Immigration reform

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Divine Mercy Sunday, April 23, 2006

As our nation struggles with an immigration crisis and debates how best to reform the current immigration system in our nation, it is important that we not lose sight of the moral principles that should form the basis for our nation’s laws and policies.

The most fundamental principle we must uphold is that of the dignity of the human person, the living image of the Lord God. Regardless of their legal status, immigrants are our brothers and sisters with an inherent dignity that we are called to respect and promote. Several years ago, Pope John Paul II reminded the Church in America that “attention must be called to the rights of migrants and their families and to respect for their human dignity, even in cases of non-legal immigration” (Ecclesia in America). We should be concerned for the well-being of our nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It is important also to highlight the principle (and moral virtue) of solidarity. This principle reminds us that, in our commitment to the common good, we have a responsibility for one another. Solidarity is linked with charity. Love of neighbor includes love of the immigrants in our midst. Concern for our immigrant neighbors is a duty of human solidarity and Christian charity.

The Church supports immigration system reform that reflects these fundamental moral principles. The Catholic bishops of the United States support “earned” legalization for those in our country without proper immigration documentation who demonstrate good moral character and have built up some equities in our country. We also support a just temporary worker program which also ensures that U.S. workers and their jobs are protected. And we support efforts to reduce waiting times for family reunification.

The Church does not condone the violation of our nation’s laws. We urge the comprehensive reform of these laws which, as all seem to agree, are outdated and ineffective. Our nation does have the right to control its borders and to regulate immigration in a just and equitable manner, to ensure our national security, and to enforce our nation’s laws in a humane manner and with due process.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the plight of our immigrant neighbors. Many come here at great risk, leaving their homes and often their families, out of economic necessity, to provide the most basic needs for their families. Certainly the root causes of this crisis must be addressed. Pope John Paul II taught that ultimately the elimination of global underdevelopment is the antidote to illegal immigration (1995 World Migration Day Message). But the present practical reality is such that, due to often dire circumstances, many pursue the dangerous path of migration without proper documentation. The principle of solidarity calls us to provide better legal avenues, like the proposed guest worker program, for migrant workers to enter the United States legally. For the good of those who are already here and for our own society’s order and stability, we need to provide a way for them “to come out of the shadows,” to earn legalization, and to become more actively involved for the betterment of our society. A merely punitive approach will not fix the problem and does not reflect the values on which our great nation, a nation of immigrants, was founded. That is why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

The bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives last December had many disturbing provisions which failed to uphold the principles of human dignity and solidarity. It would criminalize undocumented immigrants as well as humanitarian and church workers who provide them basic needs assistance. Penalizing those who do works of charity and mercy is a violation of the freedom to practice fundamental precepts of our faith.

May the Lord bless us and our nation with the wisdom to do what is right and holy in His sight!