Thursday, December 22, 2005

All Archbishop Chaput Wants For Christmas... a little justice where it belongs.

A family I know has a son named Robert. Robert was born in Juarez, Mexico. He’s 17 years old, and he’ll graduate from a Denver public high school next spring. An excellent student, he hopes one day to become a physician. He works hard. He’s well liked by his fellow students and teachers. He has friends of all races.

Robert was 3 years old when his parents crossed the border into the United States. His parents arrived without papers and brought their family along. They set down roots and raised Robert well. Like his parents, he’s undocumented, but he speaks English better than Spanish. He’s proud of the values of this country and feels, speaks, and lives as an American. In fact, he identifies himself more as an American than as a Mexican.

Unfortunately, some months ago Robert discovered that because of his “illegal” status, he won’t be able to attend college. He doesn’t have a social security number. Therefore he can’t get student financial assistance. So it really doesn’t matter how smart or dedicated he is.

Robert is a real person. There’s nothing imaginary or overstated about his dilemma. It’s bitterly concrete, and it could have lifelong consequences. Like Robert, many other undocumented young people — and not only Hispanics — see their dreams of contributing to this country come crashing down, despite their talent and energy.

Current U.S. immigration laws lead them to fail. In effect, we penalize innocent young people for an illegal act committed by someone else, and often winked at by businesses and local law enforcement authorities — someone usually willing to work the tough, unseemly jobs and seeking no more than a chance to build a better life. This doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t it be more productive for American society to accept these young people and give them a chance to succeed?

Under current legislation, an undocumented student is — in effect — limited to finishing only high school. In practice, he has few opportunities for further education in the United States, which is the equivalent of a career death sentence. Nor does it matter if he’s talented, virtuous and willing to change his life. Without proof of legal status, there’s no legal employment, no student loans and therefore no college....

As Catholics, we need to think seriously about the human cost of the continuing immigration debate. That doesn’t mean we should be somber at Christmas this year, or refuse the joy at the center of Christ’s birth — in fact, just the opposite. The real glory of Christmas is the fact of God’s compassion toward all of us. He loved us enough to send us his Son. No gift could be greater. He now invites us to deepen that gift by sharing it with others. How we choose to do that, of course, is up to each of us. For me, it seems obvious that we’re all better off having persons like Robert among us — and at school, growing and contributing according to their talents.

Amen. Amen. And Amen.