A nation divided on immigration reform

As the national debate continues on the contentious issue of government passing some kind of reform of immigration law, we find the nation divided on the issue. Some 46 percent of Americans favor accepting the Senate-passed immigration reform law and many others supporting breaking the bill into pieces and having it voted on separately. Anyone who has preached on the topic of immigration reform and has advocated such reform knows from feedback while shaking hands at the end of Mass that people feel strongly one way or the other on the issue. Talking about immigration, especially illegal immigration, brings out the best or the worst in many people.
The bishops of the United States, including our own Bishop Dennis Sullivan, base their stance on the issue of immigration on the long tradition of the church’s social teaching. In their pastoral letter, “Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope,” they make suggestions that would lead to a more comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform. These include:
– Earned Legalization: an earned legalization program to allow foreign nationals of good moral character living here to be able to obtain permanent residence;
– Future Worker Program: structure a program to permit foreign born workers to enter the country safely while including workplace protections, living wage levels, safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers and family unity;
– Family based Immigration Reform: structures that increase the number of family visas available and reduce family reunification waiting times;
– Restoration of Due Process Rights: due process rights should be restored;
– Addressing Root Causes: help to establish sustainable economic development in sending countries and
– Enforcement: acknowledge U.S. government’s right in intercepting unauthorized migrants, the methods must be targeted, proportional and humane.
Many people of religion wrestle with how to advocate the human rights of immigrants and how to foster within our religious communities a spirituality that welcomes the stranger. Leviticus 19:33-34 reminds Jews and Christians, “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
Last month a group of Catholic, Jewish and Protestant leaders met at the University of Arizona for a five day Social Action Summer Institute. They discussed what calls them to action in championing the rights of immigrants in our country.
Part of their discussion was how to bring the teachings of each faith community about caring for immigrants to congregations that are sometimes less than charitable toward immigrants. Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash, explained that Jewish history, going as far back as Moses leading the people through the desert for 40 years, gives Jews a kinship with contemporary migrants.
Rev. Stephen Springer, pastor of Dove of Peace Lutheran Church, said that the Evangelical Lutheran churches are recognizing that they have “a duty to speak up” on behalf of migrants in part by their growing numbers in their denomination. He added that “it has forced us to get out of our comfort zone and speak to each other.”
Rev. Randy Mayer, pastor of Good Shepherd United Church of Christ, said 200 people are involved in ministries reaching out to immigrants. Some join searches in the desert for people who are in trouble, some volunteer in dining rooms that feed migrants, others engage in advocacy, some go door-to-door talking to people about immigration and responding to news stories about immigrants, writing letters to the editor to counter negative portrayals and to correct mistakes.
Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz., in his concluding remarks, explained that there is a lesson in the example of the religious leaders who assembled for the institute for other religious leaders in the country. “Maybe the biggest message here is we need to form alliances. The issues are so potent, so complex that unless we form alliances we won’t have much of an impact.”
Let us join all people of faith, all people of good will, as we stand with and for our brothers and sisters, who in their need have come to this land of promise. May we never harden our hearts to the plight of the stranger in our land.

Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: That All May Be One

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