Why We Defend Migrants

In a Register special report, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski weighs in on immigration reform.

Our world today is increasingly globalized. It is a world where goods and merchandise made in one continent are bought and sold in another, half a world away; where information and money can cross borders in an instant; and where people also increasingly move across borders — often in dramatic ways.

The Church teaches us not to fear the migrant — and the Church warns us not to mistreat the migrant. In a way, just as we call Jesus the King of kings, we can refer to him as the Migrant of migrants. In becoming a man like us, he “migrated” from heaven. He became a citizen of our world so that we, in turn, might become citizens of the world to come. And those who will enter into his heavenly homeland will do so because, as he himself will tell us: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”

So, we can draw a parallel to Jesus’ coming among us as man and a newcomer’s arrival in a strange land. In this way, perhaps, we can contemplate the face of Jesus in the visage of the immigrant. 

Xenophobic politics that focus on the “illegal immigrant” as a problem obscures the human face of immigration. Dramatic, “get tough” arrests of poor, low-wage workers will not solve our immigration crisis. The real problem is not the immigrant, but the broken system that cynically tolerates a growing underclass of vulnerable people, outside the protection of the law. 

Like the immigrant who arrives in our land, the eternal Son of God, through his incarnation, pitched his tent in our midst. And like Jesus who was born in a stable because there was no room for him in the inn, today, even while they toil at jobs that Americans cannot or will not do, immigrants hear again what Mary and Joseph heard in Bethlehem two millennia ago: There is no room in the inn for you. 

This is why the Church will continue to speak out on behalf of migrants everywhere. We speak out in defense of those, especially the young, who are trafficked across borders to be exploited in the sex trade.

We will continue to advocate for a just and equitable reform of a broken immigration system that continues to separate families for unacceptable periods of time and that provides no path to citizenship for millions who work in jobs that otherwise would have gone unfilled.

We will defend the rights of refugees and asylum seekers for a safe haven from persecution and violence. And, because every child of God should feel at home in his Father’s house, as a Catholic community, we will continue to assure that — in our pastoral care and outreach to the newcomers among us — we will speak their Mother’s tongue.

If Catholics are to be a light to the nations, we must model what a reconciled world looks like to us. We have to show that diversity enriches the Church and does not divide her — for our communion in Christ is greater than anything that could ever divide us. 

In a world of broken promises and fragile hopes, may our Church, in her wonderful diversity of cultures and languages, be always a beacon of hope, a light to the world. By modeling what a reconciled world could look like, we can — with the help of God’s grace — show those whom globalization has made neighbors how to live as brothers and sisters.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who was installed as archbishop of Miami June 2, is the former chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Migration and chairman of the board of directors of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. He also has served as chairman of the bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace and a member of the Task Force on Cultural Diversity in the Church.