Immigration Seen Through Catholic, Pastoral Eyes

No one, I think, wants to read a blog by a Texican all about present-day, US immigration debates. Too predictable, right?

Not quite.

Although I was born in a bordertown (Brownsville, Texas), I do not come from immigrant ancestors, in the recent immediate sense of the issue. My maternal and paternal Hispanic families pre-date the United States’ aquisition of the southwest. To borrow Gloria Anzaldúa’s expression: the border crossed us, literally.

Nonetheless, the issue of immigration strikes me in a very personal and intimate way. Some of it is complicated. Some of it is not. One part of it is pretty weird: I was an illegal immigrant — living in Mexico — for a few years in the 90′s. I attended 5th and 6th grade there, in Mexican public schools, without a Visa. More on that later, perhaps.

For all these reasons, I am and am not your stereotypical Latino writing about immigration. But enough about me, for once.

Here are two excellent lectures on the topic of immigration given by Catholic pastors.

The first is the most recent one, from Archbishop Aquila, given last night at Regis University. It is a meaty, substantive, and multifaceted talk. Here is Aquila’s crucial third point:

The moral theologian Johannes Messner wrote in 1958 that “the family is prior to the state.  It holds natural rights which the state is bound to recognize.”

Families are the building blocks of every culture and all of social life.  The union of man and woman in marriage is a relationship ordained and protected by God himself.  The children born of that union always have the right to a mother and a father, who can care for them and love them.  In fact, Messner says that the “prominent task of the state” is “to make it possible for families to fulfill their natural function.”

Immigration policy which respects the sovereignty of the family makes it possible for husbands and wives, and their children, to obtain visas together, easily, even when only the father will work.  Respecting the family means finding alternatives to deportation when families will be torn apart by it.  And government always has the responsibility to ensure that all workers can earn a just wage, one which allows them to be open to life, and to support the children God gives them.

Today, immigrants are too often viewed solely through a financial lens.  They are viewed as workers, and reduced merely to their economic potential.

They are treated as objects.  But immigrants are members of families, and those families are essential to our social order.  They have something to contribute to our national order, because they are human beings, endowed with real dignity.  Immigrant families have always contributed to the richness of our culture—particularly the richness of American Catholic culture.

Read it all here, at the Archdiocese of Denver’s website.

The second talk was given at Franciscan University of Steubenville by Fr. Pablo Migone, a former classmate of mine, sponsored by Latinos Por Cristo, a campus organization we helped found in 2003.

Fr. Migone’s talk is also excellent, and makes use of other pastoral sources (especially Archbishop Gomez), with useful additional resources at the end. But the talk is grounded in his personal, pastoral experience, retold with conviction and power:

For the past three and a half years I’ve been working with immigrants in southern Georgia, most of them come from Mexico, about half of them are here without proper documentation.  Some enter the country legally and overstay their visas, others make the dangerous crossing through the desert or the river led by a “coyote,” paying at times thousands of dollars and leaving them with a traumatizing experience of which only two people have spoken to me about.

I had a very faithful parishioner say to me once, “Father, the church should not minister to illegals, you are condoning their behavior by ministering to them.”

I looked at this very concerned parishioner and calmly said, “Twice a month I celebrate Mass and hear confessions at the state prison.  I go because there are Catholics in need of being ministered.  I make no statement whatsoever regarding their past.  I do not care if they murdered, dealt drugs or stole.  I am there because at the prison there are human beings in need of Christ, in need of redemption and in need of hearing the Gospel.”

This gets to the heart of the immigration issue.  The Church does not advocate nor favor undocumented immigration, the Church does not want the border with Mexico to be opened and allow everyone to come in, but the Church advocates the respectful treatment of immigrants, even if undocumented, because every soul, including the soul of an undocumented immigrant, has infinite value and dignity.

Read the whole thing here, at Fr. Migone’s blog.

Both of these pastors, an archbishop and a young priest, see immigration through the eyes of the Church, the eyes of Christ. Archbishop Aquila goes so far as to remind us that the Holy Family is an immigrant family, too.

 

  • Ted Seeber

    “I was an illegal immigrant — living in Mexico — for a few years in the 90′s. I attended 5th and 6th grade there, in Mexican public schools, without a Visa. More on that later, perhaps.”

    From what I’ve heard of the Federales, you’re lucky to be alive. They shoot illegal immigrants down there.

    • srocha

      Nope. Not even close. It’s always different when you actually do it.

  • Kevin

    I don’t understand why we even have border security, we should just let everybody come and go as they please. Anything else is racist.

    • srocha

      That seems like a rather odd thing to say, Kevin. Care to elaborate?

    • craig

      “The Church does not advocate nor favor undocumented immigration, the Church does not want the border with Mexico to be opened and allow everyone to come in…”

      Could’ve fooled me. Nowhere in the frequent advocacy papers of the USCCB do they acknowledge the legitimate and necessary distinctions that sovereign nations must draw between citizens and non-citizens. Instead, their speeches cite the right to migrate as if it automatically imposes duties upon the host country to bestow instant citizenship, benefits, and the vote — things that go way beyond ‘respectful treatment’.

