Pope Benedict has said, “States have the right to regulate migration flows and to defend their own frontiers, always guaranteeing the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person. Immigrants, moreover, have the duty to integrate into the host country, respecting its laws and its national identity.” Securing our borders and streamlining the legal immigration process will help foster the conditions that allow us to be generous to those coming into the country.

As for specifics, the bishops have called for an earned path to citizenship that makes family reunification a priority; secure borders; a temporary worker program; and improved asylum laws. Respect for the rule of law is a two-way street, so they’ve also called for the government to follow basic norms of due process in the treatment of immigrants and their families.

While these proposals aren’t articles of faith, it takes little to listen in good faith to fellow Catholics who’ve been closely involved with immigration issues for years. As we do so, we should look past the sound bites that too often stifle conversation rather than foster it.

Of course, there’s room for Catholics to disagree on prudential matters like this. But there’s room for us to agree as well. We shouldn’t see ourselves as Republicans first, or as Democrats, but as Catholics. That means we shouldn’t view immigrants as an interest group to be placated or a voting bloc to be won, but as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Immigrants bring rich cultural resources to America; it’s time to bring them out of the shadows, so that they can better integrate those gifts into the cultural mainstream. Archbishop Gomez has said that “our immigrant brothers and sisters are the key to American renewal … economic and political, but also spiritual, moral and cultural renewal.”

As the national conversation on immigration reform moves forward, let’s stand together as Catholics, doing our part to help that renewal take root.

Kim Daniels is director of Catholic Voices USA. Follow her on Twitter at @KDaniels8.