Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"We're Gonna Be Judged On Whether or Not We Welcome the Stranger" – On Immigration Reform, The Titans Go to Bat

Normally, the legislative advocacy of the US bishops is expressed in writing by the chair of the relevant conference committee....

Then there was what happened yesterday.

With tensions already flaring as the Senate approaches a high-stakes battle on an immigration reform bill, the Stateside church's twin top guns came together to push for action on the issue in an afternoon conference call – a rare, if not unprecedented joint charge by the conference president, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the head of nation's largest diocese. (A
 Mexican-born immigrant, Gomez likewise chairs the bench's Migration committee.)

Among other notable elements of the hourlong, Dolan-dominated "policy call" were the cardinal's emphasis that the church's support for migrants "isn't some wild, left-wing cause, this is classic Catholic teaching," going so far as to term it "an essential element of Catholic doctrine"; the Gotham prelate's comparison of the current hostility toward Muslim emigres with the cultural bigotry faced by Catholic immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, and a pointed prod to his conservative flank that the church's grassroots "momentum" in advocating against abortion and for religious freedom be applied to the immigration fight.

Employing unusually strong language, Dolan said that on the matter of reworking the current immigration protocols, "We bishops believe that now is the time. 

"We've been dallying on this for way too long, and now just seems to be a providential time – we can't, we can't wait any longer to reform a [immigration] system that's broken, unjust and unfair. Right now, it dawns on us that thousands of people are being deported and an untold number of families are being divided. 

"These are human beings made in God's image and likeness and redeemed by the Precious Blood of Jesus," Dolan said, "and we moral leaders cannot just stand by and let that happen."

Calling the current policy "tight, mean [and] unfair," the cardinal-president ripped attempts to stall or halt the legislation in the wake of last week's Boston bombings as "illogical, unfair and unjust."

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For the church beyond Capitol Hill, as American Catholicism continues to undergo the most sweeping demographic shift it's known in nearly two centuries, the high profile given yesterday's briefing made for perhaps the most symbolic reinforcement yet of the "changing of the guard" in the Stateside church.

Much as the storyline doesn't normally get the regard it deserves, the migration patterns of recent decades have already transformed the face of the domestic faithful, whose second and third largest dioceses – New York and Chicago – now have de facto Hispanic majorities, as the 5 million-member, 70 percent-Latin LA behemoth (doubled in size since 1985) has become the largest fold ever to exist on these shores.

Already numbering 60 percent of Stateside Catholics younger than 30 – a figure which rises all the higher as the age decreases – Hispanics have become the dominant bloc fueling the emergence of a new generation of ecclesial hotspots in Atlanta, Miami, Seattle, Denver, Dallas and Phoenix (to name just a few) as significant waves are just beginning to swell into the greater South and Midwest. And on the whole, the massive, ongoing Anglo exodus from the pews – said to comprise fully ten percent of the entire US population (read: some 30 million souls) – has only sped up the Latin arrival at the ultimate tipping-point: the majority of the nation's 70 million-member church, one projected to grow to as large as 100 million by mid-century, a spike predicated upon the ingress and birthrates of the new intake. Add in the unprecedented ascent of the son of immigrants to America to the papacy, and what was already a "perfect storm" becomes all the more formidable.

In his weekend column for the diocesan Tidings – headlined "A time for immigration reform" – Gomez (shown left while concelebrating with the American Pope earlier this month) wrote as follows....

April 23 marks the 20th anniversary of the passing of César Chávez, the great Mexican-American civil rights leader.

Chávez inspires me. He lived his Catholic faith with deep devotion and courage. And his love for God led him to struggle for justice and dignity for the poor.

It is fitting that we remember this anniversary as Congress begins debating comprehensive immigration reform. The legislation that is being introduced this week in the U.S. Senate is long overdue. Immigration reform is the civil rights test of our generation.

Many people still don’t understand the Church’s commitment to this cause. For me it’s a question of human rights and human dignity. It is a question of who we are as people and as a nation.

It’s true that many immigrants crossed our borders without first getting a visa from our government. Others came in through proper channels but decided to stay after their visas or other temporary permits ran out.

This is not good. We are a nation of laws. But for almost 20 years, our nation chose not to enforce our laws. We looked the other way because we needed these immigrants for our construction companies, service industries and farms. That’s a difficult truth. These men and women came here to work — and all of us have been depending on and benefitting from their work.

Undocumented immigrants should be held accountable. The question is, How?

Is it fair for our country not to enforce its laws for many years, and then suddenly to start punishing people who broke these laws? I don’t think so. But that’s our policy right now.

And it’s a cruel policy. The problem is the people we are punishing have become our neighbors. Most of those we call “illegal” have been living here for five years or more — two-thirds have been here for at least a decade. Almost half are living in homes with a spouse and children.

In the last four years alone we have deported more than 1 million people. About a quarter of them were living in a home with their children and families.

Of course, we are not just talking about “statistics.” We are talking about families.

We’re talking about parents who, with no warning, won’t be coming home for dinner tonight — and who may not see their families again for a decade at least.

Because of the broken logic of our current laws, it can take more than 10 years to get into this country legally. The waiting lists are even longer for applicants from most Latin American countries.

So we need to understand what it really means when politicians and people in the media say things like, “Illegal immigrants should leave the country and get back in line to enter the country legally.”

When we say that, we’re asking them to choose not to see their spouse, their children, their relatives for a decade or more. Is that a fair question to ask them? What would we do if we were faced with that kind of choice? Would we follow a law that means maybe never seeing our families again?

These are some of the hard questions that we have to ask ourselves as our leaders begin debating immigration reform. How we respond is a challenge to our conscience — and a measure of our humanity.
For the rest, below is the fullaudio of yesterday's conference call: