CAMDEN — Bishop Joseph A. Galante held a press briefing on immigration reform, reminding Catholics that “every person is a neighbor.”
The May 11 briefing came the day after U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in El Paso, Texas, near a border crossing, calling for lawmakers to come up with an effective path of citizenship for the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States, amidst turbulent discourse on Capitol Hill.
Also speaking at the press briefing were Sister Mary Kay Flannery, a regional coordinator of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and two undocumented South Jersey immigrants.
A year ago, Bishop Galante released a statement on immigration reform, titled “Every Person Is A Neighbor,” in which he wrote that every individual is “worthy of care and concern, not because they’ve earned it or because they’re legally entitled to it, but because they have inherent dignity by virtue of their creation in God’s own image.”
Echoing Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, where a Samaritan selflessly helps a man injured on the side of the road, Bishop Galante wrote that the son of God “was emphasizing that love and mercy trump legalism and other considerations.”
In his 2010 statement, Bishop Galante also reiterated the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops toward immigration reform, which calls for “undocumented workers to work six years before applying for permanent-resident status,” and reforms that “would increase the number of work visas awarded, reduce backlogs for families seeking reunification with loved ones and address the root causes of migration.”
Speaking on Wednesday, the bishop of Camden said that although the United States “presents itself as a land of opportunity,” with its Statue of Liberty that calls for “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” at the same time the country “builds walls to keep them out,” referring to fences along the U.S./Mexico border.
Countries have the right to protect their own borders, he said, but it should “never be at the cost of human dignity.”
He also recalled how, while serving in Texas, farmers would smuggle laborers across the border to work in their fields. Then they would alert the border police to avoid paying them.
Contrary to the views held by some people, he said, studies show that the United States economy does not suffer — in fact, it benefits — from the work of immigrants. But more important than the economic issue is the moral one, he said.
“Every human being is my brother, sister, neighbor,” he said. “There has never been in God’s family the stranger, the outcast.”
Two local undocumented immigrants from Mexico told their stories of coming to the United States, and their hardships before and after their arrival.
One, a woman, speaking perfect English, recalled “the hard decision to come here” 21 years ago, with her husband and infant son. “Do you think bringing a baby across the border is the first option?” she asked.
Although she has found “a community that supports and loves me,” she spoke of the anxiety of living without a Social Security number or driver’s license, and being wary of people she doesn’t know.
“I’m in a vulnerable position, that affects who I am,” she said.
The second speaker, a young man who spoke through a translator, has been in the United States for 15 years and owns his own business, but lives with the ever-present fear of deportation.
Sister Mary Kay Flannery of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke on the recent push among some lawmakers to pass the DREAM ACT, which would allow undocumented immigrants, who entered the United States as children and who want to join the military or go to college, and who have no criminal record, to continue living in the United States legally.
“The DREAM Act offers young (immigrants) the same chance of a promising future, as their classmates,” she said.
She also mentioned that 70 percent of undocumented immigrants work in either the agricultural, construction, or service industries in the United States, contributing to the U.S. economy.