Monday, June 15, 2009

On Welcoming the Stranger

With immigration reform now a priority on Capitol Hill and Latino Catholics on the ascent both in the new administration and the nation's pews, it's quite the coincidence that the US bishops will have their annual Spring Meeting later this week in the hierarchy's "Hispanic seat," San Antonio.

Given the confluence, the head of the city's Mexican American Catholic College took to the papers, prodding the prelates to keep up their advocacy on the issue:
The Catholic Church and our nation have always been renewed by the vitality of new immigrants. By 2020 the majority of American Catholics will be Latino. While one out of three Catholics has left the church, Latino immigrants are filling those empty pews. Obama recently gave an important nod to the multicultural future of Catholicism by naming Miguel Diaz, a Cuban American theologian, as the first Latino nominated U.S ambassador to the Holy See. As Irish and Italians once gave life to the Catholic Church in America, the next generation of Catholics will reflect the hues and accents of the church's latest immigrant waves from Mexico, El Salvador and Colombia.

The Catholic vision for a humane immigration reform system is not only rooted in appeals to justice and morality. Practical arguments are also critical. Over the last two decades, the federal government has poured some $10 billion into beefing up security along the U.S.-Mexican border. Migrants have responded by finding new and more dangerous routes into the U.S. There is no wall high enough to deter the dreams of those seeking a better life.

Stopping migration's socioeconomic engine requires more than tough talk from finger-wagging politicians or the cowboy antics of local sheriffs. It requires a systematic response that rejects false choices. We can protect our borders and uphold human dignity.

Comprehensive immigration reform would include an earned path to citizenship, appropriate worker protections and policies that keep families from being torn apart. This is not amnesty or a handout. It's a sensible solution to a system where employers and U.S consumers benefit from the labor of undocumented workers even as immigrants themselves have no protection from exploitation.

The failure of Congress to pass reform legislation has forced states to enact a hodgepodge of punitive local ordinances. The National Council of La Raza and the Urban Institute report that two-thirds of children split up from their parents during immigration raids are U.S. citizens. This is shameful.

Every day at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, I'm honored to serve hard-working, young Latinos learning English, honing skills to compete in the workplace and sacrificing as immigrants before them have done for generations. Our nation is stronger for their presence.

If we hope to move beyond simplistic solutions and the hateful rhetoric that define our polarized immigration debate, we need deeper conversations and bold political leadership. Bishops, your voices and advocacy on this critical issue are needed now more than ever before.
While the USCCB recently renewed its support for the Senate version of the Reuniting American Families Act, the conference declined a similar blessing for the bill's House version given the latter's incorporation of a separate proposal that would green-light "marriage-like immigration benefits to same sex relationships."

Over the weekend, a forum highlighting the urgency of immigration reform was held at a suburban Denver church. On the dais: two Democratic congressmen and the city's Archbishop Charles Chaput.