One of the most controversial social issues of our day is the question of immigration. According to the United Nations, there are now more than 65 million people in the world who are forcibly displaced from their homes.
With the recent wave of unrest regarding the situation of immigrants and refugees, this provides us with an opportunity to examine our own attitudes toward migrants and to appreciate the many benefits that migrants bring to our communities.
Think about the fact that there is no one in our country who is not descended from people who at some point migrated here from another continent. Even the Native American tribes migrated here from Asia.
The United States of America is a better country because of the contributions of immigrants. Think about the people you know who are immigrants or children of immigrants: They are your neighbors, your co-workers, your relatives, and your friends.
This country was built by immigrants. We have the Statue of Liberty for good reason. We must never turn our backs on that heritage of integrating newcomers into our culture.
There are many places in the Bible that speak of the immigration experience:
- God inspired Abraham and Sarah to move from Ur of the Chaldeans and settle in the land of Canaan.
- Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt to the Holy Land.
- Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were temporarily refugees in the foreign land of Egypt in order to escape the violence of King Herod.
- One of God’s commandments in the book of Exodus relates to migrants: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Ex 22:21).
- Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of Mathew that, when we welcome the stranger, we are actually welcoming Christ himself, who will say in the Last Judgment, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) Sometimes Christ visits us in the disguise of the migrant in need. In the end, we will be judged according to how we have responded to him.
People have a basic human right to migrate, in order to find a safe place to live, and to be able to put food on the table.
Of course, every country has the right and responsibility to maintain the integrity of its borders and the rule of law. Those who enter a country, or seek refugee settlement, or apply for immigration status, should be carefully screened in order to protect the common good.
The U.S. government has a legitimate role in intercepting unauthorized migrants who attempt to travel to the United States. Illegal immigration should not be condoned or encouraged, because it is not good for society or for the migrant, who then lives outside the law and in the shadows.
What is needed is comprehensive immigration reform. The economy of the United States depends upon a certain amount of immigrant labor, but in the current system the number of available visas for workers is not sufficient to meet our demand for foreign laborers. Rather than maintain a system that feeds upon keeping people in the shadows, it would make more sense to grant enough work visas for the workers that we need.
Speaking for the Catholic Church, we will continue to provide pastoral care and charitable assistance to new immigrants. We welcome immigrants to participate actively in our local congregations. We will continue to assist people to regularize their immigration status, and our agencies will continue to process and place refugees after screening by the federal government.
We believe that our faith calls us to welcome the stranger, to treat others with compassion, and to live with a spirit of solidarity for all human beings.
This address was given at the Tom Green County Courthouse, January 31, 2017.