Bishop's view: Immigration in America: A lost sense of responsibility?
Congress is nearing the end of its term and, as of yet, has not enacted a comprehensive immigration reform package that creates a roadmap to citizenship for the nearly 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. Compounding the issue is the current humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border with the influx of unaccompanied children, some as young as 5 years old, in search of safety from the violence plaguing their countries of origin.
I urge the Northeastern Minnesota community to join me in a passionate plea to our elected officials for reasoned, compassionate action. We must remind them that fixing the U.S. immigration system, as well as the border crisis, is a moral imperative that is immediately necessary to meet the needs of our country and the needs of our aspiring citizens.
The U.S. Catholic bishops repeatedly have stressed that our country’s current immigration policies exploit migrants, who flee poverty in their native countries to provide their families with a better life. They are a hard-working people who contribute to our economy through working, paying taxes and into Social Security, and purchasing goods. Yet, as the rest of us benefit from their labor, immigrants are relegated to the margins of society as a permanent underclass without legal protections or the opportunity to become full members of our communities.
Only a tiny fraction of undocumented immigrants are ever able to achieve legal status, and the rest face the consequences of living without the basic freedoms and opportunities we enjoy as citizens of this country. Many families are torn apart, without notice, as a result of detention and deportation. This reality inevitably leads to isolated and alienated communities of people who hide in the shadows of our society so they can continue to earn a living wage that supports their families.
The only way to end this vicious cycle is by enacting a comprehensive immigration reform package that includes, among other things, a roadmap to citizenship, more opportunities for workers to enter the country legally, and a means to strengthen our public safety along the borders.
Last summer, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which was endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Although the legislation is not perfect, it goes a long way toward protecting vulnerable children and families who are currently living in the shadows of our communities. Unfortunately, since then, the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to act on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, further exacerbating the urgent problems caused by our broken immigration system.
Many people have latched on to the heated political rhetoric that has dominated the immigration debate since the Senate passed its bill. Especially disheartening is the inaccurate portrayal of rewarding illegal immigration, or constituting “amnesty.” Though the Senate bill creates a needed roadmap to citizenship, it is hardly a reward for crossing the border illegally. Before even being considered for citizenship, undocumented persons must complete a rigorous, 13-year process which, among other things, requires paying multiple fines, avoiding all criminal activity, becoming proficient in speaking English and learning American civics.
In speaking about the plight of migrants and refugees, Pope Francis recently said, “Today, no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters.”
It is easy to view immigration reform through the lens of abstract policy debates instead of challenging ourselves to consider how to create just, yet merciful, laws that address every human being’s basic needs and dignity. Much like the Christian faith, which centers on the person of Jesus Christ, the immigration discussion is about a person — about people. We have the responsibility to see the face of Christ in our migrant brothers and sisters in the same way we do our family, friends, and neighbors.
I stand with my fellow Catholic bishops from across the United States and humbly request that Congress and the president work together to achieve lasting solutions that serve the well-being of American citizens as well as the human dignity and inalienable freedoms of aspiring citizens, in the northeastern Minnesota community and throughout the United States.
The Most Rev. Paul Sirba is bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Duluth.