      Immigration reform must balance mercy for the immigrants with justice for the existing population. If the carrot of amnesty is to be offered, along with it there must be some stick to avoid amnesty’s acting as an enticement to further immigration — e.g., grant legal residency with the stipulation that, due to the prior offense, one cannot ever be granted citizenship or voting rights. Exceptions could be made for those who immigrated as minor children prior to the age of 13, say. Otherwise expect a surge as if one had announced ‘free beer!’

      In Western states, there is longstanding scorn for ‘Californication’ — the gradual takeover of lightly-populated states by ex-Californians fleeing that state’s hostile business climate and high taxation, and subsequent electoral demands to transform their new homes into high-tax, high-regulation mirrors of the state they left. It has been suggested (half-seriously) that former blue-staters ought to be denied the vote for ten years or so, until they have learned to appreciate the ways of their new red-state homes.

      I agree that the United States benefits from a generous immigration policy, so long as residents are expected to participate in the tax system and the above-ground economy. But proponents of amnesty need to understand that previously-undocumented workers coming out of the cold will lose much of the inherent economic advantage of the underground economy — the cost of employing them as legal residents will be on a par with the cost of employing American citizens. Simple amnesty could end up creating a class of legal residents to suffer economic displacement by the next wave of illegal immigrants, in an endlessly repeating cycle. TANSTAAFL still applies. You cannot have open borders and also have a welfare state; either borders must close or benefits must be ended before the whole system collapses in bankruptcy.

      • Petro

        You could start off your argument better if you didn’t start it with an inaccuracy:

        http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/immigration/churchteachingonimmigrationreform.cfm

        “Enforcement:
        The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. The Bishops also believe that by increasing lawful means for migrants to enter, live, and work in the United States, law enforcement will be better able to focus upon those who truly threaten public safety: drug and human traffickers, smugglers, and would‐be terrorists. Any enforcement measures must be targeted, proportional, and humane.”

        This was found with a simple ten-second search. Will this cause you to reconsider how you view this issue? Will it lead you to researching the issue further since at least one of your ideas about it appears to be based on a false assumption?

        Things to consider.

        • craig

          All right, the USCCB is for ‘targeted’ enforcement against those already known to be a threat to public safety (how one is to know which are these individuals is left as an exercise). In other words, they oppose broad enforcement against ordinary illegal immigration. Taken in context, the statement does not contradict my original assertion: that the USCCB barely considers illegal immigration by adults (children are a separate matter) even as malum prohibitum.

          The whole argument is analogous to the arguments of Democrats with respect to abortion rights. So-called ‘seamless-garment’ Catholics (invariably marching in lockstep with Democrats) assert that it is morally superior to support programs that (allegedly and indirectly) reduce the overall number of abortions, without ever actually condemning the act of abortion itself. Its overall effect is to assert that abortion is acceptable.

          Getting back to the position statement you linked, it mandates ‘an eventual path to citizenship’ for adults already here illegally. Other statements by bishops decry any proposals that would not result in full citizenship as a reward. But if it is morally required of border state Americans to welcome new immigrants without limit and give them a voting majority in short order, what principle stands in the way of a similar demand to welcome 200 million more from Asia? At what point does regional identity — political as well as social — dissolve into nothingness (the point of my earlier aside about ‘Californication’)?

          It used to be a given that we are all citizens of a particular place, with corresponding local obligations and rights, and not just citizens of the world. Is that no longer true? At what point does the USCCB teach immigrants about a duty to assimilate into or at least to respect the culture which led to the prosperity that led them to immigrate? Mexicans aren’t aiming to convert cathedrals into mosques as are Europe’s Moslem immigrants, but what if they were: would the USCCB still consider it a moral imperative to support full citizenship for immigrants?

          As for the rest of my earlier comment, the USCCB’s statement confirms it: a demand for American benefits — ‘workplace protections, living wage levels, …’ — for amnesty beneficiaries will only result in successive waves of illegal immigrant underclasses of immigrants, each to be replaced in future amnesties as political fortunes increase. Or until the music stops.

          • Petro

            “Taken in context, the statement does not contradict my original assertion: that the USCCB barely considers illegal immigration by adults (children are a separate matter) even as malum prohibitum.”

            This was not your original statement. Your original statement was:

            “Nowhere in the frequent advocacy papers of the USCCB do they acknowledge the legitimate and necessary distinctions that sovereign nations must draw between citizens and non-citizens.”

            Yet, what I linked to says:

            “The U.S. Catholic Bishops accept the legitimate role of the U.S. government in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States.”

            This contradicts the above statement.

          • Petro

            The point of my post was that you might perhaps reconsider your assertions after having an error pointed out to you in one of them. Instead, you doubled-down on your assertions and denied the error that you made.

