A week in advance, celebrations of American Catholicism's "Super Bowl" feast kick into high gear tomorrow in the nation's largest diocese as the annual Guadalupe Procession wends through the streets of East LA, culminating in an afternoon Mass celebrated by the city's Cardinal Roger Mahony in a 20,000-seat football stadium.
Per usual, massive crowds are expected -- last year's turnout of some 30,000 tied LA's annual Religious Education Conference as Western Catholicism's largest gathering of the year.
Home to nearly 4.2 million Catholics -- at least, on the books -- Hispanics are said to make up a full 75% of the Angeleno church's membership. And as never before, odds are the dynamic will bear itself out in the appointment of the mega-fold's next head... a day not terribly far off -- his 25th anniversary at its helm on-deck for next July, Mahony reaches the retirement age of 75 in February 2011.
While Anglos tend to focus on the feast of the expectant Virgin for the icon's anti-abortion connotations -- Guadalupe's long been held as patroness of the pro-life movement -- among Hispanics, the day's lead issue thread is dedicated just as resolutely to immigration reform, calls for which will emerge again over the next week at practically every celebration from Mexico City to Chicago, Texas to the Heartland and beyond.
Ergo, in the 12th's run-up, LA Auxiliary Alex Salazar held a Thursday press conference outside a deportation center to highlight the US bishops' coming re-push (read: postcards in January) for "comprehensive, humane" immigration reform, while the chair of the bench's Committee on Migration -- Salt Lake Bishop John Wester -- penned a piece for yesterday's PoliticsDaily to amplify the church's support for universal coverage for undocumented immigrants: a "moral criterion" of the bishops' health-care reform effort, but one that's taken a back-seat in prominence to the battle's lead hot-button of abortion funding....
With 12 million undocumented persons in the country, someone is going to need a doctor. While close to 4 million already have health care through employer-based plans, millions of others are dependent upon community clinics, emergency rooms, and the generosity of medical personnel who believe health care is a human right, not a privilege.A San Fran native and the first-born protege of a certain "Grand Inquisitor," the chair-watchers among us would be well-advised to look Wester -- with one Pacific archdiocese soon to be filled and another two (his hometown included) following suit within the year or thereabout, it'd be more surprising if the 59 year-old doesn't move upward in the coming round of shifts.
Although uninsured immigrants use emergency rooms much less than U.S. citizens, the cost of their care ultimately falls upon American taxpayers, either through higher insurance rates or tax money paid directly to providers. Permitting the undocumented to use their own money to purchase coverage would help alleviate some of this fiscal and financial burden on Americans.
It also would help Americans afford their own coverage. A study by the Kaiser Foundation concluded that immigrants are younger and healthier than average Americans and are less likely to access health care and drive up costs, keeping prices lower for everyone. By letting the undocumented buy into the exchange, the risks and costs of the new health care system would be spread out among more participants.
Given a chance, they will participate. The reality is that undocumented immigrants want to pay their way, as they do with taxes, Social Security payments, and health care contributions. Why not let them? A recent study found that 84 percent of undocumented Mexican immigrants in California offered employer-based coverage accepted it and paid for a portion of the costs.
Even for legal immigrants, Congress has yet to write the right prescription. Both the Senate and House bills fail to lift the ban, imposed in the welfare reform legislation of 1996, which prevents working but poor legal immigrants from enrolling in Medicaid for five years. Legal immigrants, who are on a path to become U.S. citizens, should be eligible for programs for which they pay taxes.
Including immigrants in health care reform would help make health care affordable to all and make us a healthier nation. It also would make coverage accessible to the most vulnerable among us. Is that not the point of health care reform? To their credit, a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives thinks so.
In the end, the debate over immigrants and health care is really a debate about another affliction ailing our nation: the broken U.S. immigration system. In truth, without a legalization program and other reforms, our elected officials will continue to be faced with policy choices that treat U.S. citizens and immigrants differently but weaken the nation as a whole.
President Obama and Congress would be wise to include immigrants in health care reform and then enact immigration reform legislation, so that we are finally rid of the vitriolic immigration debates which have sullied our public discourse and confused our public policy decisions.
Until that time, breaches of protocol and political gamesmanship may continue to define the issue of immigration, to the detriment of all Americans. And immigrants could be left standing in the waiting room, asking for a doctor's appointment that may never come.
Coinciding again with next month's observance of the Epiphany, the US church's 2010 Migration Week will focus on young migrants and refugees in keeping with B16's choice for global Catholicism's annual Day for Migrants, the 98th of which will be held on 17 January.
And, well, we'd be hard-pressed to find a better close for this pre-feast brief than with a piece of Tepeyac at Fiesta Medianoche (feast-day midnight)
Last year's 12.12 saw a turnout of 5 million at the hilltop sanctuary... many of whom made the journey's final stages on their knees...
...and there, church, behold Catholic culture at its most united, happiest best.