Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Cry of the Oppressed, at Home

Last night, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles delivered the Fifth Annual Templeton Lecture on Economic Liberties and the Constitution before a full house at Philadelphia's National Constitution Center.

Excerpts from his text, as prepared for delivery:
Perhaps the most challenging matter of our topic to be addressed in such a short time is the economy. My perspective on the economy, however, is not the common sense understanding of this term. “Economy” has its roots in the Greek oikonomia which, in the first instance, means the arrangement of a household. Here, the principal focus is not monetary. Oikonomia suggests care for how a household is ordered or administered according to a plan. In early Christian history, oikonomia collectively referred to the way in which God’s household is ordered or administered, and in that sense economized.

God’s household, God’s grand economy, is one in which holiness and truth, justice and love, and above all, peace (eirene or shalom) prevail. In my view, what makes for a good economy is the full flourishing of everyone who is part of God’s economy, household, or community. The question is: who belongs in the household? Is God’s good household roomy enough for all? Or, who precisely is the “We” in “We the People?”...

In Catholic thought, the human person should not serve the economy, but the economy should serve the human person, so that each person and his or her family can live in dignity and without want and can move, if needed, to find the place of hope. Our laws should be configured to ensure that even the low-skilled laborer, who sits at the bottom of the economic ladder, reaps the fruit of their labor in dignity and with full rights in the society.

The current reality in our nation, however, is that we accept their labor, their separation from family, their taxes, and their purchasing power, yet we do not offer the undocumented population the protection of our laws. While such a system might meet our economic needs in the narrow measurement of monetary gain, it fails to meet the broad definition of oikonomia or the call of Scripture. It contributes to a disordered household without hope and without compassion, as we witness in immigrant neighborhoods throughout the nation.

Thus, to restore order to God’s household, we must ensure that all are welcome to the table. This means that we need to reform our immigration system in order to provide legal protection for those who live on the margins of our economy and are not invited to share in the banquet: the undocumented and future migrants who come to our nation, to work, to join family, or to support family at home.

Once it is agreed that all should share in the feast that is the fruit of their hands, the question becomes whether those who reside outside the law have the same claim to a seat at the table as those who are not outside of it. Given the current broken immigration system, Church leaders say “Yes!” Let me explain.

Many persons who in good faith oppose comprehensive immigration reform argue that the “rule of law” should be honored and that anyone who breaks the law should not be given its protection. Church leaders would agree that we are a nation built on a system of laws and that a sovereign nation has the right to protect its borders. But the term “rule of law” refers to how we are governed, and suggests that no one, not even our leaders, are free from honoring the law. Even if the most powerful citizen breaks the law, he or she is accountable to it. This is the basis of our democracy and is one of the elements that distinguishes our system from monarchy or dictatorship.

But there are other elements of democracy we must consider before rendering judgment on the undocumented immigrant. First, while we may be governed by laws, these laws are created and administered in the pursuit of justice. Any law that does not serve justice violates basic human dignity and human rights. Our constitution was written by the founding fathers to prevent unjust laws imposed by a malevolent monarch—“no taxation without representation” was our nation’s first battle cry.

In the view of Church leadership, and many others, our current immigration laws are, in a word, unjust. We gladly accept the toil and taxes of the immigrant work force to fill our economic needs, but we look the other way when they are exploited in the workplace, die in the desert, or are arrested for providing “nanny” and cleaning services at desirable addresses.

When convenient politically, we scapegoat the immigrant without acknowledging our complicity. Our immigration laws perpetuate this reality. Of the nearly one-half million immigrants who enter unauthorized into the U.S. each year (or overstay their visas), nearly 90 percent obtain jobs within six months, but there are only 5,000 immigrant visas available. This is a disordered system, hardly the arrangement of a household according to a plan where there is room enough for all at the table.

In this regard I must note that while detractors make much about the burden immigrants place on our health care and similar systems, I see just the opposite. I would suggest that we could not deliver health care in any city in this country or could not have cleared the World Trade Center debris without our immigrant workers. They are not a burden but, rather, are essential to the delivery of those economic benefits.

Our Constitution was written to ensure that justice is achieved in our land and that all receive due process under the law. In our democratic system we can change unjust laws, and, I would add, are obligated to do so. In the area of immigration, the Church leadership argues that our country has a moral obligation to change the law because it violates the order of God’s household and undermines basic human dignity.
Back in Mahony's base of LA, an ecumenical "New Sanctuary" initiative announced yesterday will grant asylum to undocumented workers fearing deportation in churches and other church-owned facilities. It's understood that, while the pastors of the nation's largest archdiocese won't be ordered to participate in the outreach, those who do have the cardinal's blessing.