            Again, I ask that you reconsider your assumptions about these issues with further study, particularly study of the documents of the USCCB. While we are at our own discretion to form our consciences, we must do so with hearts and minds that are open to the teachings of the Gospel. We believe in the authority of our pastors to interpret the Gospel into modern contexts. It is imperative that, as a part of forming our consciences, we listen to our Bishops with respect and with a true willingness to learn.

          • craig

            Petro, if you don’t want to engage the substance of my points, why should I bother engaging yours? You nitpick about an alleged ‘error’, omitting the context that explains it: the lack of definition about what the right to migrate legitimately entails.

            Look, I live in Texas and have a high respect for immigrants, certainly no animus toward them; but these are significant matters of prudential policy decisions that are the proper sphere of the laity. There are no statutes or policies free of social costs and economic implications; it does no one any favors to accuse anyone who points out these implications of being meanies and haters. That is the same tactic the homosexual ‘marriage’ advocates employ in order to squelch reasoned debate, and the tactic is offensive and polarizing.

            USCCB bishops have the same rights of any citizen to speak up, but they should speak ex officio sparingly, to teach substantive faith and morals and not simply to lobby for partisan programs (Democratic, always) for which the episcopal charism provides no special insight into the ideal government policy. When bishops claim to know what they visibly do not understand (e.g. basic economics, budgets, firearms, climate change), and what their office does not empower them to know, they squander their credibility on matters where their office really does give them authority.

  • Noe Rocha

    excellent, son, excellent.

    • srocha

      Thanks, Dad!

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    As far as the Church administering to illegals, I have no problem whatsoever. And religious conscious should prevent priests from having to turn them in or answer questions. I do have a problem with with society giving them amnesty without any penalty. Look there are millions of people who go through the legal process of entering the country. It took my sister-in-law a year to come to the US with legal status, and she was married to my brother who is a natural born citizen. Illegals have by-passed the immigration system. Amnesty is just unfair to all the other immigrants from around the world.

  • Petro

    “When bishops claim to know what they visibly do not understand (e.g. basic economics, budgets, firearms, climate change), and what their office does not empower them to know, they squander their credibility on matters where their office really does give them authority.”

    The Church rejects that view that the Bishops should only speak on matters of personal morality outright. That is why I encourage you to read further.

    CCC 886
    886 “The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches.”408 As such, they “exercise their pastoral office over the portion of the People of God assigned to them,”409 assisted by priests and deacons. But, as a member of the episcopal college, each bishop shares in the concern for all the Churches.410 The bishops exercise this care first “by ruling well their own Churches as portions of the universal Church,” and so contributing “to the welfare of the whole Mystical Body, which, from another point of view, is a corporate body of Churches.”411 They extend it especially to the poor,412 to those persecuted for the faith, as well as to missionaries who are working throughout the world.

    896 The Good Shepherd ought to be the model and “form” of the bishop’s pastoral office. Conscious of his own weaknesses, “the bishop… can have compassion for those who are ignorant and erring. He should not refuse to listen to his subjects whose welfare he promotes as of his very own children…. The faithful… should be closely attached to the bishop as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father”:428 (1550)
    Let all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows his Father, and the college of presbyters as the apostles; respect the deacons as you do God’s law. Let no one do anything concerning the Church in separation from the bishop.429

    So, as we see here, the Bishops are particularly called to care for our welfare. As noted in 866, this welfare is not just spiritual, but also temporal as they should extend their care “especially to the poor.”

    It is their duty to address these temporal matters in this manner in our modern society. Your call for them to ignore this duty is in direct contradiction to the tenets of our faith.

    It is the job of the laity to listen to the Bishops, form their consciences, and order the temporal according to the Word of God as interpreted by the Church, not our own individual belief systems. This is further spelt out here:

    2442 It is not the role of the Pastors of the Church to intervene directly in the political structuring and organization of social life. This task is part of the vocation of the lay faithful, acting on their own initiative with their fellow citizens. Social action can assume various concrete forms. It should always have the common good in view and be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. It is the role of the laity “to animate temporal realities with Christian commitment, by which they show that they are witnesses and agents of peace and justice.”231 (899)

    How can we “be in conformity with the message of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church” if we reject the Church’s teachings that come from the Bishops? We cannot be.

    “for which the episcopal charism provides no special insight into the ideal government policy.”

    With this you seem to limit the Gospel to matters of personal morality such as the ten commandments. The episcopal charism is to preach the Gospel. The Gospel is not limited to personal morality, but extends to justice. In the section of Matthew 25 described in the NAB as the Judgement of Nations, Christ outlines what will being us salvation:

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne,
    and all the nations* will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous* will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    Knowing this, how could our Bishops not comment on how our nation treats those in need? They cannot. They must speak. It is their duty and their office to do so. You reject their teachings at your own peril.


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